Safer: Rank and file Wikipedians today are still mainly men, reflecting the tech world at large.
Gardner: You don’t have to be technical to edit Wikipedia — the site is open to everyone who loves knowledge. It doesn’t take long for people to learn how to add information to the site, and we have a great community that helps anyone who wants to participate.
In fact, most people simply start by fixing typos or making small changes. Women are welcome to add information and edit any page. We have done significant outreach to attract women over the past few years and value their contributions in all areas of the site.
We believe that the more women, men and minorities work together on pages, the better the site will be for everyone.
Safer: The gender imbalance has caused significant internal disputes at Wikipedia.
Wales: The original software we had when we started ten years ago wasn’t that great, but we improved it so that everyone can contribute their knowledge easily, without the fear of harassment minorities and women often experience online.
Over the past few years, women and men, working together, have made great contributions to pages about science, art and history. This is especially important for groups who have been under-represented in traditional encyclopedias.
We believe that an inclusive environment that attracts all kinds of people makes the encyclopedia much better for everyone. After all, we wouldn’t want to be in the situation where women — 50% of our readers — feel they are getting something served up that’s predominantly written by men, edited by men, and approved by men.
Ok, I added that last sentence in. But how would men feel if the encyclopedia was written 90% by women? How credible do they think it would be? Well, that’s the feeling women have.
And now to the strangest part of this story…
I’m sure you all saw the headline: “Geeks, Not Women, Welcome At Wikipedia”. “Jimmy Wales 60 Minutes Gender Fail”. “Wales Wedding Dress Disaster”. No? Neither did I. That’s because there wasn’t a single article, blog post, or even tweet about what Gardner and Wales said on 60 Minutes.
“So what?”, you might say. “Nobody cares”. Well, I care, and you should too.
An encyclopedia written and edited by white men simply cannot represent the “sum of all human knowledge”. Instead, we are left with an encyclopedia that has thousands of pages on female porn stars, and few on female poets. Pages and pages on video games, and hardly anything on female scientists.
Consider if Apple’s Tim Cook had made these statements. “The people who use our computers are dirty hackers. Women might like to use them, but they don’t have permission to be like them.”
He would have been hammered by women’s groups and the tech press, forced to apologize and may even have lost his position (For example, Mozilla’s Brendan Eich, resigned after he gave money to oppose the legalization of gay marriage in California).
But there hasn’t been a single report about Gardner or Wales’ comments anywhere.
Why does the world’s fifth largest site get a free pass? Perhaps there are three reasons:
1. A press that is generally uncritical about Wikipedia’s underlying problems
Too many people are in awe of what Wikipedia represents and what it could be, instead of what it actually is. This cult-like fawning extends to Wales, Gardner, and other senior WMF (WikiMedia Foundation) figures, who should be under far more scrutiny for their statements and actions.
Isn’t it time the press started to write more about the actual problems of Wikipedia instead of holding it up as a model for collaboration? What kind of “collaborative” model excludes so much of the population?
2. The WMF is not accountable to the market
The WMF is not interested in how the content of Wikipedia is made, as long as the donations — none of which go to the contributors of the site — keep rolling in.
Last year they raised over $50 million, even though it already had $50 million in the bank. Instead of money going to the people who write and edit the site, it goes to First Class travel, expensive offices and a huge team of overpaid and underperforming engineers.
Even WMF insiders think the claims that the encyclopedia is running out of cash are alarmist and misleading.
However, the main problem is a lack of accountability to the market, allowing Gardner and Wales to continue to make sexist comments, and take no action, with no fear of backlash. But how many women would continue to donate, knowing that the site is built to exclude them, and that nothing has been done to improve the conditions of women contributors?
3. A lack of passion about the site from anyone
Women contributors are tired of pushing and getting nowhere. Editors, in general, are tired of harassment, arcane editing processes and arbitrary rules, abuse and harassment. People are tired trying to have their say. It’s too hard. They’ve given up trying to improve the site.
The number of editors is declining, and as it does, hoaxes, incorrect information, vandalism and spam are increasing, creating a trust death spiral. This can’t be fixed, because to do so, will require a complete overhaul of the site — something that just doesn’t seem possible.
The fault can be traced directly to Wales and Gardner, who over many years, decided to ride the gravy train, instead of updating the site with the tools to match its status.
What Wales and Gardner said is inexcusable, but their lack of action to create an inclusive environment is even worse. Combined, they give a clear message: Women are not welcome on Wikipedia.