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Wikipedia on brink of staffing crisis as admin numbers plummet

Wikipedia is facing a staffing crisis as the number of people approved to be full site administrators and the amount of new editors continues to plummet, according to a report from the Wikimedia conference in Washington, DC.

Admins or sysops are Wikipedia's elite geek army. They are charged with protecting the integrity of the free information portal and boast the power to delete posts, block editors, and protect pages that have been defiled. A report in the Atlantic based on various charts shows that they are also at risk of becoming an endangered species.

Approvals peaked between 2005 and 2007, with December '05 seeing the elevation of 68 staff to Wiki's upper echelon and the site totalling over 1,000 active admins at the end of '07. By way of contrast, a mere two people notched a successful request for adminship in March of this year, down from 34 in 2006.

Andrew Lih, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California and a Wiki admin since 2003, contends that the statistical slump is down to the recent introduction of a more rigorous vetting process.

"The vetting process is akin to putting someone through the Supreme Court. It's pretty much a hazing ritual at this point," he said, noting that applying for top-level privileges now entails tests on copyright law and the submission of essays about notability in addition to the successful completion of decision-making scenarios.

Back in the day, Lih added, adminship was granted "if you proved you weren't a bozo."

At the same time, the number of active editors - that's eds. making five or more edits a month - has seen a seven per cent drop, meaning that the number of potential new admins is also falling and the problem exists at a grassroots level.

But Wikipedia is hardly dying: page views remain wildly impressive, running at over 7,000 million a month, and the site continues to hone its political prowess in addition to being the Internet's one-stop information destination.