Wikipedia's tenth anniversary marked by unprecedented media coverage
The tenth anniversary of Wikipedia on January 15 brought unprecedented amounts of media coverage (some of which had already begun earlier, see last week's "in the news"). Many reports recounted the history of Wikipedia, numerous notable pundits gave their interpretation of the project's significance, and prominent Wikimedians such as Jimmy Wales were much in demand for interviews and quotes.
British historian and author Timothy Garton Ash told readers of The Guardian that "We've seen America's vitriol. Now let's salute Wikipedia, a US pioneer of global civility", which he described as "an American invention which, for all its faults, tries to spread around the world a combination of unpaid idealism, knowledge and stubborn civility", contrasting it with "the vitriolic incivility of American political discourse, as heard on talk radio and cable channels such as Fox News". (A version of the same op-ed that appeared two days later in the LA Times omitted mention of Fox News and carried the less evocative title "Look it up: Wikipedia is turning 10".) The well-known motto "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet ..." was described by Ash as "almost Lennonist".
The Atlantic collected opinions from "All-Star Thinkers on Wikipedia's 10th Anniversary", including Bruce Sterling ("I worry about their frailty. ... Warm, kindly, humane Wikipedia didn't grow up in today's Internet. Now it's like a hothouse orchid the size of a barn."), Scientific American editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina ("Wikipedia underscores an evolutionary lesson: we've always gotten farther as a species collaborating than going it alone" ), Ethan Zuckerman ("Wikipedia's victory was getting the rules – and importantly, the rules for making rules – right, and trusting that the process would lead to substance" ) and Clay Shirky ("[Wikipedia] took one of the best ideas of the last 500 years – peer review – and expanded its field of operation so dramatically that it changed the way authority is configured" ). Jonathan Lethem's highly critical piece ("the generation of an infinite number of bogusly 'objective' sentences in an English of agonizing patchwork mediocrity is no cause for celebration") met with rebuttals by Wikimedians Andrea James on Boing Boing and David Shankbone on his personal blog.
In a different article ("Wikipedia – an unplanned miracle", The Guardian), Shirky focused further on Wales' and Sanger's "radical" idea of "putting the people who care in charge, rather than anointing experts or authorities". Shirky said that a wiki "has at its core only one social operation: I care." He explained that "what looks like a stable thing is in fact a result of ceaseless attempts to preserve what is good, and to improve what isn't. Wikipedia is best understood not as a product with an organisation behind it, but as an activity that happens to leave an encyclopedia in its wake".
As an example for "how disruptive to our understanding of the world can Wikipedia be", an anniversary article on ReadWriteWeb compared the Wikipedia article Battle of Horseshoe Bend (1814) to the entry on the same topic in the 1970 edition of the American Peoples Encyclopedia, noting that the paper encyclopedia left out vital information about the battle ("a story of deeply racist betrayal"). "It's like Wikipedia is to the encyclopedia what Wikileaks is to a White House press conference."
Die Zeit, the largest German weekly newspaper, featured Wikipedia on its title page with the headline "Das größte Werk der Menschen" ("the greatest work of human beings"); its coverage included an article by German Wikipedian Logograph about the daily work of an administrator. Die Zeit also programmed a web widget showing animated recent article edits from the German Wikipedia that can be used on any website.
Al Jazeeraquoted a wide range of commenters, from Wikimedia's own Sue Gardner to critic Andrew Keen (noting that the article about him was in a vandalized state at the time of the interview).
In China, the Communist Party's newspaper People's Daily published an overall positive article (in Chinese - Google translation) about Wikipedia as a "knowledge revolution", comparing collaboration on Wikipedia to "children's collective participation in the 'clay sculpturing' game, full of creative, playful pleasure".
Mashable worried "Wikipedia celebrates 10 years, but will it survive another decade?", and defended Wikipedia against its "reputation for loopy reportage", pointing out that "Wikipedia is, in the best-case scenario, an antidote for the echo chamber of the web." One of the statements in the article, that "two Ayn Rand devotees, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, created Wikipedia" drew a rebuttal by Sanger: "I am not, and was not, an 'Ayn Rand devotee.'"
