Thursday, 13 January 2011 12:57

Wikipedia's '10 years of free knowledge': a celebration


Wikipedia's 'users and contributors' around the world are celebrating and marking 'the project's first decade' which will officially arrive on January 15, 2011.

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, is about to turn 10.

The double digit landmark comes despite past claims that Wikipedia can be inaccurate, something that is fixable by the site's edict of being editable by anyone, and has been compared to the Encyclopedia Britannica on many occasions.

Wikipedia has undoubtedly caused Britannica much chagrin as the venerable 'olde worlde' encyclopedia has seen a user-generated online encyclopedia capture the hearts, minds, keystrokes and eyeballs of the digerati - all of whom have access to information without needing to spend thousands on a set of fixed and admittedly impressive looking books, while always being reminded not to rely on Wikipedia as an only source.  

Wikipedia's press release celebrating the impending 10 year anniversary notes that when its encyclopedia first started on January 15, 2001, the initial results for site visitors was 'underwhelming'.

As an example, the release points to initial articles listed at Wikipedia, with the article on 'astronomy' simply stating: "Scientist whose area of Research is Astronomy", the article on Sweden stating that it is a "Country in Northern Europe. Inhabitants are called Swedes. Language spoken is Swedish. Capital is Stockholm.", and the article on physics stating that: "Physics is a very broad subject".

Wikipedia says that it 'grew quickly' from those 'humble beginnings', and that in less than a month, over 1000 articles were written.

Then, over the 'next five years, many new language versions were launched, and Wikipedia began to surpass traditional reference sources in breadth and depth', with Wikipedia's 'secret of success' being that 'anyone can edit any article.'

As noted, Wikipedia was not without its critics, with Wikipedia pointing to a January 2006 user page entry from 'Wikipedia volunteer Gareth Owen' who wrote that "The problem with Wikipedia is that it only works in practice. In theory, it's a total disaster."

Despite that, Wikipedia has grown from strength to strength, with the site noting that 'more than 400 million people every month' come to visit, read and presumably, learn, with those figures coming from comScore's Nov 2010 stats.

In a bit of self-promotion, as you'd expect in a press release celebrating 10 years of existence, Wikipedia states that 'it provides instant access to high quality and in-depth information, free of charge and free of advertising. In the last decade, a vast and unique global volunteer community has come together to create more than 17 million articles in 270 languages, advancing the cause of free knowledge for every person on the planet.'

So, what events is Wikipedia and its community planning for the 15th of January 2011 and the 10 year milestone? Please read on to page two!

Wikipedia says that on January 15, its community is 'coming together in more than 300 locations all over the planet to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the free encyclopedia.'

Venues include a conference in New York to a concert in Prague, the launch of a new school project in Nairobi to a museum bootcamp in Amsterdam, a beer-meet in Bucharest to a film screening in Tel Aviv.

Wikipedia says 'the events are organized by volunteers and Wikimedia chapters, as well as independent supporters. The events are open to participation by anyone and reflect the diversity of the community.'

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, said that: "It's hard to imagine that it's been 10 years since I first edited Wikipedia. I remember that first day. I clicked on 'Edit' and I wrote 'Hello World', and that was the beginning of Wikipedia and all the things that have come since then. I want to thank everyone who has helped.

'I want to thank all the people who have edited Wikipedia, who have contributed to this great knowledge base. I want to thank everybody who is reading Wikipedia, who is really engaging with ideas and knowledge. That's what we made it for: we made it for you to read', concluded Mr Wales.

Wikipedia notes that it is 'operated by the Wikimedia Foundation, a charitable non-profit organization established by Wales in 2003. It is entirely supported by donations, and just completed the most successful fundraiser in its history, with more than 500,000 individual donations totalling more than $16 million.'

Wikimedia Foundation's Executive Director Sue Gardner says she has ambitious goals for the future, stating that: "We want to reach a billion people by 2015. We want to persuade more readers to edit. More women. More people from the Global South. We know that the more diverse the editing community becomes, the more comprehensive, accurate and rich the encyclopedia will be."

In the press release, Jimmy Wales joined her call to action, stating: "Even though we've got millions of articles, even though we're in hundreds of languages, there's still a lot of work to do. So, I want everybody out there, if you've never edited Wikipedia, try it - just click 'edit'."

More information about Wikipedia 10 events can be found here and here.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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