Wikipedia aims to provide free online access to all human knowledge. And a cursory look at its vital statistics appear to indicate that it’s well on its way to achieving that. The organisation has 77,000 active contributors working on over 22 million articles in 285 languages. All this attracts some 500 million unique visitors a month.
And yet a look beyond these figures reveals a subtle but important problem: there is surprisingly little overlap between the content in different language editions. No one edition contains all the information found in other language editions. And the largest language edition, English, contains only 51 per cent of the articles in the second largest edition, German.
This problem is known as self-focus bias and it places a significant limit on the access to knowledge that Wikipedia provides. It means that Wikipedia not only offers people access to a mere fraction of human knowledge but to a mere fraction of its own articles.
There are a group of people who could change this, says Scott Hale at the University of Oxford in the UK. He believes that people who edit Wikipedia in more than one language are the key. “Such multilingual users may serve an important function in diffusing information across different language editions of the project,” he says.