Recently in the Netherlands: Ronald explains the Dutch Wikipedians that Wikipedia will die away over the next three years. He backs his fear with hard numbers. After a steep grow, the number of edits made in the bigger language versions is slowly declining.
I believe that he took a lot of effort to get his numbers. But he also said: “I am not talking about content, but about numbers.”
As a historian, I have a different approach. Numbers can give me an inspiration – before going to the sources to understand “what has actually happened”, as nestor Leopold von Ranke gave the example.
Some things seem to be countable, but in fact they are not. You can count how many times the USA vetoed in the UN Security Council, or the Soviet Union. But this is not enough to tell which country caused more good or evil. You have to take a look what these vetoes were about.
What is an edit in Wikipedia? One vandalism edit and one revert – makes two edits who contribute nothing to the progress of our encyclopedia. An afternoon writing an article and putting it online in a single edit – makes only one edit but improves the wiki.
When I was a beginner and I saw an error in an article, I corrected it. Later I saw another error and corrected it, too. Nowadays, I read the whole article before saving, so I do the same work in only one edit. Statistics, nevertheless, believe that I am only half as productive as I have been before.
Most vandals are young people. The demographic evolution in the rich countries leads to less young people. Less young people, less vandalism, less edits?
Wikipedia once has been a project to create an encyclopedia. It now is an already existing encyclopedia. Writing articles (and fighting about them) causes more edits than maintaining them.
So, obviously there are fewer edits. I don’t know what that means. Maybe it is no cause for worrying at all.