Wikipedia says editor numbers are 'stable'

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The number of editors departing Wikipedia isn't as clear as a recent report has suggested, according to the Wikimedia Foundation.

Earlier this week, a report commissioned by the Wall Street Journal suggested 49,000 editors had departed Wikipedia in the first quarter of the year, compared to 4,900 the year before.

Writing in the Wikimedia blog, deputy director Erik Moeller and data analyst Erik Zachte said they appreciated the research by Felipe Ortega, but that he counted anyone making a single change as an editor - whereas Wikimedia counts anyone making five edits as such.

Under Ortega's count, there are some five million volunteer editors on the site, compared to one million by Wikimedia's count.

They also note that there's no way of knowing if someone has left the site for good. Ortega used their last edit to decide.

"This is a snapshot in time and doesn't predict whether the same person will make an edit in the future, nor does it reflect the actual number of active editors in that month," the post read.

However, Wikipedia admitted it is keeping an eye on editor numbers. "It's not yet clear how the patterns observed in Dr. Ortega's analysis could change if focused only on editors who have moved past initial experimentation."

And editor numbers are in decline. According to Wikimedia, the number of active editors - with at least five edits per month - peaked in March 2007 at 54,510. Since then, it's slid to 40,000, the level it's remained at for the past year and a half.

"The number of people writing Wikipedia peaked about two and a half years ago, declined slightly for a brief period, and has remained stable since then," the post noted. "Every month, some people stop writing, and every month, they are replaced by new people."

Wikimedia noted that the decline Ortega described is on the English side of the site, as other languages have seen an increase in the number of contributors.

"As a result the overall number of editors on all projects combined has been stable at a high level over recent years," they noted.

"We're continuing to work with Dr. Ortega to specifically better understand the long-term trend in editor retention, and whether this trend may result in a decrease of the number of editors in the future," they added, saying the "perfect" number of volunteers on the site was unknown, but they hoped to increase it from the current amount.