Monday, January 31, 2011

Male-to-Female Ratio of WikiWindbags Is More Than 85/15

The widely held perception that women talk more than men is probably untrue in general (see this contrary evidence), but it is emphatically untrue for contributors to Wikipedia.

The New York Times has a story on that today (Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List):

In 10 short years, Wikipedia has accomplished some remarkable goals. More than 3.5 million articles in English? Done. More than 250 languages? Sure.

But another number has proved to be an intractable obstacle for the online encyclopedia: surveys suggest that less than 15 percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women.

About a year ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and discovered that it was barely 13 percent women; the average age of a contributor was in the mid-20s, according to the study by a joint center of the United Nations University and Maastricht University.

-- snip --

With so many subjects represented — most everything has an article on Wikipedia — the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis. A topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs when compared with lengthy articles on something boys might favor, like, toy soldiers or baseball cards, whose voluminous entry includes a detailed chronological history of the subject.

Even the most famous fashion designers — Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo — get but a handful of paragraphs. And consider the disparity between two popular series on HBO: The entry on “Sex and the City” includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on “The Sopranos” includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode.

[TSB note: As a male myself, I am aware of Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo brands only because they were once featured in a Sopranos episode about stolen goods, which I guess is an example of a cross-over effect for the gender disparity the author is writing about.]

-- snip --

But because of its early contributors Wikipedia shares many characteristics with the hard-driving hacker crowd, says Joseph Reagle, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. This includes an ideology that resists any efforts to impose rules or even goals like diversity, as well as a culture that may discourage women.

-- snip --

It would seem to be an irony that Wikipedia, where the amateur contributor is celebrated, is experiencing the same problem as forums that require expertise. But Catherine Orenstein, the founder and director of the OpEd Project, said many women lacked the confidence to put forth their views. “When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies,” she said.

She said her group had persuaded women to express themselves by urging them to shift the focus “away from oneself — ‘do I know enough, am I bragging?’ — and turn the focus outward, thinking about the value of your knowledge.”

I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of Wikipedia contributors thinking about the value of their knowledge before posting. In fact, I think that's a much better idea than getting women to increase their Wiki contributions, as the OpenEd Project wants to do. Instead of women talking more, men need to talk less.

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