This week, in The New Yorker, Stacy Schiff writes an article on Wikipedia, the on-line interactive encyclopedia. It just hit the million-articles mark. "The Encyclopedia Britannica, which for more than two centuries has been considered the gold standard for reference works, has only a hundred and twenty thousand entries in its most comprehensive edition."
"The site receives more than fourteen thousand hits per second." It has become my first place to go to check something out. I recommend it. I am amazed to learn it is only five years old. It seems to me it has always been here. The site went live on January 15, 2001.
"The site has achieved this prominence largely without paid staff or revenue. It has five employees in addition to Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's thirty-nine-year-old founder, and it carries no advertising. In 2003, Wikipedia became a nonprofit organization; it meets most of its budget, of seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars, with donations, the bulk of them contributions of twenty dollars or less. Wales says that he is on a mission to "distribute a free encyclopedia to every single person on the planet in their own language," and to an astonishing degree he is succeeding. Anyone with Internet access can create a Wikipedia entry or edit an existing one. The site currently exist in more than two hundred languages and has hundreds of thousands of contributors around the world. Wales is at the forefront of a revolution in knowledge gathering: he has marshalled an army of volunteers who believe that, working collaboratively, they can produce an encyclopedia that is as good as any written by experts, and with an unprecedented range."
I love this. I loved my Book of Knowledge as a child, the tangibility of it, and the moment Steve and I had an extra $300.00, it went to buy an encyclopedia for Jeff and Chris. I was shocked when we decided recently it was time to let it go, and Good Will told me it had no value. They would not take it. Slowly, painfully, week by week, I dropped a volume in the trash. Actually, it took me years to let the whole set go. I could not believe there was not a place for these books, but, now, with Wikepedia, I wonder if children will sit with smaller and smaller lap-tops, with a great deal of information easily at hand.
When Jeff and Chris are over, and we are having a discussion, a lap-top is always at hand to augment our conversation. It is like that, just like the guiding voice of the woman who helps now with navigating in the car. Most of the time she is a help. She does get lost, however, on Nantucket and around our house.
Wales was influenced by Friedrich Hayek's 1945 free-market manifesto, "The Use of Knowledge in Society," which "argues that a person's knowledge is by definition partial, and that truth is established only when people pool their wisdom."
In the 1930's, H.G. Wells wanted a "world-brain," a "collaborative, decentralized repository of knowledge that would be subject to continual revision." Wells said, "We want a Henry Ford today to modernize the distribution of knowledge, make good knowledge cheap and easy in this still very ignorant, ill-educated, ill-served English speaking world of ours." It seems he has his wish. There is a question as to the accuracy of what is on Wikipedia, but, it seems, in reading this article that is also true of the Encyclopedia. Use Wikipedia as a resource, and have some fun, and if you desire, you can enter your thoughts, too. Expertise, anyone? Here is the place to exude.