- This article originally appeared in the German Wikipedia Kurier, May 2019
The number of active editors on the German-language Wikipedia (de:WP) has long been declining, dropping almost two-thirds since its peak in 2007. The French-language Wikipedia (fr:WP) has almost caught up in the number of articles, and by some measures, such as total monthly editors, is overtaking de:WP. This article examines this phenomenon using data from Wikistats 2, which was introduced this year, data from the earlier Wikistats 1, and other data collected by Erik Zachte over the years. Wikistats 2 includes some wonderful graphics, but, because I've combined that data with other data, my own graphs are presented.
The English-language Wikipedia started on January 15, 2001. Less than three months later both de:WP and fr:WP versions began. Both German and French chapters, Wikimedia Deutschland (WMDE) and Wikimedia France, were founded in 2004.
From this similar start fr:WP developed like a "little sister" to de:WP's "big brother." Its growth lagged de:WP and it never appeared to be completely catching up, until now. With impressive growth in the early years, de:WP had a stormy start while fr:WP had more leisurely growth. This difference may be due to the population of native speakers in each language. In 2017, there were 105 million native German speakers against only 79 million French native speakers. There were 33% more German speakers. The number of German native speakers ranked 10th among all languages, French ranked 11th according to the Duden publishing house. By the way, we also find a similar percentage difference in Wikipedia page views from Wikistats 2 in June: 643 million views to 869 million views (a 35% difference).
At the end of June 2019, fr:WP with 2.1 million articles was still behind de:WP with 2.3 million articles. However, the average monthly increase in articles since December 2017 in fr:WP has been higher than the increase in de:WP, which may be explained by a greater use of bots at fr:WP. For the end of June, the following averages were available: 10,086 new articles for fr:WP, and 9,411 new articles for de:WP. Both have now reached about the same size and growth, which is likely due to the comparable number of active editors. With the monthly number of content edits in de:WP at around 500 thousand per month, fr:WP has almost caught up. In June 2019 it was 474 thousand to 442 thousand edits; for the past 12-month period the mean values are 512 thousand to 460 thousand edits.
Both projects currently have a total of about 55,000 editors monthly (mean values: 55.9 thousand for fr:WP; 55.5 thousand editors for de:WP). These include not only registered users, but also IP's and bots, each with at least one edit. Active editors, those with at least five edits per month, show the same trend. The number is around 8,650 active editors with a small lead for fr:WP. In June 2019 there were 55.9 thousand to 55.5 thousand (all editors) and 8,650 to 8,010 (at least 5 edits). For median values over the past year, the following relation applies to the active editors: 8,793 (fr:WP) to 8,483 (de:WP). The stable development of the active editing participants in fr:WP is countered by a long-lasting decline in editors in de:WP. For the past three years, from July 2016 to June 2019, the mean value in the fr:WP increased slightly by 1.7% (from 8,641 editors to 8,797); however, it steadily declined by 16% in the de:WP (from 10,130 editors to 8483).
Data on the registrations of new user accounts show a positive picture, but fr:WP with about 15,300 new accounts monthly, is well above the number of new users in de:WP with 9,700 new accounts monthly. However, caution is advised, since very few of the new registrants edit and, again, very few remain active. The order of magnitude is 1-5%, depending on the degree of activity and the time interval examined.
Until December 2018, Wikistats 1 recorded the number of newcomers who had reached their tenth edit. These numbers allow the following comparison: There were 704 newcomers in fr:WP, but only 453 in de:WP. For the median 12-month values (2018): 758 newcomers to 589, ie 29% more in fr:WP. Of the approximately 15,000 newcomers in fr:WP and 9,700 in de:WP, around 5% each reach at least 10 edits. The more than 50% higher level of account registrations in fr:WP shows a level of recruiting, which – unlike in the de:WP – obviously compensates for or even exceeds the number of departures to editors.
Considerable differences are also evident in the full-time staff of the Chapters. With only eight permanent employees in 2019  Wikimedia France is well behind the chapters of the three D-A-CH countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) together. Above all, WMDE could perhaps look to Wikimedia France to see how leaner structures might produce better results in the interests of reinforcing editor communities.