July 24, 2020

Photo Credit: Terminator3D (gettyimages) 

*This piece was originally published on January 10th, 2020

“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” The urgency behind this sentiment is stronger than ever at a time when misinformation is everywhere. So how has Wikipedia, famous for allowing anyone to edit, become a paragon for truth?

Andrew Lih, author of “The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia” and the Wikimedia strategist for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, breaks down where Wikipedia came from, how it works, and where it could be headed.

Three Takeaways:

  • Wikipedia was first designed as a companion site to Nupedia, founder Jimmy Wales’ original online encyclopedia. While Nupedia had more rigid standards for who could create and edit articles, Lih said, Wikipedia let anyone edit. And why was that allowed,  you might ask? Well, the site relied on good faith and rigorous fact checking, which allowed Wikipedia to become what it is today. Its contributors are almost entirely volunteers.
  • According to Lih, Wikipedia has been slow to integrate oral traditions, non-digitized writings and visual content, especially in languages that are less widespread. Lih also says that Wikipedia has a gender gap — fewer than 20% of biographies in the encyclopedia are about women, an issue currently being tackled by the Women in Red initiative.
  • Wikipedia has come a long way since Wales discouraged students from citing the encyclopedia. Now, Wikipedia is trusted so much that sites like Facebook and YouTube frequently link to Wikipedia articles to provide users with more information about content producers on their sites.

More Reading:

  • Wikipedia didn’t kill the Britannica star, but Windows might have. Read this article from Wired about how Encarta, a CD-ROM encyclopedia, was the beginning of the end for Britannica.
  • Want to know more about the gender gap in Wikipedia? Check out this interview with Jessica Wade, a physicist who has written nearly 700 Wikipedia biographies of women.
  • Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales started a social media site dedicated to rooting out fake news. Read about it here.

encyclopedia, Andrew Lih, research, Culture, Internet, information, wikipedia

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