Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales delivered his annual State of the Wiki address at last week's Wikimania conference in Washington, DC, where he joined Ada Initiative co-founder Mary Gardiner in calling for a more inclusive and diverse community of web editors. Gardiner and Wales focused on Wikipedia's troubling gender gap, in particular, citing a 2011 Editor Survey that found that women comprise only nine-percent of the site's editors, despite the fact that more than one-third of Wikipedia users are female.
A major driver behind this gap, according to Wales, is bias in topic selection — a process whereby Wikipedia's editors collectively determine whether a particular subject is worthy of its own article. Because women are already underrepresented in this process, subjects important to them may be vetoed, thereby setting in motion a vicious cycle that makes it even more difficult to approach gender parity.
As an example, he cited an article about Kate Middleton's wedding dress, published shortly after last year's royal wedding. As Slate reports, the entry was flagged for deletion not long after being posted, unleashing a lengthy debate among the site's gatekeepers. Some found Middleton's dress too "trivial" to warrant its own page, with protests coming from both male and female editors, alike.
Wales, however, vehemently defended the article, arguing that the dress could have long-term impacts on fashion, and that it's just as significant as other arcane subjects on Wikipedia. To illustrate his point, he compared the entry to the site's 100 articles about obscure Linux distributions. "One hundred different Linux distributions. One hundred," he wrote. "I think we can have an article about this dress."
To help mitigate this bias, Wales suggested that editors "reexamine [their] premises," and consider topics that may be of interest to underrepresented demographics. The site has already made efforts to bring more women into the fold, working with the Ada Initiative to encourage more open source participation, and launching a new visual web editor in an attempt to foster a more welcoming environment.
Gardiner struck the same chord in her keynote address, telling attendees that they had a social imperative to broaden the site's reach: "As a project of social change, even if it's not an activist project, the Wikipedia community has a responsibility both to its mission and to the people out there in the world to always be on a journey toward diversity — to increase the size of the umbrella of the world"