Wikipedia is the free online encyclopedia. You’re free to use it, and moreover, you’re free to edit it. It’s proud to introduce itself as the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.
Users’ ability to add new to or edit the existing articles has not only made this five-year old project a huge success but has also drawn a lot of criticism. Since anyone can edit it, the critics of wikipedia believe the information is not as accurate as it should be. A recent article by the popular Nature magazine compared 42 science articles of wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica and found that the open-source had 143 errors whereas the hugely popular paper encyclopedia had 123. It was considered a victory for wikipedia and proof that having expert editors and specialized writers doesn’t ensure accuracy.
Criticize it or praise it, but wikipedia today is the popular online resource for many, giving the updated information free of cost. The English section contains 902,000 articles and there are more than 200 other language versions of it (of course, with fewer articles than in English). There is even a Nepali version, http://ne.wikipedia.org, which has only 55 articles with 69 registered wikipedians – the volunteer editors who write and edit the articles.
More than 83,000 users have registered for wikipedia and their contributions have made wikipedia, now run by the non-profit organization Wikimedia, the world’s largest source of encyclopedic information.
Wikipedia was founded as an offshoot of Nupedia, a now-abandoned project, to produce free encyclopedias. Nupedia hoped to use highly qualified writers to produce free encyclopedias but didn’t progress much. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Nupedia, decided to use wiki, a collaborative site allowing users to edit the contents. Nupedia used wiki on January 10, 2001 – exactly five years ago. Five days later, due to resistance on the part of Nupedia’s editors and reviewers, the wiki project was named wikipedia and launched on its own domain.
As a wiki page, wikipedia has to resist the users who “vandalize” the contents. In response to the criticism and vandalism, wikipedia has now a system that allows users to visit the earlier versions of any article, allowing reverting of the vandalism.
The nature of wikipedia makes it weak in some areas. The radical openness may mean that any given article may be, at any given moment, in a bad state, such as in the middle of a large edit, a controversial rewrite, or recently vandalized.
The propellers of open source and free expression nevertheless see wikipedia as free from the western points of view. The critics look at articles on some controversial topics. However, wikipedia is nevertheless a valuable resource on the Internet, full with links that help users to immediately access further resources on any given topics.
(This is a piece I wrote for The Kathmandu Post‘s City Post. City publishes a cyber post every Tuesday, and I hope to contribute regularly.)