Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia

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Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia

Decentralized knowledge in the form of collaboratively maintained encyclopedia opens up new possibilities that hereto were non-existent. Wikipedia will change the very way we look at knowledge.

A quiet revolution is underway in the area of encyclopedias, the official knowledge sources. This revolution, called Wikipedia, is the result of a fundamentally distributed approach to managing knowledge.

Wikipedia is a free content encyclopedia written collaboratively by contributors from around the world. The site is a wiki, which means that anyone can edit articles, simply by clicking on the ‘edit this page’ link.

Wiki, then is the underlying distributed construct that’s worth exploring. It is a website, where anyone, let’s get it straight, absolutely anyone can edit, add, delete any page or its content. Sounds a lot like anarchy, isn’t it? But Wikipedia is extremely useful because of the very anarchism. Since knowledge is power, encyclopedias are a power tool. The traditional encyclopedias are edited by a handful, contributed to by a limited number of people (the so-called experts).

Wikipedia is a project that is maintained by Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization. It already has 400,000 plus articles just in English language (it is also maintained in 50 other languages), in less than four years. Britannica encyclopedias, one of the most well-known encyclopedic projects, have just 120,000 articles. It is free, vastly interlinked, and is being updated every second. This also means that it’s hard for a single person/group to maintain knowledge hegemony over it. To summarize:

  1. Wikipedia is maintained by volunteers across the globe, and hence the material in it is more often than not up-to-date.
  2. It tends to even out editorial balance, as there is no central authority that endorses or rejects content.
  3. It is highly interlinked, thus making navigation very easy.
  4. There is higher possibility of Wikipedia dealing with fringe subjects, as long as there is a volunteer ready to contribute.

This brings us to the question, is Wikipedia just a collection of modern folklore? For in the absence of consistent editorial policy, how does one stop it from being degenerated into folklore? Is it democratic knowledge or just trash? Even a cursory look at the website will testify its quality of content. Wiki is typically overseen by a few people, who are interested in the subject, and who edit out garbage, time and again. Plus the whole history of modifications is available to any end user. Yes, there are limitations to Wikipedia, but undoubtedly, it’s a silent revolution that would shape future generations.

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