On Inside Higher Ed, a librarian described how she had "come to appreciate the way that Wikipedia in so many ways helps students understand fundamental features of how information works", familiarizing them with the concept of references and demonstrating "that knowledge itself is a community project" and not "just for school."
US website Politicoobserved that "Wikipedia has become a go-to reference guide for political insiders and mainstream Americans alike", quoting several experts, one of them describing Wikipedia as "the 800-pound gorilla that flies" and "itself a political achievement".
Canada's National Post seemed to remain on the fence about Wikipedia ("10 years on, Wikipedia’s potential still unknown"). Alluding to Larry Sanger's announcement of Wikipedia on January 17, 2001 ("Humor me. Go there and add a little article. It will take all of five or ten minutes"), the newspaper said: "When Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger started out, all they were asking for was five or 10 minutes of your time. Instead, we’ve given them a decade."
In contrast, the Wikimedia Foundation's Executive Director Sue Gardner said in an op-ed for The Guardian that "the fate of network neutrality (the concept that aims to keep the internet open and free) is under attack everywhere, particularly in the mobile space, and I'm continually surprised by how few Americans seem to understand the issue and why it matters", wondering if "the power of Wikipedia to join people together in a vast social enterprise was just an aberration. I fear that the conditions that gave rise to it may be disappearing". (See also earlier Signpost coverage: "Wikipedia as a poster child for net neutrality")
In a video interview, The Daily Telegraph asked Jimmy Wales about differences between the various language versions of Wikipedia. He said that there were "kind of the same", fueled by "a certain geek culture which transcends national culture", and that the Wikipedia communities he had seen around the world consisted mostly of "the same kind of people" – "super geeky and really smart", although for example meetups in India were still even more male-dominated than those in the US or UK. Regarding the controversial fundraising banners featuring his personal appeal, Wales was quoted as saying "there were 9 million people asking me to stop staring at them".
But according to a portrait in The Globe and Mail ("Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales: The man with all the answers"), Wales still doesn't frequently get recognized in public "except at Apple stores and in Germany, where Wikipedia apparently has become a minor national obsession." The article also quoted Mitch Kapor, who "has known Mr. Wales since 2003 and acted as an informal mentor", and credits him with leadership skills that avoid exercising direct authority – "a less farsighted person would be tempted to retreat from volunteer control, decentralized [power], and anonymity".
An article on The New York Times "Bits" blog titled "Wikipedia Marks 10 Years of Edit-It-Yourself", illustrated with a photo of Jimmy Wales demonstrating Wikipedia in 2001, said that according to Wales, despite efforts to make the uploading of media easier, "the site would never become flashy", quoting him as saying "we are not going to become Facebook, we are not going to become MySpace or YouTube". Sue Gardner stated that "Wikipedia is modest. It isn’t a beautiful site. It looks a little awkward — sometimes the writing is a little bit awkward," but that people still have "a deep and abiding affection for it." In addition to Brazil, she named Egypt as a possible location for a new office of the Wikimedia Foundation (after the one which is going to open in India in the next months). In a Reuters interview , Gardner emphasized that the Foundation would remain a non-profit: "We don't move in the world of IPOs and valuation and investment. We never talk about it, we never think about it."
There’s been a lot of thoughtful media coverage over the past few weeks ... What makes me happy about the coverage is that it seems like people’s attitudes towards Wikipedia have finally turned an important corner.
In its early years, Wikipedia was one of our culture’s dirty little secrets: everybody used it, but very few were comfortable saying so. ... Today though, journalists, educators and culture critics are finally embracing Wikipedia, acknowledging that its strengths vastly outweigh its weaknesses, and that its fundamental premise works. (A reporter told me the other day that mocking Wikipedia is “so 2007.” LOL.)
On Wikipedia Review, a web forum devoted to criticism of Wikipedia, regular participants seemed to agree with Gardner's observations, lamenting the positive media coverage of the anniversary as "just another measure of how badly The Wikipedia Review is falling down on the job of educating the public about the real nature of Wikipedia, Wikia, and the Wikimedia Foundation", and observing that "the 'comments campaign' clearly hasn't worked – not enough people read these [a reference to the frequent posting of negative comments by Wikipedia Review members in the comments sections of online news articles]. What is needed is PR for the other 'Wikipedia Story' on US or British or other national media."
