Lack of easily filled gaps
I think that the real main reason for newbies not remaining or becoming active is that Wikipedia is now covering an awful lot of topics, and it's simply less exciting to improve existing articles than to start new ones about missing topics. In the big Wikipedias, like the English or the German one, I'd say that nearly all "popular topics" are now covered. In varying quality, but the articles are there. Whether you look for seals, the sun, Abraham Lincoln, orange juice, Tolkien or Thailand: you get an article. That was different in the past. In the beginning, there was nothing ;-) - people had to create those articles. And it was fun: you could improve the encyclopedia substantially by filling obvious gaps with small articles, stubs, definitions in classic print-encyclopedia style... Nowadays the work is harder. There are in fact, as noted in another thread, still "thousands of new major articles" needed, but those aren't the "fun", easy topics that immediately come to mind. No, Wikipedia isn't "full-up" with only trivial topics needed - but the missing topics become harder and harder, often needing specialist literature not widely available. Therefore I think that it will remain hard to get active new Wikipedians, no matter what is done to improve community spirit.
There are many gaps, and fun gaps still there, but perhaps there should be a list of simple topic articles which users could work to create (or expand). Of course, the days are over of creating "Yellow Submarine" and just writing, "It's a Beatles song...", However, I recently created the standard oven temperatures "en:slow oven" and ("moderate oven" & "hot oven" and such) which had never existed despite 10 years of Wikipedia growth! This was another accidental, unbelievable discovery when working on complex concerns about temperature conversions, and I realized, "OMG, there were no articles for these simple oven terms?". I had a source document with a complete table of oven phrases, so I created article "en:Oven temperatures" with a wikitable and directed "slow oven" (etc.) to that page. In fact, it could be expanded for ovens used in pottery glazing or glass-blowing (etc.) That is a simple example of creating 10 articles about a fun easy subject. Since many fun topics are missing, by the thousands, but not every phrase someone ponders will be missing, then I guess we should create a long list of those, as some easy pages for users to write. There is no need to create so many early Persian poets of the 12-13th century, or baseball players from 1890 (probably all 3,000? already created anyway). However, many topics of general interest are still missing, by the thousands. Also, in general, the bare minimum text for a page has been set to a higher standard for a stub page, so the fun is not "careless lazy fun". Respond here or click reply. -Wikid77 05:25, 1 April 2011 (UTC)
I don't know if that was proposed elsewhere, but some kind of easy tool for newbies to find out how they can help could be a good idea. Something like a tool where you tick your areas of interest and whether you like to create new article or you prefer to enhance thinks and that base on the choice it propose a random list of missing articles or of stubs or articles to be reviewed ?
Wikipedia's completeness depends on your age, location, culture and interests. If you live in a British village of a few hundred people there is probably an article about your village, the railway line that used to serve it and the canal that preceded the railway. In other parts of the world there is probably a stub about the nearest city of over 100,000 people and a redlink for the nearest town of over 10,000 people.
We have pretty good coverage of the popular culture of the last decade, but massive gaps elsewhere. To my chagrin there are still 9 redlinks in en:wiki/List_of_Monarchs_of_Carthage
These gaps are connected with the issue I mentioned above - "the missing topics become harder and harder, often needing specialist literature not widely available". For villages of a few hundred people in Africa, it's hard to find any literature at all in most cases, and therefore Wikipedia articles, if they are written, tend to be meagre, consisting of some geographical and statistical data. By the way, that's also the case for many articles in the English Wikipedia about places in the United States: Very often they are not much more than a bunch of statistical/demographical data shaped into something resembling a Wikipedia article, but not really being one. Random, typical example: en:Limestone Township, Union County, Pennsylvania. That's not an article worthy of reading but something that wouldn't look different if it were bot-generated from the Census Bureau data. But in order to write really good articles about places like Limestone Township, you too need literature that is probably not widely available on the Web and not easy to come by in printed form, visits in specialised libraries or archives may be needed.... it is a challenge very different from writing articles about Lincoln, the Beatles, the widely known cities of the world, or bread. No one will have any difficulty finding usable literature about these topics, and that's why the Wikipedia articles for easy topics are now already written.
You've got a point- the articles you can write without any specialised or local literature are mostly there on the few largest Wikipedias. Take en:Word, about as basic a concept as there is. The article is bad, barely sourced- though at least free of maintenance tags. That said, a quick web search is not going to vastly help you improve it, chances are you're going to need an academic library to make real progress. For our township in Pennsylvania, someone who lives nearby and has access to the local newspaper archives, museum, etc. could do something with it- those who are five states away can't- and very likely have no desire to do so. The amount of articles you can write from scratch, or make a run at GA+ quality, (that aren't recent topics) without touching physical sources are fairly low at this point.
I'm as opposed to systematic bias as anyone, but the obviously encyclopaedic articles, and those of broad interest to Western Culture are mostly at Start-class or above. What's left is the hard stuff, either making those articles shine, or going outside of the English-speaking world, and neither proposition is an easy one. As the work gets harder, it is natural those interested in getting it done are fewer in number; hard work being, after all, hard.