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21st Century Encyclopedia

Jimmy Wales is not your mothers door to door encyclopedia salesman; he is the “King” of a rag tag bunch of cyber geniuses who created the powerhouse that is known as Wikipedia.  I did a little research on…you guessed it wikipedia and found out that Wiki software, which in my humble opinion , is one of the most innovative forms of online communication and data collection, was created in 1994 by Ward Cunnigham.

Jimmy Wales’ presentation was quite informative. Personally, I am a huge fan of Wikipedia. I use it as a jumping off point, I also use the sources listed at the bottom of each page to further my research, which is really helpful, that said, I will never place ALL of my trust in the site. Though we should remember that the folks who are editing these wikipedia pages are not your average kids looking to mess with people…there are some of those out there, namely the 18 Neo Nazis that Wales mentioned, but generally the people who are into editing an online encyclopedia are blessed with large medulla oblongatas and a penchant for accuracy. I have, on occasion run into some strange and unreliable information, particularly about musicians that I like, but I gather there are more detrimental mistakes and inaccuracies that cause many a student to be misinformed.

The thing I love about wikipedia is that you can get caught up in an information overload that spirals out of control. An example of this would be my research for this blog. First I googled “Creator of wiki software”, low and behold wikipedia had that answer. On the page I found a link for the creator of wiki software Ward Cunningham who created wikiwikiweb, which was linked to the Cunningham’s wiki page… are you still with me? From there, I found a link the Portland Pattern Repository page which is a repository for computer programming design patterns. On the PPR pages I found a link to Christopher Alexander‘s wiki page. He (with a few others) created pattern language “designed to empower any human being to design and build at any scale.” You see how this can get out of hand.

Needless to say I learned a lot from this video. It was surprising to find out that only one third of Wikipedia activity takes place in English. Naturally in America we think in predominantly English speaking terms, but I appreciate this fact as a reminder that most peoples native language is not english. I also never took the time to look at the discussions page on Wikipedia, its overwhelming but really interesting.  One of the conversations that I looked led to some debate about gates in England and Chicago…I was a little confused. The history section looks like a survey that I have filled out online! I have NEVER looked at that section before and I may never check it out again.

All in all, learning the front and back ends of wikipedia was illuminating. The work that goes into a collection of data such as this is staggering, but there is something really uplifting about a global community working together to create a source of data that surpasses all other without asking for a profit or even recognition. Its like an internet utopia!

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