Wikipedia:Why Wikipedia is so great
|This essay contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. Essays may represent widespread norms or minority viewpoints. Consider these views with discretion. Essays are not Wikipedia policies or guidelines.|
As you read and edit Wikipedia, at some point you may ask yourself: "Just why is Wikipedia so awesome? What accounts for its enormous growth and success?" In order to answer this question, some great people have written some explanations and arguments on this page. For comparison, see also why Wikipedia is not so great, and Wikipedia:Replies to common objections. You can then arrive at a well-informed conclusion thereafter.
- Wikipedia articles are very easy to edit. Anyone can click the "change" link and edit an article. Obtaining formal peer review for edits is not necessary, since review is a communal function here and everyone who reads an article and corrects it is a reviewer. Essentially, Wikipedia is self-correcting – over time, articles improve from a multitude of contributions. There is an entire infrastructure for people seeking comments, or other opinions on editorial matters, and as a result Wikipedia has got "consensus seeking" down to a fine art. We prefer (in most cases) that people just go in and make changes they deem necessary; the community is by and large quick to respond to dubious edits (if any) and either revert or question them. This is very efficient; our efforts seem more constructive than those on similar projects (not to mention any names).
- Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, repeatedly mentions in his book Weaving the Web that the web has grown into a medium that is much easier to read than to edit. He envisaged the web as a much more collaborative medium than it currently is, and thought that the browser should also function as an editor. Wiki-based sites are closer to his vision. In fact, the first web browser was also a web editor.
- While traditional encyclopedias might be revised annually, Wikipedia's current affairs articles, as well as their older articles being edited, are updated thousands of times an hour. That's a big deal if your interest is in current affairs, recent science, pop culture, or any other field that changes rapidly.
- Errors to Wikipedia are usually corrected within seconds, rather than within months as it would be for a paper encyclopedia. If someone sees something wrong within an article, they can simply fix it themselves. Compare that to the long, arduous and tedious process that it requires to report and fix a problem in a paper encyclopedia.
- On Wikipedia, there are no required topics and no one is setting assignments. That means that anyone can find part of the encyclopedia they're interested in and add to it immediately (if they can do better than what's already there). This increases motivation and keeps things fun.
- Wikipedia is open content, released under the GNU Free Documentation License. Knowing this encourages people to contribute; they know it's a public project that everyone can use.
- Where else can you get lovely articles on such-and-such town or so-and-so bizarre hobby written by actual residents/practitioners? (Of course, some view this as a curse.) Many articles on Wikipedia will likely never have an entry in a paper encyclopedia.
- The use of talk pages. If an article doesn't cover something, you can ask about it.
- Requesting articles. If any article you try to find isn't here, you can request it.
- Many critics of Wikipedia insist articles are written by amateurs and are not reliable, but in fact many contributors on specific matters are professionals or have firsthand knowledge on the subjects they write about. These contributions allow many scholars to gather information to aid them in research matters, and even just for everyday general knowledge.
- Wikipedia has almost no bureaucracy; one might say it has none at all. But it isn't total anarchy. There are social pressures and community norms, but perhaps that by itself doesn't constitute bureaucracy, because anybody can go in and make any changes they feel like making. And other people generally like it when they do. So there aren't any bottlenecks; anyone can come in and make progress on the project at any time. The project is self-policing. Editorial oversight is more or less continuous with writing, which seems, again, very efficient. But in some cases, there will be "locked" articles, to prevent vandalism, on subjects like the President of the United States.
- Life isn't fair, and internet communities usually aren't fair either. If some random administrator doesn't like you on an internet forum, you'll be gone from there fairly quickly, because they run the place so they make the rules. But on Wikipedia, everyone can edit by default. Even if you're a bad speller, or even if you're too young to legally tell us your name, or even if you have a controversial point of view, or even if you hate Wikipedia, as long as you can improve our articles you are welcome to contribute. Of course, we ban people who are impossibly destructive, but even then we will sometimes give them a second chance. We have over 1,400 administrators who check each other's decisions.
Comprehensiveness and depth
- Wikipedia is by far the world's largest encyclopedia. It is the largest and most comprehensive compilation of knowledge in the history of the human race. With the English Wikipedia now having more than four million articles, it is already well over twenty times the size of what was previously the world's largest encyclopedia (the largest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which contains 65,000 articles). With each new article, information is becoming more accessible than it ever has before.
- Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy makes it an excellent place to gain a quick understanding of controversial topics. Want a good overview of the Arab–Israeli conflict but only have ten minutes to spare? Wondering what all the fuss is about in Kashmir or what the pro/con arguments are about stem cell research? Wikipedia is a great place to start.
- Wikipedia is not paper, and that is a good thing because articles are not strictly limited in size as they are with paper encyclopedias.
- Articles seem to be getting steadily more polished. Articles have a tendency to get gradually better and better, particularly if there is one person working on an article with reasonable regularity (in that case, others have a tendency to help). There are some articles we can all point to that started out life mediocre at best and are now at least somewhat better than mediocre. Now suppose this project lasts for many years and attracts many more people, as seems perfectly reasonable to assume. Then how could articles not be burnished to a scintillating luster?
- Wikipedia seems to attract highly intelligent, articulate people (with the exception of repeat vandals) with some time on their hands. Moreover, there are some experts at work here. Over time, the huge amount of solid work done by hobbyists and dilettantes can (and no doubt will) be hugely improved upon by experts. This both makes Wikipedia a pleasant intellectual community (or so it seems to some) and gives us some confidence that the quality of Wikipedia articles will, in time, if not yet, be high.
- Furthermore, because these highly intelligent people come from all over the world, Wikipedia can give the reader a genuine "world view".
- To use an extended metaphor, Wikipedia is very fertile soil for knowledge. As encyclopedia articles grow, they can attract gardeners who will weed and edit them, while the discussion between community members provides light to help their growth. By consistent effort and nourishment, Wikipedia articles can become beautiful and informative.
- The sheer amount of information in one search on Wikipedia compared to dredging the murky depths of various search engines to find hundreds of pages of a topic which are by no means guaranteed accurate, contain only a few sentences of useful knowledge and may even contain viruses.
- Wikipedia, by its very nature, resists destructive edits (known as Vandalism). All previous revisions of an article are saved and stored. Once vandalism is committed, in three or four clicks we can have it reverted. Think about it: To vandalize a page extensively, you would probably need around thirty seconds (unless it involved simply blanking the page). Compare that to the five to ten seconds it takes to revert an article. Couple that with IP blocking, dedicated souls, and an intelligent robot that monitor edits to the encyclopedia, and you have a solid resistance against destructive edits.
- There is only a slim chance of encountering destructive edits that you can't immediately spot. Most vandalism involves blatantly replacing parts of the page or adding immediately visible nonsense to the article – very few cases involve introducing misinformation, and even fewer misinformation and hoax edits actually slip through.
- Wikipedia's success mainly depends on its users, the Wikipedians.
- In theory, everybody can be a Wikipedian, but does the theory hold true in practice?
- The idea is that the Wiki-community of Wikipedians is a special group of people who have special characteristics. To account for these special characteristics, we have provided the following factor model:
- User factors
- Computer skills
- Flat hierarchy
- Knowledge factors
- Type of knowledge
- Fast changing rate
- Peer review
- Technology factors
- Easy usability
- Fast access
- Infinite reach, multilingual
- Flexible structure
- User factors
- All of these factors play together to accomplish the goal of successful knowledge creation and knowledge sharing.
- We have a slowly growing source of traffic—and therefore more contributors, and therefore (very possibly, anyway) an increasing rate of article-writing—from Google and Google-using search engines like AOL, Netscape, and a9. The greater the number and quality of Wikipedia articles, the greater the number of people will link to us, and therefore the higher the rankings (and numbers of listings) we'll have on Google. Hence, on Wikipedia "the rich (will) get richer"; or "if we build it, they will come" and in greater and greater numbers.
- Our likelihood of success seems encouragingly high. On January 23, 2003 we reached 100,000 articles, and we have since passed 10,000,000 articles, with over 4,000,000 English articles alone. If Wikipedia hits it big, or even simply continues as it has been, which seems plausible, then all potential articles might be covered... eventually.
- Wikipedia is free. Many online encyclopedias are not.
- It's a good feeling seeing that one's contribution is potentially read by thousands of surfers.