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A thank-you from reporter AJ Jacobs:

Hello Wikipedians,

I just wanted to thank you all so much for participating in this experiment. It was absolutely fascinating. I was riveted to my computer, pressing refresh every 45 seconds to see the next iteration. And the next and the next. For the last few days, my wife has been what you might call a Wikipedia Widow.

I feel like I should submit all my articles to the community to get them Wikipedia-ized. I can't wait to print this in Esquire magazine.

Thanks again.

AJ Jacobs


This is one journalist's attempt to see how Wikipedia editors can improve an article he wrote as a demonstration of how the wiki process works. The article will be printed in an upcoming story about Wikipedia as a before and after to illustrate the power of collaborative editing.

Jimmy Wales agreed with the idea in an interview, so here goes the journalist's explanation of what he is looking for:

"The idea I had -- which Jimmy loved -- is that I'd write a rough draft of the article and then Jimmy would put it on a site for the Wikipedia community to rewrite and edit. [The magazine] would print the before and after versions of the article.
I interviewed Jimmy, and he read the article and was supposed to put it online, but he ran out of time and had to go to Brazil. [snip]
I just need the article put up on a site and the Wikipedia community told about its existence."
1) I put in a bunch of intentional mistakes (along with a couple of unintentional ones, I'm sure) so that the before/after would be a little more interesting.
2) The community should feel free to make as many changes as they want. The more, the better in my opinion. Changes in wording, in tone, in ideas, in structure -- whatever they want.

So... here's your chance to make this article a real one. All improvements welcome. Since this is to be reused in a magazine, all edits made to this article are released into the public domain.

Magazine is Esquire since this has been said on the Talk page ;-). The page is to be frozen sometime this week so that it can be printed.

Editing notes

General issues:

  • Use a punchy writing style - We're writing an article for Esquire, a men's lifestyle magazine. The page is to be frozen sometime this week so that it can be printed. See some Esquire samples.
  • Don't write like an encyclopedia - this is a feature magazine article, not everything has to be explained ad nauseam, and not everything has to be strictly NPOV.
  • Keep the word count down close to the original - wiki isn't paper, but this article will be printed on paper.
  • Avoid the urge to refer to your favorite pet Wikipedia article, unless there is a good reason to
  • Avoid echos - "...he experienced financial success. This financial independence..."
  • Old habits die hard, but: this is to be printed. Don't depend on wikilinks to explain issues or give context!

Revisions: It's not clear when the article will be "snapshotted" by the magazine, so some stable versions are listed here. Basically tackling the same problem as "Wikipedia 1.0". Users are free to modify the versioning, in the typical wiki way.

  • 0.0 - Original article with intentional typos. Word count: 709, paragraph count: 14.
  • 0.1 - Audited version: Word count: 857, paragraph count: 14
  • 0.2 - Audited version: Word count: 741, paragraph count: 13
  • 0.3 - Audited version: Word count: 771, paragraph count: 15 (04:08, 23 September 2005 UTC)
    • Pretty stable
    • Bomis mentioned, Sanger is not
    • General agreement on examples at the top
    • Kicker/closer pretty solid



What is the legal status of dwarf tossing? Did people really worship Jesus Christ's foreskin as a relic? Where was crushing by elephant used as an execution method? And who is the mysterious galactic ruler Xenu at the heart of Scientology?

You won't find the answers in Encyclopædia Britannica. Only one place contains them all: Wikipedia. The free online encyclopedia has become the largest, most wide-ranging and most untamed reference work in history.

So how does one find experts on the Holy Prepuce, or punishment by pachyderm? Simple: let them come to you. Wikipedia is written and edited entirely by volunteers from around the world. For nearly 20,000 regular editors, the only reward is in sharing their knowledge and expertise.

Beyond the funny and bizarre, there's also the serious and scholarly. Anyone who wants to learn about the Milgram experiment, the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, or Trinidad and Tobago's Democratic Labour Party will find detailed articles with extensive references. But this is no boneyard - it's also updated in real-time, with up-to-the-minute coverage of elections, hurricanes, terror attacks or other breaking news of the day.

Wikipedia is the brainchild of Jimmy Wales, a 39-year-old Alabama native who ditched his Ph.D. studies to make his fortune as an options trader in Chicago. He made more money by creating Bomis, an irreverent web portal.

This financial independence allowed Wales to pursue his passion: making knowledge free to the world. The first attempt - a traditional online encyclopedia with hand-selected writers - grew much too slowly for his tastes. Inspiration struck when he found out about wiki software that allows any website visitor to make changes on the spot ("wiki" is Hawaiian for "quick").

In a radical move, the whole encyclopedia was moved to a freely-editable wiki site. Less than five years later, Wikipedia's English edition has produced over 700,000 entries (compared with a paltry 120,000 in Encyclopædia Britannica and 68,000 in Microsoft's Encarta). In total, Wikipedia's global community has written over two million articles in more than 100 languages, including Esperanto and Sanskrit.

It's no surprise that this grassroots model of encyclopedia construction can lead to uneven coverage. Volunteers will write what they know or care about. While the culture of Cambodia gets short shrift, the article about the Commodore 64 home computer comes in at over 4,000 words. But like good wine, articles in Wikipedia get better with time: volunteer editors continuously enhance them, correcting facts, adding new references, new photographs, or just fixing errors.

You would think letting anyone and his dog edit articles would make Wikipedia untrustworthy. Former Britannica editor-in-chief Robert McHenry quipped that Wikipedia is like a public restroom – you never know who touched it last [2].

Yes, vandalism is common on Wikipedia, but Wikipedia heals quickly. That's because it never forgets – there's a record of every change made to every page, making anything undoable. Ruffians are quickly repelled by Wikipedia's volunteers, who watch the real-time list of "Recent Changes" like hawks. In fact, IBM researchers [3] found that most vandalism on Wikipedia was reverted in less than five minutes. If more chaos ensues, individuals can be blocked or pages can be locked down.

So if Wikipedia is like a public toilet, it's certainly got thousands of bathroom attendants. And as a sardonic retort to McHenry, Wikipedians maintain a self-righteous list of errors that exist in Britannica, but not in Wikipedia.

But what about the inevitable political disputes? Wales is an admirer of Ayn Rand's philosophy of objectivism, which influenced his adopting a "Neutral Point of View" policy. It forces editors to replace opinions with facts, or their changes will be wiped out. It's perhaps the only reason the project holds together.

The non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, keeper of Wikipedia, was created to be "politically neutral," says Wales. "But on a deeper level there is something profoundly political about what we're saying – which is that everybody should have access to information."

One thing is beyond doubt: Wikipedia is a powerful idea. And already, the wiki concept has spread well beyond the encyclopedia. Volunteers have created a dictionary (Wiktionary), a compendium of original books and manuals (Wikibooks), a collection of public domain texts (Wikisource), a quote collection (Wikiquote), a news service (Wikinews), and a bank of freely licensed images and other media (Wikimedia Commons). Even the software (MediaWiki) that runs these websites was developed by volunteers.

As more people turn to wiki communities for research, news and study, the idea of "individual authorship" could quickly become a thing of the past. Put it this way: the byline for this article may be as long as the text itself.


A small side note

224 edits were performed on this article in the first 24 hours of its existence, with a further 149 edits performed in its second 24 hour period of existence. [4]