It’s a familiar topic if you’re a researcher and can affect whether you get funding. It’s one thing to be able to say that your article has appeared in a journal with a circulation of 10,000 copies but that doesn’t necessarily show that it has influenced people. Ideally you want to see people talking about your research, sharing it with other people, and using it to inform their own work. This is often done by counting how many times an article is cited in other publications, but misses out the likes of social media and newspapers. Altmetric.com measures the digital impact of articles, and recently announced that they are now including Wikipedia in their statistics.
This is a significant step. Wikipedia is the 6th most visited website in the world and receives about 500 million unique visitors every month. Not only is it one of our first sources of information in the digital age, it is read on an incredible scale. If your work is being used there, it is reaching far more people than would otherwise be possible.
So why is the inclusion of Wikipedia something to celebrate?
In short it’s another step towards recognising the reach and importance of Wikipedia and might encourage academics to interact with it. Already groups are considering Wikipedia as part of their outreach work when applying for funding. The Atlas of Hillforts Project, a joint project between the University of Oxford and the University of Edinburgh, specifically mentioned Wikipedia in terms of data dissemination and received £950,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. One more incentive might help people get involved and it creates a positive feedback loop. The better quality information Wikipedia has, the more likely academics will be to improve it.
Importantly, this move might help encourage open access. Researchers and academics generally understand conflict of interest issues, so the key way of making it more likely that Wikipedia will cite your work is to make it available to as wide an audience as possible through open access.
Overall any initiative which might increase the quality of Wikipedia in the long run and improve its reputation is surely a good thing.