One of the most successful examples of internet-based organization, this ‘free encyclopedia anyone can edit’ has (at the time of writing) over 5 million articles in 200 languages. The English language edition has over 1.5 million articles. It was launched in 2001, based on the expert-written ‘Nupedia’, and its name derives from the Hawaiian word ‘wiki’, meaning quick. Its founder, Jimmy Wales, developed the encyclopedia on the basis of two principles – that it should be written from a neutral point of view, and should be free to read and use under the general principles of ‘copyleft’ or ‘creative COMMONS’ licences. (That is to say, that authorship is clearly acknowledged, and profits are not made by reproducing the contents.) The capacity for anyone to produce and edit entries has resulted (it is claimed) in a continually developing and improving corpus of entries based on a COMMUNITY of writers, editors and administrators. Whilst ultimate control is maintained by Wales, contentious topics are continually re-edited and discussed on open pages attached to specific entries. No articles are ever declared ‘finished’, but malicious or offensive editing (as well as advertising) is monitored by a team of volunteer administrators and deleted on a daily basis. Since 2005, following some potentially libellous entries, authors now need to be registered with Wikipedia in order to construct new articles.
Wikipedia has been criticized, often by librarians or the editors of conventional reference works, since there is no robust way of checking the information or the credentials of those who supply it. Its position of ‘neutrality’ is clearly impossible to maintain to the satisfaction of all its readers, and the quality of its information can be variable. Nevertheless, it has grown massively in influence, and its speed of response and coverage is much greater than that of a normal reference work. It has also spawned a wiktionary, wikiquotes, wikinews, wikibooks and the wikimedia information commons. It is worth considering, as a reader of this paper-based ‘Dictionary’, just how much wider the coverage could be if it were www- and wiki-based. Wikipedia shows how a DEMOCRATIC or even ANARCHIST approach to information and organization might work (see ILLICH). It is parallelled in technological terms by the OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE movement, in finance by the ‘Ripple Project’ (see GRAMEEN BANK), and in news by INDYMEDIA.
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