According to Stacy Schiff, Wikipedia has become the seventeenth-most-popular site on the internet ever since it’s launch in 2001. With an open editing process that enables anyone to feel like an important contributor, this statistic is not surprising. What did surprise me about the article, however, is that Wikipedia is a non-profit organization. It carries no advertising (which I’d never noticed before) and has only five employees.Founder Jimmy Wales is on a mission to successfully produce an accurate, free, public encyclopedia using collective knowledge.
Wikipedia is known by teachers around the world as being non-reliable, as it can be edited by anyone at any time. When I created my free Wikipedia account I was prompted through various steps and instructions. One of the steps in the tutorial talked about editing. They didn’t give any punishable guidelines, but they “recommended” that any editors only add information that has been previously and reliably published, and also that they cite their sources. When I read this I discovered the reason this site is so popular. People like to feel powerful, and Wikipedia lets them do just that by trusting them to do the right thing, rather than forcing them to do so. In the link included above, Britney Spears’ page has been edited over 200 times, or at least over 200 people have cited information that has been edited.
I love the line in Schiff’s article that says Wales had “developed a system that does not favor the Ph.D. over the well-read fifteen year old.” Wales says of his editors “I don’t care if they’re a high school kid or a college professor.” This radical way of thinking is the reason why 200,000 users are registered to edit on the English site, and why we are getting closer every day to having an accurate and trustworthy online organization of knowledge.