Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Wikipedia Revolution

Author:         Andrew Lih
Published:   2009
Publisher:    Aurum Press Ltd.
Paperback: 272  pages

I will be extremely surprised if I come across a netizen who has not heard about Wikipedia. Over the last decade rarely there has been a day when I had surfed the net but not read a Wikipedia article.
To inform the uninitiated (and I hope there are none), Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia which is written and maintained by volunteers across the globe. It is accessible to any internet user without any access restrictions. Anyone can create, modify or delete its articles according to their whims and fancies. Sounds scary ! How can one trust the information provided by such a chaotic and anarchical encyclopedia ?  Yet over the years Wikipedia has become the world's first source of information on any topic on the earth.
How did this miracle happen ? This book reveals all this.
It begins with the story of how Wikipedia had its origins in Nupedia an online yet conventionally managed encyclopedia. It then goes on to describe how Ward Cunningham's invention of Wiki technology rejuvenated the stagnant Nupedia and transformed it into Wikipedia as we know today. However the  technology behind the scene is just one aspect of Wikipedia.The book is also a story about  the community of unpaid and mostly unidentified volunteers who tirelessly worked and continue to work to make Wikipedia a successful venture.
Author Andrew Lih, himself such a volunteer provides an excellent insider's view of how this global community works. He deals with topics like what motivates these volunteers; what are their values; how they collaborate; how a self-organizing and self-governing structure gets set up in the community; how they ensure the quality and neutrality of the articles which gets published; how they deal with issues like articles getting vandalized, difference of opinion between the editors, censorship. There is also a chapter which describes the crises and controversies Wikipedia has been subjected to.
Wikipedia is truly international. Articles in English comprise only about 20 % of over 20 million articles in 284 languages. This book also tells us the story of  Spanish, Japanese, German, Chinese, Serbian, Kazakh and African Wikipedias and discusses the technological and cultural challenges encountered during their evolution.
The book has a Foreword by Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia who conveys that "...Wikipedia is not about technology, it's about people. It's about leaving things open-ended, it's about trusting people, it's about encouraging people to do good."
The the last section Afterword is literally written collaboratively in a true Wikipedian spirit by the members of the community. It is intended to provide an honest contemplation of what is the road ahead for Wikipedia.

An interesting and fascinating story of world's greatest encyclopedia !
Recommended for all internet users.

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