DIGITAL AMERICA

The Free Encyclopedia

// Posted by on 01/31/2013 (11:03 AM)

Growing up, the “Encyclopedia” was an extensive set of 20 or so books that lined our family bookshelf in alphabetical order. I could look up basically anything I wanted and find at least a paragraph about the topic. The books were easy to use and exciting. I loved projects that required me to look things up.

Enter 2001 and the “Encyclopedia” now had a new definition: Wikipedia. It started with an idea and 100 volunteers on a mission to create thousands of entries about pretty much anything. The pages also included the option to edit now, giving all users the option to contribute to the existing information. The concept challenged human interaction in a public forum; the pages were supposed to maintain unbiased and just communicate the facts. The pages were constantly changing, for better or for worse. Wikipedia.com was the first fluid Encyclopedia. Then, it became the Free Encyclopedia.

The evolution of the Wikipedia logo ^^ (from Wikipedia.com)

The creation of Wikipedia strikes me as similar to Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog  whereby it represented a collection of various tools, items, and products compiled in a manner to appeal to the “New Communalists” and the “cowboys and nomads.” Both Wikipedia and the Whole Earth Catalog strike me as conglomerations of products and theories of their decades. Brand’s Catalog offered new ways to approach the computer. Wikipedia embodies an example of a fresh approach to personal computing, communal knowledge, and social forums.

An article in the New York Times published Septemeber 20, 2001 was used for the factual pieces of this post. The article can be found here.


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Comments:


Patrick said...

Celia, I was wondering if you think that the ability wikipedia gives its readers to edit pages is a step forward or backwards for the website? In my opinion Wikipedia would be a much better website if it did not give people the option to edit the page. There is always someone who thinks it will be funny to make up false things on a page, this can lead to much confusion for the reader. Also many professors will not let you use wikipedia as a source when writing papers, I do not agree with that because wikipedia is truly one of the best ways to get broad info on a topic. If they took away the option for users to edit topics I feel like it would lead to more support from teachers and professors to use it as a learning/teaching device.

// 02/04/2013 at 12:40 am

Sam said...

Wikipedia is a really, really tough entity to try to, for lack of a better term, “reform.” You can’t really stop people from being able to edit pages themselves because then the whole idea of the “free public encyclopedia” would more or less implode on itself. How could you decide who is allowed to edit pages and who isn’t? I think the best model to follow would be similar to the one that Wikipedia currently uses, which is allowing anyone to edit a page and using experts to corroborate that information. Of course, they could employ certain measures like cutting off IP addresses that constantly mess with the info, etc. But I’ve even taken the liberty of editing a Wikipedia page-the one on my primary educational alma mater, the William Penn Charter School. It’s pretty cool to be able to drop expertise (if it’s legitimate) on such a widely read website.

// 02/04/2013 at 5:42 pm

Celia said...

Patrick, I definitely see what you’re saying with the issue of credibility, but that being said Wikipedia is policed by site administrators. Their job is to make sure that information is accurate and impartial. Obviously, it’s not a perfect system, but Wikipedia also makes note of pages that might be needing review or needing more information. Professors endorse Wikipedia as a great place to start finding broad, general knowledge for topics, but in most cases you need to just scroll to the bottom of the page and find the source to use. It can be a great resource for finding more sources. I definitely think Wikipedia should maintain its current structure.

// 02/04/2013 at 9:31 pm