An ode to Wikipedia

It’s really amazing when you think about the advances made by the human race; just in the past few decades and in the past centuries.A very important reason for this advancement is the ability to share information; that is share the information you acquired to your fellow humans so that collective learning takes place. In case of other animals all the information it acquires during a life time is lost when it dies. That is, there is no scheme by which information is passed on through the generations. This is where communication and sharing of information comes into play.

All the information obtained by all the other human beings can effectively be learnt by you in today’s world.

wiki

Close to a hundred billion people have lived on the face of this planet, and all the facts and ideas we have was learnt by someone, somewhere, at some point in time.

This is how we differ from other animals; the information acquired by the animal is lost when it dies. So the only way most species can evolve, to become smarter is by trusting their luck to random genetic mutation. If a favourable ‘mistake’ in the gene happens, the species learn to keep the ‘mistake’ and hence, in a way passing on some information to future generations.

All this just goes on to show how important storing and sharing the information you acquire is of prime importance; just gathering information does not suffice.[1]

Now, just imagine for a second that there is a place where, you store all the information relating anything for free access by anyone at any time. Well, you can stop imagining and head over to www.wikipedia.org.

I owe a lot of what I am today to this single place on the internet, Wikipedia.

When Wikipedia was started in 2001, it was almost like a subsidiary to Nupedia, Jimmy Wales'(Jimmy Wales is the founder of Wikipedia). Nupedia required only experts to edit and add articles, and this attracted very little attention. Surprisingly, Wikipedia, a place where anyone can edit and add stuff attracted much more attention and also produced articles with a much higher percentage of accuracy of information than anyone had foreseen. Thus the focus shifted to Wikipedia, an open encyclopedia which anyone can edit.

From it’s inception it has quickly grown to one of the most visited websites in the world. It contains more than 4.5 million articles in English alone and there are more than 10 million articles totally. The amusing part however, is that it still displays no ads. Most of the site costs are covered by small donations. So you could say that it is completely run by people, right from covering the server costs to editing and maintaining all the information.[2]

If you give masks to everyone on this planet, you would be surprised at how many people still remain as good people. This is evident in many places on the internet, but on Wikipedia it reflects on the amount and sheer mass of the quality content available. Information should be free and this is exactly what Wikipedia thrives to achieve by indexing all the information. By giving all the users the freedom to edit the content, I am often surprised at how people take time off their lives to make life easier for so many others. Many a project of mine have begun and many more have both begun and ended( by ctrl-c & ctrl-v

ing) on Wikipedia. News is updated on real time simply because of the fact that anyone can edit it.

My favorite part about browsing through Wikipedia is when I start somewhere and I end up somewhere else completely irrelevant to where I started from. Back tracking through the path I took is often a fun exercise. This comic by Randall Munroe sums this up.

the_problem_with_wikipedia

You could really start anywhere and end up anywhere. Reading random articles opened up so many new topics and interests to me, and I am sure many many others as well.

I try to contribute in my small ways by correcting grammatical mistakes, or by linking relevant pages, or sometimes editing content and taking part in discussions.( Wow, I really should do all of these more often)

However there are the obvious flipsides to such a set up. There are the few ugly cases where people edit the articles to suit their personal needs and the few cases where ugly editing wars have lead to banning of the articles. These however are few and far in between. The more practical problem arises when people fail to realize that information from Wikipedia is not credible.

Wikipedia is often the best place to start your research and often the worst place to end it.

Also there is the problem of censorship, or the lack of it rather. Anyone has access to any information, however there are those parts of the website which you might not want your child to view. Wikipedia does no discrimination on any of this and many countries have reacted to this by banning Wikipedia all together.[3]

To make articles about scholarly topics more accurate and widespread, this idea really impressed me. The idea is to include editing Wikipedia articles as a part of the curriculum in Post graduate or perhaps even under graduate courses. The instructor could then review the changes or the new articles posted and could grade them based on this and help correct the mistakes( if any). I am not sure if such a scheme is actually feasible, but it sure does look lucrative.

