Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World-Wide Web in 1989 while working at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, was trying to make it easier for fellow scientists to share information and collaborate over the Internet. Speaking at a conference on the future of the Web, he said that so far it had been "a big disappointment" in this respect. However, the increasingly common use of Wiki software to create collaboratively-edited web sites could fulfil some of the early ideals. "Wikis in general are great examples of how people want to be creative and not just suck in information", Dr Berners-Lee said, and described Wikipedia as the most advanced development in this area.
Robert McHenry, former editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica, wrote an article several months ago entitled 'The Faith-Based Encyclopedia', the fuss over which still continues. McHenry does not believe that the anyone-can-edit philosophy of Wikipedia can produce a reliable encyclopaedia, and writing in the Chicago Tribune this week, continues to describe what he sees as the project's failings.
McHenry draws an analogy to Howard Dean's ill-fated US Presidential campaign, describing it as a situation in which the media looked at the campaign's success in attracting a large, unusually youthful group of activists who made extensive use of the Internet, and overrated the impact of Dean's campaign because of its unconventional nature. The campaigners themselves believed they were leading the way with a new brand of politics. Wikipedia, argues McHenry, is surrounded by similar hyperbole, with "...a small and self-selected group convincing itself...that it is in some ineffable way superior". McHenry describes those who speak in favour of Wikipedia as 'apologists', and claims they are ignoring "the hard lessons the rest of us have learned about how things actually work".
Prestigious science journal Nature this week interviewed Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. The interview discussed the origins of Wikipedia, with Wales talking about how the tightly-controlled, strictly peer reviewed system adopted by Nupedia worked very slowly, and did not attract large numbers of volunteers, whereas opening everything up completely attracted large numbers of people to the project. Wales was inspired in part to create Wikipedia by the collaborative growth of software projects such as Apache and Linux.
Discussing why so many people become so involved in the project, Wales advanced two possible reasons: firstly, that many people, particularly scientists, simply have a desire to share what they know, that being the nature of science, and are motivated by the global reach and enormous audience of Wikipedia. The second reason, said Wales, is that "it's really geeky fun".
In the week the 500,000 article milestone was passed, we can look back on an article written by Larry Sanger for Kuro5hin back in 2001 when Wikipedia was still in its infancy. The article, entitled 'Britannica or Nupedia? The Future of Free Encyclopedias', makes a number of bold predictions for what was then still regarded as an offshoot of the now-defunct Nupedia project. At 6 months old, Wikipedia contained 6,000 articles.
"Suppose that, as is perfectly possible, Wikipedia continues producing articles at a rate of 1,000 per month", Sanger speculated. "In seven years, it would have 84,000 articles. It's far from inconceivable that the rate of article-production will actually increase over the coming years--in fact, this seems rather likely". With hindsight, one might think the exponential growth of the project could have been anticipated, but who would really have imagined four years ago that the rate of article creation would eventually reach 1000 articles per day, and show no signs of slowing down?
Among the press citations of Wikipedia articles this week were The Jurist, a legal journal, which referenced the article on the CEO of Viacom, Sumner Redstone; the Journal Times quoted from New York Minute; and US media magazine Industry Week looked to Wikipedia to fill it in on the history of infomercials.