Wikipedia - The Central Source For All Human Knowledge?

August 15th, 2007 | Categories: networks, off topic, social media, trends, wikis

Wikipedia logoWill Wikipedia one day be the central hub for all human knowledge? This may sound crazy, but I’m not so sure that it’s as far-fetched as it may seem. The site has developed a loyal following and continues to generate an unprecedented amount of traffic. Founder Jimmy Wales always had a vision “to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language”. In other words, if someone wants to learn something about anything, they can find it on Wikipedia in their native language. This seemingly unrealistic goal is now within reach.

This is where the nay-sayers step in. Many discount the credibility of the site, stating a lack of accuracy and accountability. Some refute the reliability of sources. Others even claim that the ‘mediocrity of the crowds’ depreciates the quality of articles, arguing that a single, expert voice can provide a more clear, authoritative perspective. These are the critics of social media.

One thing is for sure: most numbers, measurements, dates, and quantitative data cannot be argued. It’s fact - it’s indisputable. Qualitative data, however, is a whole different story. Biases and opinions can creep into articles at any given point, subtlely manipulating the thoughts of the reader. Though Wikipedia users and editors do a good job of controlling this type of behaviour, it will always be present. When disputes arise, authority must be present. A moderated system such as Wikipedia can create bureaucracy and formalization, but it also helps to deter potential gaming.

Wikipedia has also successfully opened the playing field. Transparency and accessibility are key. Anyone can access all information in all languages without the need for a login or special permissions - this even includes all edits. A by-product of this is that information inefficiencies are eliminated. It is well known that many companies and organizations profit from a lack of information distribution. The introduction of such a system levels the playing field for all.

The concept of a free service also eliminates another tall barrier to entry: price. Historically, people had to purchase books or other learning materials to educate themselves on a particular topic. Now, this can be done at no cost. Anyone can view all information without paying a cent.

Finally, anyone can edit any article at any time. This is probably the most important feature. Furthermore, it probably carries the heaviest weight outside the walls of the site as well. Though there is a level of moderation, anyone can provide input, information, details, clarification, or data to further enhance the quality and depth of articles. The potential effects and widespread reach of this function simply cannot be articulated.

Obviously I am a big fan of Wikipedia. But it’s not so much the brand I’m a fan of, as the idea behind it. The principle is what interests me. Creating a free learning network for all mankind in every language is not an easy task. It’s not about Wikipedia, or competition, or brand names, or fames, or eyeballs. It’s about human knowledge. Once we can all access all information, the potential is only limited by our own creativity.


  1. Michael Bhatti Says:

    Interesting post - I’ll admit that I am an avid reader of Wikipedia and do find it an invaluable resource, however, I do disagree with your vision of what the wiki format is capable of.

    You’ve quoted Jimmy Wales as saying he wanted “to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language.” By this definition Wikipedia is fulfilling its objective as an interactive and collaborative website where information is collected, edited, and presented in a dictionary format by its own users, however, I find your expectations for the wiki format implausible, as I don’t see it moving beyond anything except providing information in a simple dictionary format.

    You suggest that the concept of a free service on the internet would remove barriers to information and replace the need for printed books; however, I just don’t see the wiki format ever being able to parallel an institution such as university library. The fact that “anyone can provide input, information, details, clarification, or data to further enhance the quality and depth of articles” undermines the preparation that genuine academics have put into their research. In a wiki format specific topics would impossible to discuss at length the way they are in published texts as the consistency of a single researcher would be jeopardized.

    I’ll be the first to admit that Wikipedia is an invaluable resource and will always be the first place I stop and look when researching a subject, but to suggest that one day the wiki format could replace an entire library’s collection of thesis’, dissertations, and original research is a bit far-fetched.

    - Mike

  2. Robin Yap Says:

    Like you Aidan, I too am a big fan of Wikipedia. I do take some of its input with a grain of salt due to anyone updating and can potentially provide incorrect data but it is a good starting point for figuring out various topics/themes.

    Your posting is quite an appropos as well because the Globe and Mail posted today about Wikipedia becoming a hub of propoganda due to an sudden increase in changes by government offices. URL

  3. Aidan Says:

    Mike - thanks for the interesting thoughts and opposing point of view :)

    Robin - thanks for the link.


  4. Meredith Says:

    hi nice post, i enjoyed it

  5. hahah Says:

    are you kiddin me man!

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