Why Wikipedia works but Wiktionary doesn’t

It’s a truism to say that Wikipedia has been a resounding success. Not only does it have a large community of contributors but it also has an even larger community of readers: people who actually go to Wikipedia to get information. Wiktionary, on the other hand, has been more of an “unmitigated failure”, in the words of the lexicographer Patrick Hanks that I’ve overheard at the eLex conference in Belgium this October. Sure, Wiktionary does have an active contributor community, like Wikipedia does. But it has not achieved the status of the “go-to place” for lexical information, like Wikipedia has for factual information. It seems to me that, by and large, people don’t actually go to Wiktionary to find out about the meanings, usage and translations of words. People tend to prefer proprietary dictionaries (some of which are also available online for free). The question is, why?

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