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30 Sep 2004 07:08
This week users of the Wikipedia.org published its one-millionth article, making it the world’s largest and fastest growing encyclopedia according to the Wikimedia Foundation.
A “wiki” is a website that allows users to edit and contribute to its contents with no limitations.
This means, practically speaking, that any person can go onto a wiki and change the pages and save them with little or no technical knowledge at all.
Wikipedia.org was started in early 2001 and has been built, from the ground up, by ordinary people who have taken it upon themselves to write, edit and contribute articles in areas that they feel they have expertise.
In January 2001 there were ten contributors, or wikipedians, growing slowly to 383 in January 2002. From January 2003 to present this number has risen rose from 1Â 411 to 11Â 505, with approximately 760 new articles contributed every day. That’s more than 113 million words in total, and 359 thousand edits in total!
In a recent Slashdot interview (//slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/07/28/1351230), Jimmy Wales, the founder of the Wikipedia said he would view the World Book and Britannica as competitors but he thinks they will be “crushed out of existence within five years”.
“There’s no cost to switching from an outdated old encyclopedia to Wikipedia—just click and learn, and there you go. You can switch before your friends switch, but the knowledge you learn will be perfectly compatible,” he said.
The Wikipedia finds itself in the middle of a raging debate in blogs, discussion forums and newspapers all over the world. In July 2004 Boston Globe journalist Hiawatha Bray criticised (//www.boston.com/business/globe/articles/2004/07/12/one_great_source_if_you_can_trust_it/) the Wikipedia saying traditional reference books hire expert scholars and editors to write and edit their articles whereas “Wikipedia’s articles are written by anyone who fancies himself an expert”.
This critique is a common one and is based on the lack of accountability when ordinary people can make changes to knowledge previously considered the truth. The answer to this is simple—the sheer volume of contributors and self-appointed editors will, eventually, find inaccuracies and correct them.
A few weeks ago, as an example, a friend of mine dropped a line into an article about the Knights Templar that read “I do not believe this to be true” at the end of one of the paragraphs. A few days later it was gone.
Regardless of whether you think it is a credible source or not, the Wikipedia, and other projects like it, give a voice to many people who would not have been able to contribute their own knowledge to the creation of an encyclopedia. It is infinitely more democratic and open as a process and promises to give a voice to those who have traditionally be marginalised by the centralised and closed truth making processes of the non-digital world.
It is a chance for all cultures and people to represent themselves rather than be described in a massive, lifeless book that will, no doubt, remain on a shelf for decades.
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