[Wikimediaindia-l] [Press] : The Hindu : An empire without kings

CherianTinu Abraham tinucherian at gmail.com
Tue Feb 15 02:22:07 UTC 2011

 *The Hindu : An empire without kings *( 12-Feb-2011)

*As Wikipedia plans to open its first office outside the US in India, a look
at how it has democratised information and knowledge…*
*Today's de facto standard for fast and fairly reliable information on the
Internet is Wikipedia. To students and news junkies alike it has become
somewhat of an addictive habit to use Wikipedia. Research often begins at
Wikipedia, even if it is later corroborated by a more reliable source.
Wikipedia's meteoric rise is much like the story of the rest of the
Internet. Founded in January 2001, this online encyclopaedia has quickly
grown to become one of the top 10 visited websites since 2007. Currently it
stands at No.5, only beaten by Google, Yahoo, Youtube and Facebook. Web
traffic measuring firms have found Wikipedia to be one of the most heavily
visited sites on the Internet. Moreover, among sites that are focused on
educational and reference material, Wikipedia is by far the most popular
site, drawing nearly six times more traffic than the next-closest site.*
*One of the single biggest reasons for its popularity is the confidence it
has instilled in people, that no matter how obscure a topic, it will most
likely be found in Wikipedia's pages.*
*Meteoric rise*
*Wikipedia's flagship ownership model is what makes it so successful today.
The content on Wikipedia ultimately belongs to the people who created it. As
a collective human exercise in democratisation of scholarship, Wikipedia
achieves the goal of collaborative effort on a global scale.*
*Wiki is the Hawaiian word for “fast”. In keeping with its name, its growth
has been staggering. The English-language Wikipedia has expanded from
135,000 articles at the time of incorporation to more than three million
articles today. All Wikipedia languages combined contain more than 15
million articles.*
*Wikipedia is available in a host of Indian languages, including Hindi,
Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi and others. It has recently
announced plans to launch an Indian edition of its website, as part of its
global strategy to penetrate the fast growing South East Asian market.*
*Sharply polarised*
*Wikipedia has its share of diehard fans and sworn critics. Many promoters
and users of Wikipedia see it as a replacement for the traditional
encyclopedia. Yet, many others are hesitant to embrace it as a full-fledged
substitute, much less a replacement.*
*At Wikipedia decisions are made through consensus-building. The barriers to
entry are low – you don't have to have a Ph.D. or be a proven expert to
write on a topic. But it is precisely its amateur-friendly approach to
contributions that also results in some of its harshest criticisms. The
argument is with so many “rookie” authors and editors, how do you monitor
malicious content, inaccurate details and biased reports of polarising
figures. Many academics had initially doubted its value as a trustworthy
source and considered it to be spurious and unreliable. However, over time,
the vast body of information that Wikipedia has accumulated (according to
Wikipedia's write-up on itself, it has surpassed all other collections of
general knowledge ever compiled), and the sets of rules that it has put in
place have resulted in better quality of content. Many teachers now
acknowledge its utility and surprising accuracy though many refrain from
citing it as a source.*
*With a staff of only about 39 employees, the backbone of Wikipedia is its
thousands of volunteers who contribute content to the Wikimedia communities.
Also, it is funded primarily through donations, grants and gifts. They do
not use advertising as a source of revenue. This is one empire with no kings
and a vast population of voluntary foot soldiers.*
*Wikipedia has had its share of controversy and learnt its lessons. In 2005,
an anonymously written biography entry appeared, that linked former USA
Today Editor John Seigenthaler Sr. with the assassinations of President John
F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The writer, Brian Chase, later
issued an apology for a prank he says went terribly awry. Seigenthaler, in
an USA Today editorial, criticised Wikipedia and called the fake biography
“Internet character assassination”. This was a wake up call for Wikipedia to
get more aggressive about patrolling for vandals and blocking suspicious
edits. Wikipedia altered its editing policies so that now high-profile
subjects like Barack Obama are protected from anonymous revisions.*
*Wikipedia continues to be a work in progress. The debate rages on, in true
democratic fashion, about what stays and what goes, what worked and what
needs to get eliminated in keeping with the company's mission of “a world in
which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all
knowledge”. This endeavour reminds you of Isaac Asimov's best remembered
science fiction creation – the supercomputer called Multivac. Multivac was
fed so much information that in the course of time it could answer just
about any question asked of it. After years of servicing people's requests
and answering their questions, Multivac developed the quintessential human
quality of sapience and subsequent burnout. Multivac was famously asked the
question: “Multivac, what do you yourself want more than anything else?” To
which Multivac gave the unequivocal and succinct reply: “I want to die”.
Certainly not the fate we want Wikipedia to face.*
*For Wikipedia in local Indian Languages:

Tinu Cherian
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