THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 15

Subject:  Crowdsourcing – Wikipedia

Event:  Wikipedia launched, 2001

On March 13, 2012, The New York Times announced that after 244 years, The Encyclopedia Britannica would no longer produce its print edition.

First published in 1768, the Encyclopedia Britannica became the most recognized and authoritative reference work ever published in English.  Its more than 4,000 contributors included Nobel Prize winners and American presidents.

In the 1950s, The Britannica was sold door-to-door, and many American families invested in the multi-volume repository of knowledge, paying in monthly installments.  The last print edition, produced in 2010, consisted of 32 volumes and weighed 129 pounds. Its price tag was $1,395.

An incomplete sphere made of large, white, jigsaw puzzle pieces. Each puzzle piece contains one glyph from a different writing system, with each glyph written in black.
The Wikipedia wordmark which displays the name Wikipedia, written in all caps. The W and the A are the same height and both are taller than the other letters which are also all the same height.

Although it went out of print in 2012, the true end of the Encyclopedia Britannica began 11 years earlier, on January 15, 2001, when Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched their free, web-based encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Instead of Nobel Prize winners, Wales and Sanger took the counterintuitive approach of inviting the public to write and edit its content.  This approach, commonly known as crowdsourcing, allows Wikipedia to capitalize on the internet’s power to reach a wide number of both writers and readers.  As The New York Times wrote in 2012, 

. . . Wikipedia has moved a long way toward replacing the authority of experts with the wisdom of the crowds. The site is now written and edited by tens of thousands of contributors around the world, and it has been gradually accepted as a largely accurate and comprehensive source, even by many scholars and academics. (1)

Wikipedia’s reputation as a reliable source grew stronger in 2005 when the peer-reviewed journal Nature published a study comparing science articles in The Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia.  The scientists comparing the articles discovered no significant difference in the accuracy of the two encyclopedias’ content (2).

As of 2020, Wikipedia features over 6 million articles in English as well as additional content in 285 languages.

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  When compared with ‘The Encyclopedia Britannica,’ what made ‘Wikipedia’ such a counterintuitive idea in 2001?

Challenge – My Favorite Wiki Topic:  Of all its millions of articles, what is one Wikipedia article you would recommend?  What are some interesting factoids found in the article?

Sources:

1-Bosman, Julie. “After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the PressesThe New York Times 13 March 2012.

2-Giles, Jim.  Internet Encyclopedias Go Head to Head. Nature  14 Dec. 2005.

https://www.nature.com/articles/438900a

Tags:  Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, crowdsourcing

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