Ethan Zuckerman on Wikipedia's 10th Anniversary

More

My colleague, Joseph Reagle, recently posted online on of the earliest snapshots of Wikipedia: the encyclopedia after its first ten thousand edits. (It's available online at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/~reagle/wp-redux/.) The 2,393 articles in this early Wikipedia range from "A Priori And A Posterior Knowledge" to "Zeus." 365 (15%!) of the articles addressed aspects of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, while 56 covered the United States and its Constitution. The article on Patti Smith's album Horses is longer than the entry on Paris, and the overall picture of topical coverage is similar to that of the bookshelves of a geek-inhabited college dorm room.

bug_wikipedia.jpgMighty oaks from little acorns grow. From its idiosyncratic origins, Wikipedia has grown into a remarkably complete, authoritative and useful resource, dominating the reference space and serving as the first response to many online queries. It's the 5th most visited site on the Internet and the most visited non-commercial site. It's an incredible resource for those who would remix, translate, extend and otherwise build on its open intellectual property, like the government of Thailand, which recently launched a project to translate the English Wikipedia into Thai via machine translation and human proofreading.

Wikipedia is a victory of process over substance. The larval encyclopedia Reagle has recreated wouldn't have been worth translating, or even preserving. But the process and ruleset that allowed contributors to explore and document their passions, to improve each other's efforts, to debate editorial decisions within the platform and to roll back errors and vandalism have allowed for constructive, collaborative effort that has, over time, created profoundly content. Wikipedia's victory was getting the rules -- and importantly, the rules for making rules -- right, and trusting that the process would lead to substance. The project is far from perfect -- it's incomplete, inaccurate in places, subject to the systemic biases that come from participation of some authors and not others. But it's also one of the wonders of the world, and something anyone who studies sociology, politics, or organizational theory should look upon with utter fascination.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Ethan Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT and principal research scientist at MIT’s Media Lab. He is the author of Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, published by W. W. Norton in June 2013.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In