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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 
You can cite me, no Problem.
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