New York Times reports on Wikimania 2008 in Alexandria, Egypt, makes common mistake (aka page counts do not determine the size of a Wikipedia)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Wikimania 2008 went on a few days ago in Alexandria, Egypt, and the New York Times covered it. That's good news. The bad news is that they are once again displaying a lack of insight as to what makes a Wikipedia a good Wikipedia. Here's what it says:

Perhaps it is this context that explains the enthusiasm for building a stronger Arabic Wikipedia among the young people here and the fervor about contributing articles in their native language. Among the Arab attendees, who came from a variety of fields, including computer science, medicine, engineering and architecture, the woeful shape of the Arabic Wikipedia has been a cause of chagrin, even embarrassment. It has fewer than 65,000 articles, which places it 29th among the various Wikipedias, just behind Slovenian, and well behind the artificial international tongue Esperanto.
Places it well terms of what? In terms of number of pages? Well, not even in terms of that. Looking at the total number of pages including redirects and everything else (in other words just the number of pages, not articles) we have:

300 754 for Arabic,
227 181 for Esperanto, and
153 314 for Slovenian.

More important than that is the number of edits. The number of edits generally makes the difference between an encyclopedia worth reading and one that is simply a collection of one-shot pages. That is, an encyclopedia with 100 articles with 10 edits for each is more worth reading than one with 500 articles with 1 edit for each. Here's where they stand on edits:

1.8 million for Esperanto,
2.7 million for Arabic, and
1.4 million for Slovenian.

The conclusion? The Arabic Wikipedia is the best of the three. I don't want to detract from the effort put into the Esperanto Wikipedia, but simply focusing on article counts also takes credit away from people who spend a lot of time putting effort into making outstanding articles, and gives it over to those that likely don't deserve it as much.

The point stands, of course, that Arabic should have a much larger Wikipedia than it has now. It's just a pity that they picked two bad examples to compare it to. A much better way to compare it would have been to note that it's only twice the size of Estonian (spoken by 1.4 million people), and waaay behind Norwegian, with only 5 million people.

For a complete list of Wikipedias by language, see this page. Also see List of Wikipedias by sample of articles here.


Barcodex said...

My internal nitpicking bastard tells me that 1,4 millions speakers of Estonian is a bit brave estimation :) For me, Estonian is second language while I am Estonian citizen - do you count me in?

데이빛 / Mithridates said...

I think so. Anybody that can use a language counts in my opinion. Even someone that doesn't use a language every day might be tempted to use it every once in a while, when they see a blog post that simply begs to be commented on for example.

I count myself as 0.1 speakers of the language too. ^^/

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