The New York Times has an article about how only about 13% of Wikipedia contributors are female.
That’s a little concerning, considering the fact that Wikipedia is supposed to be the “sum of all human knowledge”. The article has several examples of articles where women might have more knowledge about the topics, they’re important topics, but the articles are lacking in substance and content.
I actually ran into a discussion about this on the user talk page for Jimbo Wales a few weeks ago, if you can believe it. There was a big debate about it, with all the things you might see… people asking why it mattered if women were contributing or not, people suggesting that Wikipedia needs an easier user interface so it’s not so intimidating for new people.
General note: I do not think Wikipedia needs an easier user interface. From the Geocities pages of old to MySpace pages and blogs of the modern age, plenty of women have proven that we can learn markup tags.
In my experience though, people tend to do things their friends are doing. Women tend to get into things they see other women doing… in fact we tend to dominate social networks. So maybe women just don’t see their girlfriends on Wikipedia enough? Or maybe no one’s invited us to the projects, so we get that sense that we’re not islands, we’re contributing to something big?
Once I got started on Wikipedia I really liked editing. I found it easiest to get involved in local stuff… articles about my state, city, neighborhood. Those are topics I’m familiar with, but they’re not all that fleshed out yet.
I also just liked reading up on topics I enjoyed, and filling in red links. It was easy to create new pages once I had my feet wet editing paragraphs on bigger articles.
Are my contributions perfect, with rock-solid references and links to every possible related page? No. Do I contribute every day, or every month? No. But it’s not about that, I see Wikipedia as a “beating the curve” sort of thing. Write articles that are better than other articles. Make improvements, even if they’re small. Do something small. It’s so much easier than running a blog or web page, where you have do make consistent good updates all the time… it’s low-maintenance. It’s great.
I don’t have a magic answer for the Wikimedia Foundation on how to get more women to contribute. But I can say to anyone reading this that it’s a good thing to do… and most people who read my blog are women. So readers, bring your “crumb to the table”. When you post an update to twitter or your blog or a forum, you’re contributing. A piece of yourself and your words are out there for someone else to learn from. Wikipedia is the same idea, only I’d say it’s even more important because it’s Wikipedia. Go for it, ladies. Be bold.