Jan. 15 marks the beginning of a bold idea that changed the internet: a collaboratively-built encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Wikipedia started in January 2001 in English, but soon expanded to 18 additional languages within the first year. Now, after 15 years, it supports 300 idioms, while experts estimate that 28 percent of the global population has “never known” a world without Wikipedia.
“I am envious of new student generations, who enter colleges,” said Andrew Lih, associate professor of journalism at American University and author of The Wikipedia Revolution. “They are now able to access the sum of all human knowledge at their fingertips to answer any question, easy or hard.”
The fact that the web resource has survived for a decade and a half is an achievement in itself, considering that within the same timeframe both Myspace and Friendster have come and gone. Even influential online communities, like The WELL in San Francisco, have become irrelevant.
“Knowledge should be dynamic, collaborative, and built by everyone,” Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation explained. “The greater the participation, the higher the quality of knowledge. Many of the people who have historically been excluded from writing history or creating that knowledge in the past have a place to do so on Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects.”
In spite of the site’s great success, Wikipedia does still experience issues. One major problem is the decline in editors, who, according to Dariusz Jemielniak, author of “Common Knowledge? An Ethnography of Wikipedia,” nowadays prefer spending more time on Facebook or Snapchat, rather than contributing to the common good.
“The encyclopedia is overwhelmingly contributed to by males, and that is another problem,” Lih said. “It is try- ing to reach a level where 20 per cent of the editors are fe- male. This has implications on what topics are covered or the quality of certain articles.”
Fewer than one percent of the articles in Wikipedia contain video or animation content, and that is the issue that the website is working on now.
“We are preparing important updates to Wikipedia, including using artificial intelligence algorithms to help editors create high quality content, translation tools to increase coverage across languages, and multimedia formats such as maps and dynamic graphs,” explained Tretikov, sharing the encyclopedia’s plans for the future.
Wikipedia plans to grow and evolve along with humankind, so as the next billion users come online, they will use different technologies and have different needs.
“It might host interactive, 3D and virtual reality content to help provide richer experiences for future generations,” Lih predicted. “But right now, we are quite far away from those things happening because the current community of volunteers are primarily writers of text-based information.”
– By Dmitry Belyaev