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Facing Serious Gender Gap, Wikipedia Vows To Add More Women Contributors

Maybe you suspected this, but the raw numbers are still a bit surprising: After surveying contributors to Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation found that 87 percent were male.

The Wikipedia logo.

hide captionThe Wikipedia logo.

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That survey was conducted last year, and in an interview with the New York Times, over the weekend, Sue Gardner, the executive director of Wikimedia, which runs Wikipedia, said her goal is to make the share of female contributors 25 percent by 2015.

The Times reports:

Her effort is not diversity for diversity's sake, she says. "This is about wanting to ensure that the encyclopedia is as good as it could be," Ms. Gardner said in an interview on Thursday. "The difference between Wikipedia and other editorially created products is that Wikipedians are not professionals, they are only asked to bring what they know."

"Everyone brings their crumb of information to the table," she said. "If they are not at the table, we don't benefit from their crumb."

The Times uses some anecdotal evidence to back up the effect of this gender gap. The entry for Sex and The City is paltry compared to that of The Sopranos. It also points to the lack of entries on Mexican feminist writers as opposed to the voluminous entries on The Simpsons.

The obvious issue here is that something like Wikipedia, an encyclopedia that everyone is encouraged to contribute to, is supposed to have a democratizing effect; instead, it seems, it's mirroring — and compounding — the issues we have in the real world.

What gives? The Times puts out the theory that much like the real world, women in the virtual world have a harder time asserting themselves than men.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones puts out a much simpler explanation: Men are more likely to care about something like a Wikipedia entry because they are more obsessive compulsive.

But what does he know — he's a guy. So is the reporter who wrote the piece for the New York Times and I'm having trouble finding some reaction on the blogosphere from women.

Update at 2:49 p.m.: Anna North over at Jezebel gives us some female perspective. She says this isn't a problem with just Wikipedia:

Some of these spaces are actively hostile to women (we're looking at you, Digg), but in Wikipedia's case the problem is more complex than that. Adding to an entry requires a user not just to set herself up as an authority, but also to sign in and enter an online community that's deeply focused on information and trivia — a kind of community where women encounter both internal (what does she know?) and external (what's a girl doing spending time in a place like that?) stigma. Certain forms of geeking out are Cool for women now (liking comic books, for instance), but editing the Pat Barker entry on Wikipedia isn't one of them.

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