W is for Wikipedia

By Ned Donovan

In the 13 years Wikipedia has been online, it still continues to divide opinion. The non-profit free internet encyclopedia is derided by some, and hailed as the vanguard for opening up knowledge by others. Before it came about, much of our specific information came from commercially edited and published products like Britannica and Encarta, now however the process has been democratised. With mixed results.

There is nothing to stop an expert on any field, or anyone interested, editing or creating a page on Wikipedia at their whim. All the site requires is independent citation, and the following certain key practices. The encyclopaedia is peer reviewed by other similar editors, yet there have been times when inaccuracy on Wikipedia has become a major concern and, on occasion, a news story. The site has “reported” numerous celebrity deaths which turned out to be hoaxes, and even sometimes has totally fictitious pages remaining for nearly a decade.

For the 6th most popular website in the world, Wikipedia is remarkably small. Often you are greeted on the site by a beaming Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, asking for donations to sustain the project. Considering that the 5th most popular site is the massive Chinese search engine Baidu, Wikipedia certainly punches above its weight for a non-profit.

In the time the site has been around, there have been 276 language editions, the largest of which is English with 4.5m pages, followed by Spanish with just over a million, while some of the smallest include Norfuk Wikipedia (the language of the Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands) which has just over 100 pages. The beauty of the site remains that if you have something to contribute you should, whether it is expanding your small language’s edition, or bringing your expertise on the history of a certain type of elevator to an otherwise stub of a page.

Screengrab via Dave Holmes/Flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

Screengrab via Dave Holmes/Flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

During the SOPA/PIPA protests in 2012, Wikipedia went dark for a whole day. This personally sent my educational productivity at the time into a nose dive, and the rest of the internet community seemed to concur. Wikipedia proved that day that, despite their minuscule commercial wealth, their wealth for the advancement of human knowledge was crucial in a day where almost every part of our lives is online.