As the encyclopedia nears its 10th birthday on Saturday, its leaders are seeking a more diverse group of editors - specifically, women, people in developing countries and people with expertise in assorted disciplines.
Wikipedia is about to open an office in India and wants to expand further in Brazil, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. Today, 20 percent of the site's pages are written in English, but the organization expects that to change over the next 10 years.
"Everybody brings their crumbs of knowledge to the table and all those crumbs become a banquet. And we're missing some people from the table," said Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that runs Wikipedia.
As it is, said Jimmy Wales, the site's founder, the average Wikipedia editor is a well-educated twenty-something - and most likely male. Eighty percent of its editors are men and they include twice as many people with Ph.D.s as the general population.
In an effort to diversify, the San Francisco-based non-profit is recruiting students from 16 college campuses, including Harvard and Georgetown. Wikipedia is trying to teach young people what it takes to curate the website's entries. Cooperating professors, for instance, will assign their classes to write encyclopedia entries about public policy, complete with footnotes.
"Students are the fuel that power Wikipedia because they're engaged in the world of writing, researching, summarizing, citing," Gardner said.
In particular, Wales said the site could use help from people well-versed in the humanities, a weaker area for Wikipedia's geeky first editors. In part, Wikipedia is working to make its editing software easier to use, but it is also reaching out to libraries and other organizations to tap different talents. It's working with museums, for instance, to develop richer, more informative entries about the arts, including photo galleries of notable works.
While the site's leaders admit it could be more diverse, they insist Wikipedia is comparable in accuracy to other encyclopedias. Gardner, a former journalist, said even under the guise of a respected media outlet, humans make mistakes.
In part, though, the site has had to award special editing privileges to trusted editors while preventing newer contributors from spreading misinformation. In the wake of the shootings in Arizona this weekend that left six dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords seriously wounded, the site posted a warning, reminding readers that the story was developing. It also allowed only a select group of experienced editors to make changes. Still, the site initially reported that Giffords had been killed, following unverified reports from outlets such as Reuters, NPR and CNN.