Roland Dürre
Monday January 17th, 2011

Wikipedia #9 – 10 Years

Knowledge is a rather volatile commodity. It currently grows at unprecedented speed.  Consequently, you have to write it down as well as possible. What better and more democratic and free way to do so than by a huge Open Source project?

Such and similar must have been the considerations by Jimmy Wales when he brought Wikipedia into existence with other friends based on his experiences from a prior project. I doubt that Jimmy Wales and his colleagues were even vaguely aware of what a huge success their idea was going to be.

This year, Wikipedia will be 10 years old. Consequently, it has been dealt with at great length in all the media. I hardly ever read more about Wikipedia than this weekend. Most of the articles were well-rehearsed. Many things I read were correct and reasonable, but sometimes I also came across mistakes.

I read several times how hard it is to become actively involved at Wikipedia as a novice. Part of the reason for this is allegedly that “old bulls” defend their territories.


Personally, I would have appreciated some information on how hard, difficult and time-consuming it is to work as an “encyclopaedist”. For me, this kind of work ranks even higher than that of difficult system programming. And if someone wants to assume an active role in this kind of venture, he simply cannot be permitted to do so without proper preparation and special experience. There is no way you can just start modifying articles or even write new ones out of the blue.

You need a special qualification, just like, for instance, all computer scientists need a special qualification. You have to know everything about the project you are getting actively involved in. And that is something which takes a lot of time and diligence. It is not so much the “old bulls” who make it hard to become involved as a novice, but the high quality of your work in a complex knowledge project.

Of course, people who are involved at Wikipedia know this. That is why Wikipedia has a strong mentoring program. Many experienced “Wikipedians” (the term is not always looked upon kindly at Wikipedia) support the mentoring program just as much on an honorary basis as the rest of the work they do. Thus, they help the “Newbies” towards an efficient and friction-reduced start through very personal mentoring.

Unfortunately, I could not find anything that inspires confidence for the future, such as the mentoring program, in any of the current articles on “10 years of Wikipedia”.

I was equally sorry not to see anything about Wikipedia basically being the one Open Source project visible and within the personal range of experience for all internet users. And how important Open Source projects are!

Other similarly successful enterprises in the Wikipedia generation are Ebay or Google. Those, however, are not free and democratic. Instead, they are subject to merchandize on a billion-dollar scale. Wouldn’t it be nice if something like Google were democratic and free – and financed through donations by users? It would probably make the success slogan “Don’t be evil” easier to put into practice. Or is that an illusion?

As it happens, the new business generation of Facebooks and Twitter is only five years old. And even there, you have no freedom, democracy or “Don’t be evil” principle. The only thing that matters is – money!

It would be sad if the time of Open Source were over already. So let me ask you to support the still existing Open Source projects, above all Wikipedia. You can do so by making a contribution in money or work. And if you work, keep in mind that this is about difficult topics. They require a prudent start.

So not to lament because it is hard, because it just is hard to choose an intelligent approach.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

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