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Wikipedia rules

Wikipedia doubled its number of articles in just 18 months. But who are the “Wikipediots” writing them? And why do they do it?
By MIKE MILIARD  |  December 12, 2007

DIEHARD WITH A LAPTOP: Long-time Wikipedia contributor SJ Klein used to spend 20 to 30 hours per week editing the site, posting updates in English, German, and the Uto-Aztecan language of Nahuatl.

The ancient Library at Alexandria, once the largest on Earth, housed perhaps 500,000 volumes. Most were procured when Egypt’s Ptolemy III decreed that each visitor to the city had to hand over every book and scroll in his or her possession, regardless of subject matter or language. These texts were then copied by scribes, the facsimiles shelved in the library, and the originals returned to their owners. At least that’s what Wikipedia says, so take it with the proverbial grain of salt.

Next summer, the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina will host Wikimania 2008, the annual confab for producers and proponents of one of the largest repositories of information in the modern world — one whose legions of articles, spanning hundreds of languages and seemingly countless disciplines, also come from popular contributions.

The English-language Wikipedia site reached the million-article milestone on March 1, 2006, after five years in existence. Astonishingly, just a year and a half later, this past September, that number had doubled to two million.

In all, there are some 9.1 million entries on the whole of Wikipedia. The entries span 253 tongues — including ChoctawVõro, and (yes) Klingon — and comprise more than 1.41 billion words. Wikipedia is the eighth most visited site on the Web and has become an invaluable resource for millions. It’s far from perfect — even farther from infallible. Yet for all its ballyhooed flaws, it has fundamentally reshaped the way knowledge is disseminated and consumed. With just a few keystrokes, anyone can access a nutshell summary of almost any subject in world history, large or small, canonical or arcane, from the Brown Dog affair to the Destruction in Art Symposium to the Haines Index. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine life without such a resource.

But Wikipedia didn’t just spring up fully formed in our browsers. Since it was founded, by online entrepreneur Jimmy Wales and academic Larry Sanger on January 15, 2001, Wikipedia has grown — immensely — with the steady accretion of contributions from volunteers the world over.

Who are they? And why do they do it?

Everybody’s an expert
The fact that anyone can edit the thing, of course, is its blessing and its curse. Only a vast-scale collaboration could create such a sprawling and ever-growing store of knowledge in such a remarkably short time.

But it’s also, as has been well-documented, left the site vulnerable to vandals, propagandists, and propagators (conscious or not) of Stephen Colbert’s infamous false “Wikiality” (wherein “any user can change any entry, and if enough other users agree with them, it becomes true”).

So while most hail Wikipedia as a revolutionary model of co-operation, a free and open ideal that strives for accuracy and truth through constant review by its millions of contributors, others cavil that it’s unreliable and inaccurate, the kind of junky encyclopedia where the entry for Britney Spears (4219 words) is longer than the entry for Brittany (2512).

As Web humorist Lore Sjöberg writes on, “Wikipedia exists in a state of quantum significance flux. It’s simultaneously a shining, flawless collection of incontrovertible information, and a debased pile of meaningless words thrown together by uneducated lemurs with political agendas. It simply cannot exist in any state between these two extremes.”

Ignore it, make use of it, or become addicted to it as you see fit. Wikipedia is a fact of life with or without your approval. And if its recent past is any indication, it’s going to only get bigger — especially as related projects such as WiktionaryWikiquoteWikiBooksWikisourceWikimedia CommonsWikispeciesWikinews, and Wikiversity continue to come into their own.

One thing that’s impossible to deny is Wikipedia’s sheer scope. There are 5,986,389 registered users on the English site alone. It’s a given that the vast majority of those (your humble correspondent included) have never done much more than add a link or fix a fact or correct a misspelling. But that’s just the point: small contributions such as those, taken together with more substantial writing from thousands of others, have helped to make something great.

David Weinberger, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, says that Wikipedia is “epically important. It’s not just that it’s generally a good encyclopedia. We’ve really proved something to ourselves: we now know without a doubt that some immense and immensely complex works of humans can be created by removing most of the elements of control.”

