Predictions of Wikipedia's end

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"Will Wikipedia exist in 20 years?", a 2017 discussion between Yochai Benkler and Katherine Maher

Various publications and commentators have offered a range of predictions of the end of Wikipedia. As soon as Wikipedia became well-known, around 2005, one scenario of doom after another has appeared, based on various assumptions and allegations. For example some claim a degradation in quality of Wikipedia's articles, other say potential editors are turning away. Prophets of doom suggest that a rival website will appear and supplant it, or that disagreements within the Wikipedia community will lead to the collapse of Wikipedia as a project.

Some predictions present a criticism of Wikipedia as a fatal flaw, and some go on to predict that another website will do what Wikipedia does, but without that fatal flaw, thus making it a Wikipedia-killer, capturing the attention and resources which Wikipedia currently gets. Proposed replacements for Wikipedia have included Google's since-closed Knol,[1][2] Wolfram Alpha,[3] and AOL's Owl.[4]


Some critics cite specific hoaxes, error, propaganda and other poor content, and assert that the lack of good content will lead to people finding better content elsewhere.[5][6]

Wikipedia is crowdsourced by a few million volunteer editors. Tens of thousands contribute the majority of contents and do quality control and maintenance work. In the 2010s their numbers have not steadily grown and have sometimes declined. Various sources have predicted that Wikipedia will eventually have too few editors to be functional, and will collapse due to lack of participation.[5][7][8][9][10][11][12]

Wikipedia has a few thousand volunteer "administrators" who perform various functions, including functions similar to those carried out by a forum moderator. Critics have described their actions as harsh, bureaucratic, biased, unfair, or capricious, and predicted that the resulting outrage will lead to the site's closure.[5][13][14] Some such critics are aware of the duties of administrators; others merely assume they govern the site.

Decline in editors[edit]

A trend analysis concerning data published by Wikimedia stated that: "The number of editors for the English-language version has fallen by a third in seven years."[15] The attrition rate for active editors in English Wikipedia was cited by The Economist as substantially in contrast to statistics for Wikipedia in other languages (non-English Wikipedia). The Economist reported that the number of contributors with an average of five of more edits per month was relatively constant since 2008 for Wikipedia in other languages at approximately 42,000 editors within narrow seasonal variances of about 2,000 editors up or down.

The attrition rates for editors in English Wikipedia, by sharp comparison, were cited as peaking in 2007 at approximately 50,000 editors, which has dropped to 30,000 editors as of the start of 2014. At the quoted trend rate, the number of editors meeting the activity criterion in English Wikipedia has declined by approximately 20,000 since 2007, and the documented trend rate indicates the loss of another 20,000 editors by 2021, down to 10,000 active editors on English Wikipedia by 2021 if the trend continues linearly.[15]

Given that the trend analysis published in The Economist presents the number of active editors for Wikipedia in other languages (non-English Wikipedia) as remaining relatively constant, sustaining their numbers at approximately 42,000 active editors, the contrast has pointed to the effectiveness of Wikipedia in those languages to retain their active editors on a renewable and sustained basis.[15] No comment was made concerning which of the differences in policy standards between Wikipedia in English and in other languages might provide an alternative to English Wikipedia for effectively ameliorating editor attrition rates on the English-language Wikipedia.[16]

Andrew Lih and Andrew Brown both maintain editing Wikipedia with smart phones is difficult and this discourages new potential contributors. Several years running the number of Wikipedia editors has been falling and Tom Simonite of MIT Technology Review claims the bureaucratic structure and rules are a factor in this. Simonite alleges some Wikipedians use the labyrinthine rules and guidelines to dominate others and those editors have a vested interest in keeping the status quo.[17] Lih alleges there is serious disagreement among existing contributors how to resolve this. Lih fears for Wikipedia's long-term future while Brown fears problems with Wikipedia will remain and rival encyclopedias will not replace it.[18][19]


  1. ^ Helft, Miguel (23 July 2008). "Wikipedia, Meet Knol". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Dawson, Christopher (28 July 2008). "Google Knol - Yup, it's a Wikipedia killer". ZDNet. CBS Interactive. 
  3. ^ Dawson, Christopher (17 May 2009). "Wolfram Alpha: Wikipedia killer?". ZDNet. CBS Interactive. 
  4. ^ Techcrunch (18 January 2010). "Is Owl AOL's Wikipedia-Killer?". 
  5. ^ a b c Simonite, Tom (22 October 2013). "The Decline of Wikipedia". MIT Technology Review. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 
  6. ^ Dawson, Christopher (9 December 2008). "Will Virgin Killer be a Wikipedia killer?". ZDNet. CBS Interactive. 
  7. ^ Lih, Andrew (20 June 2015). "Can Wikipedia Survive?". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Halfaker, Aaron; Geiger, R. Stuart; Morgan, Jonathan T.; Riedl, John (28 December 2012). "The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System" (PDF). American Behavioral Scientist. pp. 664–688. doi:10.1177/0002764212469365. 
  9. ^ Chen, Adrian (4 August 2011). "Wikipedia Is Slowly Dying". Gawker. 
  10. ^ Brown, Andrew (25 June 2015). "Wikipedia editors are a dying breed. The reason? Mobile". The Guardian. 
  11. ^ Angwin, Julia; Fowler, Geoffrey A. (27 November 2009). "Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages". Wall Street Journal. 
  12. ^ Derakhshan, Hossein (19 October 2017). "How Social Media Endangers Knowledge". Wired. 
  13. ^ James, Andrea (14 February 2017). "Watching Wikipedia's extinction event from a distance". Boing Boing. 
  14. ^ Carr, Nicholas G. (24 May 2006). "The death of Wikipedia". ROUGH TYPE. 
  15. ^ a b c "The future of Wikipedia: WikiPeaks?". The Economist. March 1, 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2014. 
  16. ^ Andrew Lih. Wikipedia. Alternative edit policies at Wikipedia in other languages.
  17. ^ Simonite, Tom (October 22, 2013). "The Decline of Wikipedia". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved November 30, 2013. 
  18. ^ Andrew Lih (June 20, 2015). "Can Wikipedia Survive?". 
  19. ^ Andrew Brown (June 25, 2015). "Wikipedia editors are a dying breed. The reason? Mobile". The Guardian.