Thai government machine-translates entire English Wikipedia into Thai
"Global Watchtower" (a blog of a Massachusetts-based market research company about "Globalization in Practice") reports that on January 7, "in the run-up to Children’s Day, Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced the launch of the complete English-language Wikipedia in Thai. This was presented as a gift of knowledge to the children of Thailand from the government and local business partners". The 3.5 million articles were machine-translated by translation company Asia Online and are already online (example – translation of scrimshaw, the provenance and license of the text appear to be stated correctly). Proofreading is to be done by ten employees of the company who will concentrate on the most popular articles, as well as by "crowdsourced" volunteers who will also be able to add content – the company's vice president explained that "we will add social networking components over time to enable discussions of the content and nurture the creation of more Thai-focused content." Global Watchtower called it "quite possibly the single largest translation project currently underway." It appears to have been already discussed by the Thai Wikipedia community.
Wikipedia used by more than half of adult American Internet users: A new report about the usage of Wikipedia in the US by the Pew Research Center states that "the percentage of all American adults who use Wikipedia to look for information has increased from 25% in February 2007 to 42% in May 2010", corresponding to 53% of adult Internet users.
GLAM-Wiki "most important trend" of 2010: Asked by Swedish organization ideK to comment on "Trends of 2010 and 2011" in the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives and museums), blogger "Kadmeian Letters" (David Haskiya – product developer at Europeana) stated: "In my opinion the most important trend in 2010 is that GLAM-Wiki collaboration is on the cusp of becoming mainstream. This will have an effect on how Wikipedia volunteers and Wikimedia Foundation work with GLAMs – from the challenge of scarcity to the challenge of abundance."
Wikipedia "stiff and middle-aged"?: An article in The Economist entitled "In praise of Wikipedia: Wiki birthday to you" commended Wikipedia's success as a crowdsourcing resource, but also warned of Wikipedia's accuracy problems, its precarious sustainability, and its openness to new contributors. "Wikipedia is already starting to look rather stiff and middle-aged," warned the article. "It needs to rediscover the flexibility of its early years." While the author noted the desire of Wikipedians to keep Wikipedia welcoming for new users, the author lists Wikipedia's "ossified and bureaucratic" appearance, with its own "curious jargon", as the top concern. "In recent years its most active contributors have become obsessed with obscure questions of doctrine," the article says. "The number of regular contributors to Wikipedia’s English edition peaked in March 2007 and has since declined by a third."
Wikipedia too complicated for many: A BBC News website article entitled "Jimmy Wales says Wikipedia too complicated for many" featured an interview with Jimmy Wales, highlighting his intent to introduce Wikipedia to a "new generation of contributors, including more women". Wales also commented about the use of his image in the fundraising banner, saying "that he had tried to resist using his picture, but user testing had shown the organisation received more money by using his face" and gave an update about the WikiLeaks-related domains that were still being owned by Wikia (cf. WP:WIKILEAKS and earlier Signpost coverage listed there). The BBC reported that Wales "regularly tries to prompt Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange to complete the transaction [transfering ownership of the domains to WikiLeaks], to no avail", quoting Wales as saying "I saw someone else say that he's prone to saying 'I'm busy fighting superpowers' and that's exactly what he said to me." Wales said the domains were to expire last week and that he was not renewing them.
Wikipedia at 10: The BBC World Service ran a 30 minute radio documentary (streaming audio available here) narrated by its Science in Action presenter Jon Stewart on the history of the project. It raised questions on the use of consultants who are paid to edit Wikipedia articles by public relations companies.
Using Wikipedia to advertise small businesses: The "Small Business Blog" of US software company Intuit asked "How Can a Small Business Get on Wikipedia?", noting that "many small businesses are eager to see themselves on Wikipedia. But getting your company on the site can be difficult and stressful." It quoted the president of a SEO marketing company who "many years ago [..] had tremendous success advising clients on Wikipedia listings that drove highly targeted traffic" until Wikipedia editors were alerted and deleted the client's page and related pages. Gregory Kohs (User:Thekohser, founder of MyWikiBiz, who was banned from Wikipedia for similar activities years ago), gave some advice on how to hide such a conflict of interest from Wikipedians.