When two hypes colide: Wikipedia and user-generated data

Martin Belam is one of those who has picked up on the story about the number of people contributing to Wikipedia falling away. He makes the reasonable comment:

Not entirely convinced by this argument. Yes edit wars and holier-than-thou editors on Wikipedia can be frustrating, but frankly, with over 3 million English language articles already written, what is there left for the new novice editor to add?

And yet, and yet. Whilst trumpeting the success of Wikipedia is one of the most commonly used examples in the “social media is changing everything” school of evangelism, so too is the claim that data is being created at an unprecedented rate.

Take these two statements:

In 2009, more data will be generated by individuals than in the entire history of mankind through 2008. [Harvard Business blog]


20 hours of video are now uploaded [to YouTube] every minute [NewTeeVee]

So, dear evangelists – which is it? Is all right and rosy with Wikipedia or is it that record volumes of new data are being created (which in turn would mean no shortage of new things for Wikipedia to document)?

I should emphasise that posing this question isn’t a criticism of Martin, whose own posts are more insightful than most, but rather his post prompted a wider thought of how amongst others there’s often too much evangelism and not enough comparison.

After all, if the people believing the vast amounts of new data flooding through every computer pore story is true and meaningful really believe, then even if Wikipedia was seeing a small growth in its editors that would be crisis stations as that would be nowhere near enough to keep up. And similarly if people really believe the unalloyed positive story about Wikipedia, then they can’t be believing the story about huge volumes of new data.

But how often do you see people disagree on such points? Instead, far too often people hop from positive story to positive story in a spirit of understandable evangelism, but don’t notice that the cases they use are often incompatible.

My favourite example of this is Facebook. It’s equivalent to one of the five biggest countries in the world but also equivalent to one of the five poorest. Yet people who often talk up social media with the example of Facebook’s size then slide over its relative poverty and move on to different examples when it comes to talking about making money online.

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