The readership of Wikipedia is huge: by most measures, it's ranked as the 6th-most-visited website in the world, with upwards of 300 million individuals stopping by at least once every month.
So many of us rely on Wikipedia for looking up information about almost every conceivable topic, often without thinking about who wrote that material and why. If you've only ever been a reader of Wikipedia, you might have heard that it's "the encyclopedia anyone can edit"—but who actually is editing it?
In the first of a couple of blog entries, I'll try to answer those very questions. First:
Right, so who edits Wikipedia?
Literally anyone can edit Wikipedia, and in fact a very broad range of individuals do. The English Wikipedia is the largest, and because English is a global language, Wikipedia's contributors live all around the world. These editors work together as a community, often collaborating on articles, as well as drawing up and policing guidelines for the site. How the site is operated and edited is sometimes misunderstood, so it's important to remember that Wikipedia's editors are not a formal organization, but a community of volunteers.
Those who edit on a regular basis are typically individuals who have the most time to contribute, particularly students. Over half of editors are below the age of 30 and many of these are surprisingly young: 13% are 17 or younger. Meanwhile, the 40+ age group is also well-represented, at 28% of editors. (See page 19 of this report on the 2011 Wikipedia editors' survey for more details.)
Additionally, and for whatever reason—it's a big topic for debate—the vast majority of Wikipedia editors are men. In the 2011 editors' survey (see page 21 at the previous link), women made up only about 9% of those who responded. The proportion of female editors is higher in the US, estimated to be as high as 22.7%, however the site's community is still overwhelmingly male. This is often argued to have resulted in a bias in coverage of certain topics on the site, and has become a rallying point for those who would like to see more gender equality on Wikipedia.
Wikipedia editors are interested in diverse subjects, allowing the site to cover a wide range of topics, from technical articles on medical topics to detailed articles on episodes of The X-Files. But, there are gaps—social sciences are not as well represented as say, computer science, and topics such as women's history suffer (perhaps due to there being few female editors).
In our next installment, I'll grapple with a slipperier question: Why do people edit Wikipedia?