WIKIPEDIA COMPLETES TEN YEARS: FROM EXPERIMENT TO ENTERPRISE

Posted: October 30, 2011 in News, The NamoLeague Times
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A LOOK INTO WIKIPEDIA’S BIRTH, GROWTH, CHALLENGES AND FUTURE AS AN IDEA THAT WAS NOT BORN WITH A SILVER SPOON, TEN YEARS AGO

On 15th January 2001, Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, made the first ever edit when he typed “Hello, World!” on the front page of the site. And 10 years later, the world has said a big hello back.

Edit-It-Yourself: An untested idea went live from the platform of Wikipedia before ten years. It had no fanfare, no assurance of success, no one was aware whether people would contribute to such a project and if so, whether the information they submitted would be reliable. The scenario today is opposite though. The website is the fifth most visited internet site in the world over the last decade. The evolution of Wikipedia from an experiment to enterprise also reflects the central nature of web in our lives.

The site that everybody can edit freely and collaboratively is credited not only with having created a massive storehouse of knowledge but also democratizing the presentation of content on the Web.

WHAT IS WIKIPEDIA? 

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that has over 17 million articles in 270 languages, 3.5 million of them in English, and is used by almost 410 million unique people each month. It is supported by a non-profit organization called Wikimedia Foundation of San Francisco.

The website was launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001 on the domain wikipedia.org. The name is the brainchild of Larry. It is a blend of Hawaiian word ‘wiki’ meaning ‘quick’ and the word ‘encyclopedia’. The founding can be traced to a post by Sanger entitled “Let’s Make a Wiki” that was intended as a feature to Sanger and Wales’s other project, Nupedia. The feature, rooted in Open Source Thinking, grew out of proportion. Volunteers contributed voluminous number of entries, which began showing up in Google searches, furthering the site’s growth.

Wikipedia quickly gained a large following. Contributors, it turned out, were more than happy to contribute, while readers did not seem to mind that the editors were unpaid.

BIRTHDAY RESOLUTIONS: WIDER AREAS, DIVERSE VOICES

It is hard to imagine that a tiny, user-based project, Wikipedia completed ten successful years. “The people’s encyclopedia,” as it was described by Sue Gardner, Executive Director of Wikimedia, is starting its second decade by resolving to be more representative of the people. As it is, more than 80% of its contributors are male, the average age falls in the late 20s and the most thoroughly covered subjects involve science and technology. In 2011 and beyond, Wikipedia wants to reach out to more women, older people, experts in the arts and humanities, and less-represented geographic areas like South America, South Asia and the Arab world.

The goal, Ms. Gardner said, is to offer “the sum total of all human knowledge” in the native language of all of Wikipedia’s users. A push to improve the quality of articles is also under way, through a partnership with 16 universities. Wikipedia is also trying to get experts to contribute, and recruiting museums, which could offer better images for the site.

These efforts to increase diversity will be backed by the $16 million Wikimedia pulled in through a 50-day fundraising pledge drive at the end of 2010, nearly double the amount it raised in 2009. Advertising is not in the cards for Wikipedia, it has a budget of around $20 million for annual pledge drive this year.

Next, Wikipedia targets the goal of 1 billion users in the coming 5 years, maintaining its status as a not-for-profit organization.

BUILDING THE TRUST

Although Wikipedia allows virtually anyone to add or alter entries without oversight, the journal Nature reported in 2006 that its accuracy was close to that of Encyclopedia Britannica. Wikipedia says its quality controls stop most ‘vandals’ from posting maliciously inaccurate articles.

Wikipedia is used as a reference and works best as an introduction to a subject. Since the articles usually cite references, readers can investigate further whether the claims are actually true. The site has had its share of controversies, including the departure of Larry Sanger in 2002 and subsequent public disagreements between him and Jimmy Wales over whether he was a founder. There have been debates about how reliable Wikipedia is, also about whether it is a real research tool or if it promotes laziness among students unwilling or unable to search for primary sources to cite.

Wikipedia that was a poor man’s Britannica in its early days, has surpassed that size and scope. Wikipedia has become a battleground between authorities and activists, say experts on digital censorship. While critics have challenged Wikipedia’s accuracy and bias, others say it has democratized the concept of who has the authority to possess and author knowledge.

INDIA IS THE FIRST STOP

“Fruitful environment [including] valuing education, free speech and a culture of intellectual debate” is the reason behind Wikipedia choosing India to be their first stop in the journey of expansion. To increase the number of foreign-language articles, Wikipedia, is planning to open its first overseas office in India in the coming months. Lessons learned here will likely be adopted at other future international outposts, possibly in Egypt and Brazil.

The question pops up, why India? The large number of potential internet users, and the ‘ground support’ that exists in the form of a passionate community of Wikipedians, drive these “offshore efforts.”

A lesser-known fact is that Wikipedia is available in at least 20 Indian languages (Hindi, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam, Urdu, Nepali, Kannada, Sanskrit, Bhojpuri, Pali, Punjabi, Oriya, Romani, Kashmiri, Sindhi and Assamese). While there are 58,000 articles in the Hindi Wikipedia, Telugu and Marathi too have been growing steadily, clocking 47,000 and 32,000 articles respectively. The Tamil Wiki has around 26,000 articles, Bengali (22,000), Malayalam (16,000) and Kannada (9,900). Together, Wikipedia is arguably the single largest source of Indic content online. And a massive task of expanding the local language content can be best tackled collaboratively.

CAN WIKIPEDIA BE AROUND FOR TEN MORE YEARS?

It is analyzed that the number of Wikipedia’s English language contributors fell from 54,000 in March 2007 to 35,000 in September 2010, but here Wikipedia may be the victim of its own success. As the website gets more inclusive, fewer articles need to be penned. But one thing is for sure, if Wikipedia ever goes away, we will not have a strong source to confirm this! However, 10 years is a remarkable achievement. To go from being a fringe idea to the center of a free culture movement is more than remarkable, it is important.

Happy Birthday, Wikipedia. Here’s to 10 more!

LITTLE-KNOWN

• The Wikipedia article on former US President George W Bush has been edited the most number of times; also, the page was viewed 4.5 million times in 2010.

• The first media report about Wikipedia appeared in the Wales on Sunday published from Cardiff, UK on August 26, 2001.

• The most Wikipedia 10th anniversary events were held in India (95 events). USA was a distant second with 52 events.

• In January 2001, there were only 25 articles on the English Wikipedia, the only version available back then.

• The three millionth article on English Wikipedia was added on 17 August, 2009. The 3.5 million articles milestone happened on 12 December, 2010.

• Gangadhar Bhadani, a banker from Ranchi, is the most prolific Indian Wikipedian with over 192,400 edits.

Read original article at: http://epaper.namoleague.com/EpaperArticle.aspx?title=WIKIPEDIA%20COMPLETES%20TEN%20YEARS:%20FROM%20EXPERIMENT%20TO%20ENTERPRISE_441

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