Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wales on Wikipedia

From CHENer Nick Harris...

Imagine a world where democratic and aristocratic governments co-exist and women hold the most powerful positions in society. This is not a monarchy. Dictators are not welcome here. Voting is a tool used for building consensus rather than as a binding mechanism. Reputation and promotion is a natural outgrowth of human interaction. People collectively write their own textbooks and encyclopedias and education is free, available to all. Every human has access to all human information.

Welcome to the human experiment that is Wikipedia.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia.org and the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, speak at the Mass Technology Leadership Council’s 2006 Annual Meeting. Wikipedia is a freely licensed global online encyclopedia collaboratively written by thousands of volunteers in many languages. In total, there are over 3 million articles across 200 languages, which makes this quite a sizeable project. Wikipedia is a top 20 website, and according to one study conducted by Alexa.com, the site reaches a more unique demographic mix than the NY Times, L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, and the Chicago Tribune. A wiki, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a type of website that allows users to easily add and edit content and is especially suited for collaborative writing.” The term wiki comes from the Hawaiian word wikiwiki meaning quick, fast or to hasten.

Although Wales touched upon the operations and technology behind the project, his message stressed the purpose and mission of Wikipedia: “to provide a high quality, neutral, free encyclopedia.” “This is a social, not a technological innovation,” he said. This is not just about creating a global encyclopedia, but enabling all people throughout the world to become part of the process. Wales also shared some of his personal findings about the Wikipedia community: “Wikipedians” are generally in their late twenties to thirties and tend to be academic post-grads or professionals, 50% of all edits are done by just 0.7% of all users (615 people), and in all countries the most trusted and respected users who yield the most power among wikipedians are female.

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