Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wikipedia's Decade

Well, this is embarrassing. On a day when I was chasing after the ODI cricket match between my home team, South Africa, and India in Johannesburg, I completely forgot to make some song and dance about the biggest news of the weekend - Wikipedia turns 10 years old!

It's sad that the weekend's news has been thoroughly dominated by absolute rubbish. Some completely irrelevant news about the autocratic lewder in Tunisia being ousted by citizens and running away to Saudi Arabia is currently dominating the headlines.

Then there was some stupid article on the BBC about how some "professor" of Astronomy has caused a massive stir on the net because he said zodiac signs and Astrology are now wrong. His point, sadly, was not because Astrology is completely stupid and baseless, instead, he tried to convince people that due to the wobble of our planet, we should all have different zodiac signs.

What a complete bunch of junk being spewed out by some of the most reputable names in the news business.

But, Wikipedia is the purpose of this entry tonight. In the beginning, and this would be about 6 years ago, I thought an online, free-to-all encyclopedia was a pretty stupid idea. I have already seen how the web becomes when people get the chance to provide self-generated content. The worst part of the spectrum would be, well, spam.

I also remembered having a debate with my college professors, several, in fact, about it which entrenched my dismissal of the medium even more. No one in academia bothered, and more over, everyone dismissed it in a rather derogatory fashion.

But then one of my friends mentioned something interesting to me. He said that we, as Student Government members, should start up a Wikipedia entry for our college. I couldn't figure out what the purpose would be until he sat me down in our office in front a computer and went to Google. He searched for one of those Ivy League colleges like Harvard or Princeton. Do you know what came up? After several examples, it's quite clear - Wikipedia articles of the subject matter comes really high in the search results. I'm not talking about top ten or top five. I'm talking top two. And sometimes, it actually comes on top before the official website.

What a revelation! From then on, apart from making a page for my college, I also embarked on creating an entry for my high school in South Africa, the oldest school in the country with a tremendous reputation and impressive history. I also contribute every time I read an article and see an error or find a mistake. Basically, I contribute what I can, when I can towards the greater community.

By the way, a quick search right now for my high school - South African College Schools - on Google right now and the result speaks volumes. The official site comes up first, but Wikipedia comes second and third (this is the disambiguation page also created by me).

The Internet is a complicated place. Every site has its own look and feel. They have their own themes and colours. Fonts can be one of the other. Let's not get to the layout...

What does Wikipedia bring through? It enables people to find out information, sometimes quite detailed, very quickly because everything is pretty standardised in terms of layout and placement of content. After having used it for several years, when I look for something on Wikipedia, I can immediately locate the information within 20 seconds, instead of sifting through pages after pages until I finally find something close to what I'm looking for.

Yes, people still spam and vandalize articles, but every year that passes, the level of control becomes stronger. More and more people pick up vandalism and undo them as quickly as the idiots can put it on.

I know the founder of Jimmy Wales said recently that his fantastic creation's biggest downside is that it is too complicated to publish information because of the rather mid level to advanced coding it requires. A good friend of mine in the UK correctly pointed out that compilation means only people with a purpose would bother. That means general, immature idiots who want to vandalize will be so confused that they'll simply give up.

Happy Birthday Wikipedia. My confidence is stronger than ever that you will become the force to contend with, in this new century of information.

- Posted from my iPad

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