The encyclopedia of the people for the people by the people

If someone were to walk up to me and tell me that there is a non-profit venture run completely by volunteers that pretty much documents history in real time, while simultaneously trying to document every facet of human knowledge, even the weird parts of it, I would tell them that yes, I know what Wikipedia is. Although Wikipedia’s definition of Wikipedia-

– is a lot less cooler than mine, both definitions missed out on one adjective-mind boggling.

Why mind boggling? Well first, let me tell you a true story. According to an article, on the 6th of January, 2021, as the US Capitol dealt with the likes of the Moose Man, the page for the riots was created. The editors/writers of the page debated and tracked the whole thing as it happened- was it a riot or protest or civil disobedience?. Facts were typed out as they happened. 1168 editors and 7968 edits later, the page looks like, well, what it looks like today. (I got these numbers from here). Now of course, these numbers can be different when you see the page, as a matter of fact, the page itself might look different from what it does right now, as I’m writing this piece- there probably will be instances of disinformation and opinions as well, every now and then, which will be corrected. And no one gets a penny for doing all of this. And it happens for so, so many things every day, major historical events or not.

Second, Wikipedia’s success story is miles away from your standard Silicon Valley success story. It has no shareholders, no multimillionaires heading its operations, no advertising, and about 400 paid employees.  Wikipedia didn’t spend millions to attract its consumer base. It had somewhat of a network effect– as more people used and contributed to Wikipedia, its value increased. The techno-optimism-the belief that technology is the figurative path of salvation- of the 20th century is what fueled this growth.

Third, the sheer enormity of the thing. The English Wikipedia alone has 6,258,812 articles, with an average of 601 new ones everyday, and an average of 32k active editors a month. And it’s fascinating, the conversations these editors have under the Talk pages, as they put the pages together. I think it’s one of the best examples of the one thing most companies are facing the heat for right now: transparency. 

However, for the longest time, even now, the idea of this amateur encyclopedia has not been the most popular amongst academicians and intellectuals- it does not hold the gravitas that a time tested , old encyclopedia, such as the Britannica, holds.  This is almost entirely due to the fact that these pages can and do go through so many exits, and sometimes, the editors can be misinformed and/or can misrepresent information. But then again. It is kinda foolish to blindly accept anything you see anywhere- it’s always better to crosscheck, and wiki does make that rather easy- scroll to the end of any topic’s page and you will find an extensive list of references. Moreover, for topics that seem to have not enough reference, Wikipedia actually gives a banner declaring so- they have an entire set of guidelines for it. 

Granted, Wikipedia has its content and information issues, but compared to the issues giants like Twitter and Facebook have, Wikipedia is a saving grace for those who just want factual information about events and peoples and places and things or whatever it is that piques their curiosity. And if Wikipedia doesnt know enough, it declares that it doesn’t know enough, a trait a lot of us could use in todays opinionated and more often than not misinformed and extremist world. 

Of course, I agree that all your research should not be on Wikipedia. WIkipedia is where you start. And it’s an excellent way to start. And if one day,  you find yourself wanting to procrastinate while feeling like you’re being productive (a typical tuesday of my life), go down the Wikipedia rabbit hole on any random topic. I did so once on the color blue, and I’m still fascinated beyond words. Here’s to 20 years, Wikipedia, and 20 more to come.

-Devangee Halder


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