Raise your hand if you've been tricked
at least once by erroneous information on Wikipedia. It happens. But as
the online, reader-edited encyclopedia turns 10 this Saturday,
commenters are finding plenty to praise about the site as it tries to
find ways to "keep narrowing the useful-reliable gap." Wikipedia is now an indispensable online resource, though often taken for granted (one reason why Wikimedia foundation launched a $16 million fundraising plea
last year). On the eve of its anniversary, founder Jimmy Wales has
been sharing with the media his evolving vision for the future. Here's how reporters are reacting to the plans, and commemorating ten years of
- Where Will It Be Ten Years From Now? Mike Melanson at Read Write Web speaks with Jimmy Wales and executive director Sue Gardner and notes their plans for Wikipedia's growth: diversifying the languages of entries, building a "truly global" representation of authors, "robust" partnerships with major academic centers, libraries, galleries and museums and "more presence in the emerging mobile space." On the other hand, the site apparently has no plans to challenge Facebook or YouTube. "The core of what we do is already quite usable," said Wiki spokesman Jay Walsh.
- If Wales Had Commercialized Wikipedia, He Could've Been Worth Billions, figures the Guardian's Timothy Garton Ash, who nonetheless praised the founder as "the best example of online idealism" available. "Putting it all under the not-for-profit umbrella was, Wales quipped to me, at once the stupidest and the cleverest thing he ever did, Ash writes. The best way to define Wikipedia's information was well put by the New Yorker, he writes: There's an "intriguing distinction between useful knowledge and reliable knowledge. One of the free encylopedia's biggest challenges over the next decade is to keep narrowing the useful-reliable gap."
- The 'Poster Child' for Online Collaboration The "reliability" and accuracy debate has lost some of its luster over the ten years that Wikipedia has been growing, finds Wired's Olivia Solon. The reason for this is that--since the ranks of Wikipedia entry editors has grown--"anyone can have instant, free access to the collective knowledge of hundreds of thousands of people, updated daily" or even in real-time. And the company is hard at work to make it even easier for non-computer geeks to share expertise "in a bid to ensure that the community of editors is more representative of the global population." Still, prominently placed in Solon's article is a dissenting opinion about Wikipedia by the former editor-in-chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Robert McHenry, who notes:
The fatal fallacy in the Wikipedia theory is that a Wikipedia article can be thought of as an ‘open source’ project like those that produce software and that, like those, it will undergo steady improvement toward some ideal state. But the software is clearly identified as developmental while in this process, and it is constantly tested against objective criteria: it performs as intended, or it does not. The article is published to the world in whatever state it may be, changes for the better or for worse at random times, and is held to no standard that the user can rely upon.
- Remember: Inaccuracy About Public Figures Didn’t Start With Wikipedia and "no other means of information has ever been more correctable," writes Forbes Michael Humphrey. While this point has been debated ad nauseam, it's important to clarify. In the same vein, Jimmy Wales commitment to editorial integrity will "only as strong as the community around it...since the site overtly welcomes bad articles, it’s a problem the potential solvers created themselves. And it is by far the trickiest aspect of the Wiki revolution." Nevertheless, using an example of a neuroscientist who carefully monitors the Wikipedia entry for "enzyme," Humphrey notes that inaccuracies many times appear to get fixed. "I can’t help but feel that this 10-year-old is a pretty noble being, despite its terrific flaw," he writes.
- Will People Ever Trust the Concept That You Can Get Substantial Information For Free? That was one of the questions posed to Jimmy Wales by Esquire's Foster Kamer in a Q&A with the Wikipedia founder. Here's Wale's response:
I think people are starting to get used to it. It's sort of a blunt fact. Just earlier today I had a pretty tough interview from kind of an older guy: He was peppering me one question after another, super-skeptical about Wikipedia. We get done and the interview's over and, you know, off-camera he says to me "I love Wikipedia, I use it every day." [Laughing] It's like, he can't quite believe it, so he doesn't quite get it! And he's got these objections, but at a deeper level? He knows it's actually pretty good.
- 'It Simply Is, an Omnipresent Fact of Modern Living' concedes The Washington Post's Monica Hesse, who considered writing her profile of Wikipedia "in the style of an entry on Wikipedia, with elaborate footnotes and heated discussion pages and a stupid error or two." But, alas, that was so "five years ago." The fact is that "the accuracy debate is the most important, but in some ways less interesting discussion about Wikipedia's impact. What's most revealing might be not the vastness of the articles and the things they get wrong, but rather how they reveal what things we care about, and how humanity is both better and dumber than you ever would have expected." Hesse also makes this observation:
There is a strange equality of topics on Wikipedia. Because space is endless online, entries are limited only by the stamina and interest levels of their contributors, who tend to be young, male and nerdy, which helps explain why the entry for actress Megan Fox is approximately the same length as the entry for President Millard Fillmore.