This Saturday, I will celebrate with a piece of cake, but not for your run-of-the-mill birthday. According to Wikipedia, “cake is a form of food, typically a sweet, baked dessert.” On January 15th, the online encyclopedia (that has no relation to the notorious Wikileaks site) will turn ten years old.
Wikipedia, according to the site, “… is a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project based on an openly editable model.” Wikipedia is part of the US-based not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation and has become an encyclopedia written and edited by the people and for the people. You can call it truly democratized content.
They started with the concept of letting people create their own encyclopedia, which on the surface sounds a little bit like letting you operate on yourself. In reality, there are a lot of smart people with good content to add. After a few tries and tweaks, it does more than just work. It now boasts some 400 million monthly global visitors, 78 million of whom are visitors to the English version. Most journalists admit to using it and a growing number of college professors are accepting citations as a valid reference. According to a new Pew Internet and American Life Project report, 53 percent of U.S. adult Internet users visit Wikipedia.
The study shows education level as a big predictor of Wikipedia usage, with Internet users with college degrees and with annual household incomes of more than $50,000 (USD) being the most likely to visit the site.
“Wikipedia is written collaboratively by largely anonymous Internet volunteers who write without pay. Anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles (except in certain cases where editing is restricted to prevent disruption or vandalism). Users can contribute anonymously, under a pseudonym, or with their real identity, if they choose.”
Many businesses, even local ones, make sure they have a product-related entry on Wikipedia (see Intel). That goes back to using content as a business differentiator.
The English version boasts 3.528 million articles in 22.9 million pages from 13.7 million registered users and almost 1,800 administrators. In all, there are more than 17 million articles in more than 270 languages. Try sticking that on your shelf as a set of reference books.
Over the years, users have gotten better at properly citing where content comes from – in part due to improved online policies that make it easier to validate content. The end results are more reliable articles. In fact, I frequently find myself checking the links of the cited materials to get more information on a given topic. In short, it works – or becomes much easier to detect when it misses the mark.
A friend of mine got very upset at Wikipedia. He found himself constantly updating (“protecting”) an entry that was being changed to something different every week. He wanted to define a certain business term – and he is an expert on the topic. I noticed that different people were writing the “alternative view.” What he wasn’t ready to accept is that the term, around for some 50 years, was evolving.
While Saturday will be remembered for drummer Gene Krupa’s birthday and the day @JKrums saw U.S. Airways flight 1549 and tweeted “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.,” it will also be the 10th anniversary of the place we keep all this information.
Happy Birthday Wikipedia.