Monday, March 28, 2011

Wikipedia Contributors Less Than 15% Women

After reading Levinson's chapter in Wikipedia, I had the greatest reaction to the discussion on what is deemed permissible as an entry and what is not. I think that all entries, including those on fictional characters, that adhere to the established format should remain on Wikipedia. Someone, somewhere will find value in it, and because we are talking about text, which is very small in comparison to images or video, bandwidth is not much of a concern.

As Levinson writes, "all Wikipedians are equal, but some are more equal than others." Sure, there must be those who edit and delete entries or vandalism plagued by "mental maliciousness,"(Levinson 86) but how editors arrive at what is relevant or not is very subjective. For an online encyclopedia that reaches out to so many people, someone will always find value in one aspect of a topic that someone else does not. Ideally, all Wikipedians should be able to contribute on a level playing field. Somewhere along the line the scale has lost its balance and now leans toward a specific type of contributor.

According to an article published in The New York Times this past January, "less than 15 percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women." Noam Cohen's article entitled "Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia's Contributor List" continues to explain that the Wikimedia Foundation conducted a study which found that Wikipedia's contributors are barely 13 percent women. The foundation has set a goal to raise the number of women contributors, not for the sake of diversity, but to ensure that Wikipedia is as good as it can be.

Why diversity ensure a quality encyclopedia? Males and females are each able to emphasize certain topics that their genders are more familiar with. With contributors representing gender-specific subjects, Wikipedia can expand upon its already wide range of entries. Cohen compares the Wikipedia entries for two shows that relate to each gender: Sex in the City for women and The Sopranos for men. Cohan explains that Sex and the City has only "a brief summary of every episode." The Sopranos, however, has lengthy articles about every episode.

The lack of women contributors is explained by the OpEd Project, a group that monitors the gender breakdown in public thought-leadership forums. They claim that a rate of 85 men to 15 women is common when looking at public forums, such as Congress or even The New York Times. If online resources like Wipedia, which are frequently referenced by so many people are unable to capture the thoughts of the entire population, how can we rely on them as neutral sources of information? An author's voice usually shines through the text, putting a spin on the information. Levinson references I.A. Richards to say that the writer's intentions "have no real connection to the impact of the text. All that should count...is the text itself" (89).

Entries cannot appeal to one gender over another and content cannot be geared toward one type of person while neglecting the interests of others. In order for Wikipedia to be a reliable source, the articles must neutrally represent a diverse spectrum of people.

3 comments:

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  2. interesting issue, getting at the fundamental conflict in values in American culture between freedom and equality. Should our media accurately reflect the demographic profile of our population, or should people be free to do what they want as they see fit?

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