Sunday, January 17, 2016

#Wikipedia - 15 years

A long time ago in a country far away, they experimented with the creation of new content for an encyclopaedia because their current model proved broken. They allowed people just to write and the idea was that when it was 'good enough', it would be used in the encyclopaedia.

The new mouse trap, using a 'wiki' approach, proved effective, so much so that it easily outpaced the old encyclopaedia and replaced it. The new model became Wikipedia and people were amazed. It should not work but it did. It embodied values that were very much outside the established models of science and publishing. It broke those models and ever since, science and publishing are trying to catch up.

As it did not fit in the existing paradigms, ever since people have been eager to insist on implementing their old hat thinking because .. whatever. Wikipedia grew. People added content and some of it 'did not fit'. It is why new projects like Wiktionary, Wikinews and Wikisource started. They have their own history and community. After their effort was sidelined, effectively their community and projects were as well. They had to use the same software and attention to their needs has been inadequate.

Versions in other languages were started and each of them has its own history and community. All of them used images and all too often the same picture was uploaded. The cost involved was such that a new project started. Commons saved us a lot of money. Money that was initially provided by the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales.

Wikipedia grew spectacularly so much so that Jimmy could no longer afford it to foot the bill. The general public has been the main sponsor of Wikipedia ever since.

One of the best thing of Wikipedia are its links between articles and the links between articles in different languages. The links between the different languages were a mess and a new project, Wikidata, was envisioned to 'fix' this. Wikidata did so in a spectacular way; interwiki links are now manageable and this project is going its own sweet way.

All of those projects are works in progress. At 15 Wikipedia is very much an adolescent. A legion of loosely related projects and communities do their best to make it work. If there is one wish, it is that it will not be shackled by well meaning terrorists of reason. It was not 'reasonable' for Wikipedia to succeed and it is not reasonable that it has to fit in arbitrary molds.

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