Fifteen years after it was launched, the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia is the world’s seventh most popular website and now includes more than 38 million articles in 289 languages.
It may sound expansive, but the site has come under criticism for not covering all subjects, regions or issues with equal depth.
The bias has been blamed on those who write and edit the website; around 30,000 volunteers from around the world.
“There is systemic bias,” said Aral Balkan, a digital rights activist with ind.ie .
“[It’s] Western, white bias. About 90 percent of the editors of Wikipedia are male, so that’s a problem we need to fix.”
Wikipedia has been working to increase the diversity of its content and contributors through outreach programmes such as edit-a-thons at universities and museums and by trying to appoint more women administrators, but the site has yet to see any significant change.
“When the world’s most important information resource is something that people put together on nights and weekends, that limits Wikipedia’s projects to just the things that can be accomplished in those particular time windows and with that kind of commitment,” said William Beutler, a digital consultant from Beutler Ink.
Beutler said Wikipedia was suffering from having too few editors, and this meant that many new and altered articles were failing to get the attention they needed.
Although it is prohibited by the site, there has been an increasing number of contributions from professional writers, some of which are being paid by individuals or companies to do so.
“One of the greatest advantages of Wikipedia is that it is independent,” said Balkan. “That corporate finance does not play a role is really essential to maintain its independence and impartiality.”
The Wikimedia Foundation, which oversees the technical and administrative running of of the website, has responded to the issue by looking at how the editing process can be automated and by finding ways to help editors make faster and better decisions when reviewing articles.
Each year the not-for-profit foundation, which has about 280 staff members, launches a fundraising
Its 2014–2015 effort saw more than four million donors around the world donate $75m.
Although this more than covers the $5m-a-month cost of running Wikipedia, there have been concerns that if public contributions drop the foundation may have to curb its activities.
To mark its 15th anniversary the foundation has responded to these concerns by creating an endowment fund that it hopes will raise $100m over the next 10 years.
“Fundraising right now is very strong, but you can’t count on it for ever,” said Beutler.
“An endowment to provide for its future financial stability is great news. It’s also just a first step. After all, Harvard’s endowment didn’t start out with $37bn in the bank.”