I Finally Figured Out What Is Wrong With Wikipedia

And it might reflect a moderate generalism on the internet as well: there are not enough women.

Jennifer Van Grove, a prolific contributor of value to the internet over at Mashable reports on the results of a study conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation (Wikipedia’s parent) regarding the demographics of Wikipedia contributors and the shocking imbalance. 175,000 responses were collected. Of 53,888 respondents who copped to contributing to Wikipedia, only 6,814 or 13%, were women. More on the study can be found at the Wall Street Journal.

There are some other statistics mentioned. Women are less likely to read Wikipedia articles for one. I also noted a sizeable reason driving non-contribution across respondents – “[o]ne quarter, however, said they’re afraid of making a mistake “and getting ‘in trouble’ for it.” Given the other figures, this response must have been a popular one among the female non-contributing respondents.

These particular hues and cries are not new. I recently responded to a solicitation from a gadget blog looking for female tech bloggers because “there are just not enough of us out there.” About a year ago, or thereabouts, there was some flap in the legal blawgosphere about the lack of female law bloggers. I posted my reply here. And now, we have this “startling” announcement that women Wikipedia contributors are few and far between.

So, assuming this all to be true (and there is some degree of assumption there), the obvious question is why?

Van Grove opens her post with the paragraph: “[w]omen are consummate content creators online. From technology mavens like Google’s Marissa Mayer to influential mommy bloggers, and even YouTube() stars like iJustine, females have played a significant role in shaping web trends.”

But, other than Mayer, these trends are in decidedly non-academic, non-technical subject areas. Why the lack of women in the brainier on-line realms? If you look at enrollment in institutions of higher education, you will not see this degree of disparity between the sexes. In fact, in some areas of intellectual pursuit, women outnumber men. Law school enrollment figures place women on equal footing with men. So why do these figures not translate to greater participation on the Web in places like legal and tech blogging and Wikipedia contribution?

I don’t intent to engage in a lengthy dissertation on the socialogies and psychologies of women and men in academics, the workplace or our society in general, as I do believe that traditional roles have been changing for some time (although not enough to satisfy my sense of equality). I will point out a couple of thoughts. First, I suggest taking the reason provided above at its face value: I believe women have a greater fear than men of the fallout from speaking out on a topic and suffering reprisal. Whether it is a reason fostered by nature or nuture is unimportant – the fact of my own personal experience is that women (o.k., well, myself anyway) are more concerned with being right than being visible. Whether women are correct more or less than men in reality is not essential to an understanding of the point. Women may be more interested than men in making sure they are right or sitting back rather than speaking when they see the grey area in a particular subject. And maybe women get enough reprisal in other venues, so they may not volunteer to put themselves in such a public limelight solely for altruism or entertainment value.

Second, I will simply point you to the comments, starting with comment number one by an individual owning only to the name “man”, to Van Grove’s post. Oh, maybe I will just reprint that first comment right here for your reading pleasure:

Wikipedia has to be fact-checked and referenced, whereas women prefer to make baseless claims and get into arguments. Attempting to end the argument by referencing an actual document is only going to piss them off, the only positive result is to acquiese.

This does not mean they are always wrong, they are correct roughly 50% of the time. But no fact-checking.

So there you have it.