World’s best loved encyclopedia, Wikipedia, celebrated its 15th birthday on January 15, 2016. Founded on January 15, 2001 by two internet visionaries, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, neither imagined how famous and ambitious their online adventure was going to become. Today, Wikipedia is claimed to be the 10th most popular website in the world with millions of articles in hundreds of languages. With knowledge economies heading online, many physical encyclopedias have stopped printing and have been relegated to reference material in libraries and book stores. Wikipedia was smart to foresee this digital trend and has not looked back since launching it.
As any normal teenager, Wikipedia has attracted its share of controversies as a powerful internet property. There are allegations of political biographies being “fudged” by vested interests to erase criticism, outsider meddling and the fact that volunteer editors of the website are predominantly male and English-speaking, hence not representative of the world population.
Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales likens his website to a “sausage,” and explains, “You might like the taste of it, but you don’t necessarily want to see how it’s made.” Nevertheless, the majority agrees that this is the most influential source of information in the world, being one of the foremost destinations when we google something.
Over the years, Wikipedia has become more rigorous, with references essential to the survival of any article. Teachers heaved a sigh of relief as most students find it easier to copy and paste information from Wikipedia searches directly into their assignments! It is incredible that this treasure trove of knowledge is run by generous donations of users and volunteer efforts of thousands of editors worldwide.
One of the most recognized brands in the world and a portal to knowledge in the 21st century, Wikipedia has a long way to go to address issues of gender disparity and other allegations tossed in its face. However, the big boss is listening and acting. At the annual Wikimania convention in London, not too long ago, Jimmy Wales said the organization had “completely failed” in its attempts to increase women’s participation drastically. “We’re really doubling our efforts now,” he said. “We didn’t do enough. There are a lot of things that need to happen to get from 10 per cent to 25 per cent: a lot of outreach, a lot of software changes.”
In the face of all these challenges, the fact remains that Wikipedia seems to be like your wise old grandfather who has knowledge about every corner of the earth, no matter how far-flung or remote.
Vinita Kinra has been featured among 150 most remarkable Canadians by Canadian Race Relations Foundation. She is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.