Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Good People Working Together to Create Information

Surely, many of you have heard of Wikipedia, which is approaching its ninth anniversary. Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that is in the process of constantly being created by users throughout the world.

Wiki is from a Hawaaian word "wikiwiki" meaning quick. The term refers to software used by Wikipedia that allows for quick editing and collaboration. Wikis have existed since 1995, and were invented by Ward Cunningham.

Try a Web search any day and it will most likely include a listing from Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales is the man you want to thank for putting this sailboat in motion. Wales said he cleaves to three basic truths: “assume good faith, spread knowledge, be bold,” and always carry a water bottle. I’m only kidding about the last one, although Wales did have a water bottle on the podium as he spoke to the student assemblage, the last event in a day long symposium on “The Future of the Forum: Internet Communities and the Public Interest”, sponsored by Berkeley Center for New Media.

Wales grew up in Alabama and recounted how much culture has changed since the sixties when he was designated as the remote control by his mother to manually change TV channels followed by the eighties with a new request to “hook up the VCR.” Turning tables around, now Wales asks his daughter to program the TIVO.

“Culture is getting smarter and more complicated,” he said, running the gamut of the I Love Lucy sitcoms of yesteryear to the more complex relationships of Seinfeld, or from Pong to the fantasy game of Warcraft.

A strong proponent of free speech with a lifelong mission to create “free access to the sum of human knowledge,” Wales noted that Wikis are available in more than 175 languages throughout the world. The three million Wiki articles in English represent less than 20 percent of the total work, he said. Wiki articles exist in languages as diverse as German, French, Polish, Japanese, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Gaelic, Punjabi, and Russian, just for starters. Wales said that Wikipedia is the eighth most popular Website in Iran.

There’s something universal about the volunteers of Wikipedia, he said, “good people working with passion to create a collaborative culture which may possibly play a role in improving the intellectual level of discourse around many issues.”

In the early days, Wikipedias were embraced less by casual users and more by the geekish community whose comfort level included new software and publishing online. “We’re seeing new types of editors,” said Wales, especially around Wikia, a public wiki space for people of similar interests to share information.

More and more he noted “consumer media is becoming dominant.” With the demise of printed newspapers and money devoted to serious investigative reporting, the world of social networking that has sent marketing gurus into a tailspin, and smart phones that allow people to communicate instantaneously, Wikis are the hand that gathers strands of information and strings the pearls.

Lenore Weiss


Gregory Kohs said...

Lenore, I'm sorry to say you've been duped.

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