Online janitors
Serious, regular contributors, or Wikipedians, usually register with the site and set up a “user page.” That makes their entries more credible because they’re accountable, by name (or at least pseudonym), for what they write. You can learn a lot about the sources of your information by looking up contributor’s profiles (in the search window, type “user:[screen name]”).

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Wikipedia rules
GlassCobra ROCKS! An excellent person. What a cool article!
By Archangel on 12/12/2007 at 8:10:25
Wikipedia rules
Yes! Thank you! Finally, a well-informed article on Wikipedia! This is a rare gem - most articles on Wikipedia seem to be either snide critics using sensational language or uninvolved advocates spewing trivial apologies of Wikipedia alongside meaningless statistics, and I'm glad to see that *someone* can write about the topic well for the public.
By Nihiltres on 12/13/2007 at 1:42:25
Wikipedia rules
This was a PR "puff piece" as Jimmy Wales is fond of saying. I would say the article spent about 6% of its words on criticism and 94% on flattery. Read the article about "History of western Eurasia" (the whole thing), and tell me that this is a good resource for anyone beyond a 6th-grade education. Read the article about "electric knife" and tell me if it seems "balanced" to devote about 20% of the article to how electric knives are used to trim foam for transvestites to pad their asses. No kidding, I tried to modify that article for the better, but instead of being thanked, I was blocked. Read about what happened to Taner Akcam at the airport, then tell me that all of the "good" that Wikipedia has done actually outweighs the deprivation of a man's civil liberties. Yes, I agree, this article is a rare gem. It is indeed RARE these days to still find a journalist who so blindly follows a cult. Did I mention the former COO of the Wikimedia Foundation is a convicted felon? Did I mention that the former Treasurer was found to be in contempt of court surrounding a hearing about how he was hiding $800,000 from a rightful plaintiff? Did I mention that the Foundation is budgeting more than $500,000 for the new Executive Director's salary and staff for 2008, not to mention $180,000 for the lawyer who denies having known anything about the COO's felony background. Wikipedia has become a hyperbolic parody of what all its critics have claimed it was. We can't even make fun of it any more, because it's so laughable at face value.
By Gregory Kohs on 12/13/2007 at 11:14:33
Wikipedia rules
Gregory Kohs: // doesn't back up your claims - none of these users was banned for removing something. Anybody who wants to learn about the real reason why Gregory Kohs was banned from Wikipedia by Jimmy Wales can read about it <a href="//">here</a>. In short, Kohs is a marketer whose company "MyWikiBiz" offered to create Wikipedia articles for companies, at prices ranging from $49 to $99. - Abuse of Wikipedia for commercial and personal promotion (COI, "conflict of interest" edits) is a big problem for Wikipedia, which could have received a bit more attention in the article. But the site is not entirely without defence, as the blocking of Kohs proved.
By HaeB on 12/15/2007 at 5:35:23
Wikipedia rules
The Bathrobe Cabal strikes again!
By LaraLove on 12/17/2007 at 11:47:12
Wikipedia rules
This is a great article. I just want to provide one correction. There is no arbitrary sales figure that a book must reach to achieve "notability" status on Wikipedia; no 5,000 benchmark. We use the word notable in a sense peculiar to Wikipedia and in keeping with what Wikipedia is--an encyclopedia and therefore a tertiary source. The general notability standard we use is not some arbitrary and subjective test, nor a judgment call such as whether we've heard of it as a vernacular interpratation of that word might lead some to believe. What we have devised is a standard that asks whether the World has taken note of the subject by publishing information about it in reliable sources. It is usually formulated as "being the subject of significant treatment in reliable sources". We have subject specific standards of notability which sometimes define other bases, give guidance on applicability of the general standard, and even provide resources for locating the necessary reliable sources. We have a book notability standard set forth at a page titled "Wikipedia:Notability (books)", of which which I was a primary contributor and the creator. See //
By Fuhghettaboutit on 01/08/2008 at 9:16:43
Wikipedia rules
In response to HaeB -- I was blocked from Electric knife editing: // Also, the COI policy arose AFTER the foundation of MyWikiBiz, so it's kind of funny to blame my company for violating a Wikipedia "rule" that didn't exist at the time! Another Wikipediot!
By Gregory Kohs on 02/21/2008 at 6:42:52

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