All that writing about Wikipedia has made me realize that I have spent enough time on it today, so I am headed over there.

If you love Wikipedia as much as I do, consider donating[donate here] . Donations also keep Jimmy Wales from creeping everybody out by having his face everywhere on Wikipedia.

Your donation keeps Wikipedia available for an ambitious kid in Bangalore who’s teaching herself computer programming. A middle-aged homemaker in Vienna who’s just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A novelist researching 1850s Britain. A 10-year-old in San Salvador who’s just discovered Carl Sagan.

 

I guess I know where a part of my earnings are going, once I start earning [citation needed]
You can cite me, no Problem.

Links:
[1] How could an article on Wikipedia me complete without a random hyper-link?
[2]Page on Reddit
[3]Page on YouTube

Also shower your love by following the blog( signing up by e-mail) if you would like to read more 🙂

Advertisements

23 comments

  1. I always remember our teachers telling us in school “You better not use Wikipedia as a source!” Of course, I always listened to them and didn’t, but still find Wikipedia very useful! Most of the information on there is pretty accurate, too. Great post!

    Like

  2. So 5 am rolls around watching Before Night Falls info about movie insufficient. you guessed it I wiki just today and 1st time a request for support I had taken this for granted. Ty I am informed your blog good flow no hiccups

    Like

  3. I like wikipedia too, though I have to say that I am not so good at learning stuff just by reading. I enjoy watching videos more. Ted talks are great but what I really like is taking classes on coursera or similar platforms. What do you think about them?
    By the way, I don’t think that animals do not pass on information at all – mothers do teach their little ones. To me, the really new thing now is how far information can travel.

    Like

  4. I enjoyed reading the pros and cons of Wikipedia and your thoughts on how the site can be used synergistically with education programs. I agree that Wikipedia is a fine example of people coming together for the common good of society.
    Feel free to visit my blog and leave a comment:
    http://theherv.wordpress.com

    Cheers!

    Like

  5. We were always told not to use Wikipedia as well so we would use it find other sources and reference them instead.

    You’ll be happy to hear that Wikipedia has made it onto the undergrad curriculum at Otago University as part of the Digital Lit. paper. We had to edit an article as part of one of our lessons. The only problem was that we were restricted to course related content (electronic literature) and they had been edited to death over the years.

    Like

  6. Aha!
    I remembered coming across such a scheme, thanks for providing one of the sources. I will edit the post 🙂

    But that’s still a start, I am really happy that you had to do that as a part of your course. 🙂

    Like

  7. I just finished my degree and Wikipedia was a site we were not allowed to use. First week of class we had to go on to the site and make a correction to an article. And submitted it to show anyone could change information. I think site go start be need to make sure info correct.

    Like

  8. I love this one here “Wikipedia is often the best place to start your research and often the worst place to end it.”

    As a uni student Wikipedia is one of the first places I would go to and has saved me countless hours of research XD
    I find it quite interesting how a company centric encyclopedia like Microsoft’s Encarta (which did what Wikipedia did in the past) but was discontinued after Wikipedia’s peer based model grew in popularity to overtake Encarta. .

    So where did Wikipedia succeed where Encarta failed? quite interesting, loved the comic as well, so true!

    Like

  9. Wikipedia is full of great and valuable content and the only one issue about it were paid articles or otherwise stated as: sponsored ones 🙂

    Like

  10. Nice article, Gnomy.. My research usually starts with Wikipedia.

    As a part of my course, we are required to create a Wikipedia page about a particular subject, which is restricted to our curriculum. It’s a good way to learn and it encourages sharing of information..

    Like

  11. That’s great, I did not know that such schemes were this widespread 🙂

    And I hope you are doing a good job at creating them 😉

    Like

  12. I just noticed your reply Swav.
    Yeah, there were allegations about people using it as a medium to satisfy their selfish needs, but I think it’s far better now, as in any wrong or ambiguous information is removed or edited within seconds 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Go on, share your thoughts :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s