Wikipedia:Why Wikipedia is so great
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
As you read and edit Wikipedia, at some point you may ask yourself: "Just why is Wikipedia so awesome? What accounts for its enormous growth and success?" In order to answer this question, some great people have written some explanations and arguments on this page. For comparison, see also why Wikipedia is not so great, and Wikipedia:Replies to common objections. You can then arrive at a well-informed conclusion thereafter.
- Wikipedia articles are very easy to edit. Anyone can click the "edit" link and edit an article. Obtaining formal peer review for edits is not necessary since the review is a communal function here and everyone who reads an article and corrects it is a reviewer. Essentially, Wikipedia is self-correcting – over time, articles improve from a multitude of contributions. There is an entire infrastructure for people seeking comments, or other opinions on editorial matters, and as a result, Wikipedia has got "consensus-seeking" down to a fine art. We prefer (in most cases) that people just go in and make changes they deem necessary; the community is by and large quick to respond to dubious edits (if any) and either revert or question them. This is very efficient; our efforts seem more constructive than those on similar projects (not to mention any names).
- Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, repeatedly mentions in his book Weaving the Web that the web has grown into a medium much easier to read than to edit. He envisaged the web as a much more collaborative medium than it currently is, and thought the browser should also function as an editor. Wiki-based sites are closer to his vision. In fact, the first web browser was also a web editor.
- While traditional encyclopaedias might be revised annually, Wikipedia's current affairs articles, as well as their older articles being edited, are updated thousands of times an hour. That's a big deal if your interest is in current affairs, recent science, pop culture, or any other field that changes rapidly.
- Errors to Wikipedia can be corrected within seconds, rather than within months as with a paper encyclopaedia. When someone sees something wrong in an article, they can simply fix it themselves. If they cannot correct it, they can "tag" the problem to attract the attention of other editors. Compare that to the slow, tedious process required to report and fix a problem in a paper encyclopaedia.
- On Wikipedia, there are no required topics and no one is setting assignments. That means anyone can find part of the encyclopaedia they're interested in and add to it immediately (if they can do better than what's already there). This increases motivation and keeps things fun.
- Wikipedia is open content, released under the GNU Free Documentation License. Knowing this encourages people to contribute; they know it's a public project everyone can use.
- Where else can you get lovely articles on a such-and-such town or so-and-so bizarre hobby written by actual residents/practitioners? (Of course, some view this as a curse.) Many articles on Wikipedia will likely never have an entry in a paper encyclopaedia.
- The use of talk pages. If an article doesn't cover something, you can ask about it.
- Requesting articles. If any article you try to find isn't here, you can request it.
- Most editors on Wikipedia are amateurs. However, many contributors on specific matters are professionals or have firsthand knowledge on the subjects they write about. These contributions allow many scholars to gather information to aid them in research matters, and even just for everyday general knowledge.
- Wikipedia has almost no bureaucracy; one might say it has none at all. But it isn't total anarchy. There are social pressures and community norms, but perhaps that by itself doesn't constitute bureaucracy, because anybody can go in and make any changes they feel like making. And other people generally like it when they do. So there aren't any bottlenecks; anyone can come in and make progress on the project at any time. The project is self-policing. Editorial oversight is more or less continuous with writing, which seems, again, very efficient. But in some cases, there will be "locked" articles, to prevent vandalism, on subjects like the President of the United States.
- Life isn't fair, and internet communities usually aren't fair either. If some random administrator doesn't like you on an internet forum, you'll be gone from there fairly quickly, because they run the place so they make the rules. But on Wikipedia, everyone can edit by default. Even if you're a bad speller, or even if you're too young to legally tell us your name, or even if you have a controversial point of view, or even if you hate Wikipedia, as long as you can improve our articles you are welcome to contribute. Of course, we ban people who are impossibly destructive, but even then we will sometimes give them a second chance. We have over 1,100 administrators who check each other's decisions.
Comprehensiveness and depth
- Wikipedia is by far the world's largest encyclopedia; it is the largest, most comprehensive, and most accessible compilation of knowledge to exist in the history of the human race. With the English Wikipedia now having more than five million articles, it is already well over twenty times the size of what was previously the world's largest encyclopedia (the largest edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, which contains 65,000 articles). With each new article, information is becoming more accessible than it ever has before.
- Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy makes it an excellent place to gain a quick understanding of controversial topics. Want a good overview of the Arab–Israeli conflict but have only ten minutes to spare? Wondering what all the fuss is about in Kashmir or what the pro/con arguments are about stem cell research? Wikipedia is a great place to start.
- Wikipedia is not paper, and that is a good thing because articles are not strictly limited in size as they are with paper encyclopedias.
- Articles steadily become more polished as they develop, particularly if there is one person working on an article with reasonable regularity (inclining others to help the original author). There are some articles we can all point to that started out life mediocre at best and are now at least somewhat better than mediocre. If the project lasts many years, thus attracting many more people (as is reasonable to assume), these very articles could really shine.
- Wikipedia attracts highly intelligent, articulate people (with the exception of repeat vandals) with some time on their hands. Moreover, there are some experts who contribute to the articles. Over time, the huge amount of solid work done by hobbyists and experts alike will inevitably build upon itself, therefore greatly improving Wikipedia's body of information. As a result, Wikipedia is an intellectual community, confident that the quality of Wikipedia articles will, if not yet, become high.
- Wikipedia, having contributors from many areas of the world, provides its readers with a "world view" that could not be provided simply by few contributors from a limited region. This also serves to eliminate cultural bias in articles.
- To use an extended metaphor, Wikipedia is very fertile soil for knowledge. As encyclopedia articles grow, they can attract gardeners who will weed and edit them, while the discussion between community members provides light to help their growth. By consistent effort and nourishment, Wikipedia articles can become beautiful and informative.
- The sheer amount of information in one search on Wikipedia compared to other search engines, which often provide little useful knowledge on each of hundreds, if not thousands, of results, can be found more concisely (and perhaps safely) than through traditional means.
- Wikipedia, by its very nature, resists destructive edits (known as Vandalism). All previous revisions of an article are saved and stored. Once vandalism is committed, in three or four clicks we can have it reverted. Think about it: in order to vandalize a page extensively, you would probably need around thirty seconds (unless it involved simply blanking the page). Compare that to the five to ten seconds it takes to revert an article. Add IP blocking, dedicated souls, and an intelligent robot that monitors edits to the encyclopedia, and you have a solid resistance against destructive edits.
- Most vandalism involves replacing parts of a passage or deleting a passage and replacing it with something else – very few cases involve introducing misinformation, and even fewer misinformation and hoax edits go through. Wikipedia has a feature that allows an editor to remove an edit with just a few clicks.
- Wikipedia's success mainly depends on its users, the Wikipedians.
- In theory, everybody can be a Wikipedian, but does the theory hold true in practice?
- The idea is that the Wiki-community of Wikipedians is a special group of people who have special characteristics. To account for these special characteristics, we have provided the following factor model:
- User factors
- Computer skills
- Flat hierarchy
- Knowledge factors
- Type of knowledge
- Fast changing rate
- Peer review
- Technology factors
- Easy usability
- Fast access
- Infinite reach, multilingual
- Flexible structure
- All these factors play together to accomplish the goal of successful knowledge creation and knowledge sharing.
- A study done by the University of Washington found that eight in ten college students use Wikipedia as an introduction to finding information for their research.
- We have a slowly growing source of traffic—and therefore more contributors, and therefore (very possibly, anyway) an increasing rate of article-writing—from Google and Google-using search engines like AOL, Netscape, and a9. The greater the number and quality of Wikipedia articles, the greater the number of people will link to us, and therefore the higher the rankings (and numbers of listings) we'll have on Google. Hence, on Wikipedia "the rich (will) get richer"; or "if we build it, they will come" and in greater and greater numbers.
- Our likelihood of success seems encouragingly high. On January 23, 2003 we reached 100,000 articles, and we have since passed 10,000,000 articles, with over 5,000,000 English articles alone. If Wikipedia hits it big, or even simply continues as it has been, which seems plausible, then all potential articles might be covered ... eventually.
- Wikipedia is free. Many online encyclopedias are not.
- It's a good feeling to see that one's contribution is potentially read by thousands of surfers.
- Wikipedia takes information from other reliable websites and puts it onto one portal. Each piece of information added to a page can be individually cited so readers can find the source and get more information.
- Wikipedia has no set in stone rules, rather, it has the "Five Pillars" which highlight the main principles and guidelines of Wikipedia.
References and notes