While attending Wikimania last Friday in DC, the Atlantic's Robinson Meyer came across three charts that made him worry about Wikipedia's future. He acknowledges it's not new news that the number of Wikipedia editors has been on the decline for the last five years. Here's what was new to him: The number of members promoted to the role of admin, those helpful, volunteer custodians of the site who can block editors or clean up vandalized pages, has nosedived. One of the troublesome charts shows the number falling from an average of 34 a month in 2006 to a mere six in the first half of 2010; in the past few months, only one or two users have been promoted.
Part of the problem seems to be that the promotion process has become "pretty much a hazing ritual," says Andrew Lih, author of The Wikipedia Revolution. Back in 2003 the distinction was attainable "if you could prove you weren't a bozo," says Lih. Now he likens the vetting process to that of the Supreme Court—it involves writing essays and being quizzed about copyright law. But it's not be time to sound the death knell just yet, writes Meyer. He encountered plenty of "chipper, engaged Wikipedians" last week, and notes that a new, easier WYSIWYG text editor will go live later this year.