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After 10 years, Wikipedia seeks more diverse group of editors

Published:Sunday | January 16, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Artist Andy Ballentine (right) presents Nikaurmka Edwards with one of his creations. Edwards was the winner of a competition the artist conducted on his Facebook page promoting his recent exhibition at New Kingston's Jamaica Pegasus hotel. - Contributed

NEW YORK (AP): Wikipedia, the online trove of assorted facts and trivia, is trying to be more well-rounded.

As the encyclopedia marked its 10th birthday yesterday, its leaders are seeking a more diverse group of editors - specifically, women, people in developing countries and people with expertise in assorted disciplines.

Wikipedia is about to open an office in India and wants to expand further in Brazil, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. Today, 20 per cent of the site's pages are written in English but the organisation expects that to change over the next 10 years.

"Everybody brings their crumbs of knowledge to the table and all those crumbs become a banquet. And we're missing some people from the table," said Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that runs Wikipedia.

As it is, said Jimmy Wales, the site's founder, the average Wikipedia editor is a well-educated 20-something - and most likely male. Eighty per cent of its editors are men and they include twice as many people with PhDs as the general population.

students as fuel power

In an effort to diversify, the San Francisco-based non-profit group is recruiting students from 16 college campuses, including Harvard and Georgetown. Wikipedia is trying to teach young people what it takes to curate the website's entries. Cooperating professors, for instance, will assign their classes to write encyclopedia entries about public policy, scomplete with footnotes.

"Students are the fuel that power Wikipedia because they're engaged in the world of writing, researching, summarising, citing," Gardner said.

In particular, Wales said the site could use help from people well-versed in the humanities, a weaker area for Wikipedia's geeky first editors. In part, Wikipedia is working to make its editing software easier to use, but it is also reaching out to libraries and other organisations to tap different talents. It's working with museums, for instance, to develop richer, more informative entries about the arts, including photo galleries of notable works.

While the site's leaders admit it could be more diverse, they insist Wikipedia is comparable in accuracy to other encyclopedias. Gardner, a former journalist, said even under the guise of a respected media outlet, humans make mistakes.