This morning, Noam Cohen of the New York Times published Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List, a terrific, characteristically-thoughtful piece about the gender gap on Wikipedia.
In his piece, Noam quotes me on why the gap matters, and talks with researcher Joseph Reagle about Wikipedia’s origins in the “hard-driving hacker crowd,” and how that contributed to an early male skew. He also cites examples of systemic bias in action on Wikipedia, contrasting light coverage of topics such as friendship bracelets, Sex and the City, Jimmy Choo and Mexican feminist authors against deeper coverage of topics such as toy soldiers, baseball cards, Grand Theft Auto IV and The Simpsons. He gathers opinions and context from Wikimedia Foundation board member and longtime Wikipedian Kat Walsh , iconic gender-and-technology researcher Jane Margolis, as well as Katie Orenstein, who runs the Op-Ed Project, an organization aimed at helping women achieve voice as public intellectuals.
That piece prompted a flurry of other coverage, and I also got lots of interesting e-mail. In the next week or so, I’m going to write more about it here. For now though, this is just a quick collection of some of the most interesting coverage.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writes a short piece in The Business Insider called Wikipedia Is Hampered By Its Huge Gender Gap, arguing that Wikipedia’s gender gap is a problem “because people turn to Wikipedia as an objective resource, and it’s not so objective in many ways. Another problem is that the community of Wikipedia contributors is famously independent-minded and might rebel at affirmative action-like initiatives to bring in more female contributors.”
Mother Jones publishes a Kevin Drum piece called Wikipedia’s Gender Problem, in which he argues “I suspect the reason has less to do with women having trouble asserting their opinions and more to do with the prevalence of obsessive, Aspergers-ish behavior among men.” “I’ve long been convinced that this tendency toward obsession is one of the key differences between men and women. I don’t know what causes it. I don’t know if it helped primitive men kill more mastodons during the late Pleistocene. But it does seem to be real.”
Matt Warman at The Telegraph writes a piece called Why Wikipedia’s editors are mostly male, quoting Jimmy saying that although editing Wikipedia is most appealing to geeks, he doesn’t think it’s unwelcoming to new people. Jimmy says that a key piece of solving the problem will be increasing our efforts to make Wikipedia’s interface more user-friendly.
Raven Lovecraft at TG Daily writes a piece headlined 85% of Wikipedia entries are made by men, and points out that “in recent years there have been great strides in the female user base of video games, social networking accounts, and jobs in the technology field.” (I might actually question that last: it’s my understanding that women’s representation in technology firms is declining, not increasing.) Lovecraft describes Wikipedia’s gender gap as “almost off the charts.”
Discover magazine publishes a short piece called On Friendship Bracelets and Ninja Turtles: Wikipedia’s Gender Gap, which suggests that “it might also be healthy to acknowledge the danger and shortcomings in labeling articles as “male” or “female”–not every girl weaves friendship bracelets, and not every boy enjoys watching turtle fights,” while also arguing that “more women Wikepedia contributors would mean a more diverse website–one where formerly terse entries become more nuanced, and past untouched subjects get mentioned–creating, in short, a better and more informed Wikepedia.” There are some particularly interesting comments on that piece, many presumably from women working in science.
Anna North writes a piece on Jezebel called Why Wikipedia Needs More Ladies, that “it’s not just Wikipedia — social news sites like Digg, Reddit, and Slashdot remain majority male, with Slashdot clocking in at 82% dudes. 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.”
And Eli Rosenberg at The Atlantic, in a piece called Where Are All the Wiki-Women?, characterizes Wikipedia’s gender gap as “a little surprising, especially given that the option of contributing to Wikipedia’s vast cultural database is open to anyone with an idea and a keyboard, with little of the implicit male-dominated infrastructure of more traditional corporate or media organizations.” He also offers a great round-up of links to other stories.
Eyder Peralta writes on the NPR blog a piece called Facing Serious Gender Gap, Wikipedia Vows To Add More Women Contributors, observing 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.”
Helen A.S. Popkin writes on MSNBC.com a piece called Dude-centric Wikipedia needs more women. “What’s interesting here,” she writes, “is that an attempt to draw simple comparisons to show how Wikipedia, or any other male-centric reference guide, suffers from a lack of female influence, reveals how complicated and touchy this issue is. While female-centric topics of interest are important, it’s the female perspective on subjects of general interest that mean the most in the long run. And rather than having long, drawn out discussions about it, maybe it’s better to just get it done.”
 Edited to add: Kat elaborates on her comments to the Times in this blog post.
If you’ve seen other good coverage, please add it in the comments. If you’ve got ideas about the origins of our gender gap, or how to fix it, please share that too. I’ll be writing more on both those topics in the coming weeks.