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Danny Groner

Danny Groner

Posted: January 16, 2011 01:14 PM

"Wikipedia has changed what it means to be a political fact," says Politico. Passing along information used to be the job of reliable sources like newspapers, but now a "volunteer nation" supervises what we discover and learn. As the site celebrates its ten-year anniversary, we must recognize how far it's come toward being accepted as a mainstream source. Skepticism has surrounded the site since its inception, The New York Times delcaring back in 2001 that it is "unclear, of course, whether the world needs another encyclopedia. Vast information is already available on the Web, and while much of it is scattered among disparate sites, search engines have made it easier to find it." Yet Wikipedia has proven itself an easier and faster place for everything. What does this mean for us and how we attain knowledge?

Wikipedia comes at a severe cost: "So, we are Wikipedia," says Alexandra Petri in The Washington Post. That's not a good thing. "What Wikipedia truly represents is the demise of the dilettante." Yes, it's nice to contribute to make definitions and explanations more precise, but "when you lose generalists, you lose a certain ability to call out obvious bull." Inaccuracies are now typical. It seems that in our pursuit of answers, we stopped seeking knowledge. So while Wikipedia is "a superhighway through your living room," I have to wonder "is it worth it?"

It's produced civility and good will...: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales could have "chosen to commercialize the enterprise" and gotten rich like Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook, says Timothy Garton Ash in the Los Angeles Times. Instead, however, Wales constructed a "utopian idealism of the Internet's heroic early days." Although the site has "major shortcomings" and challenges, in the wake of a national tragedy, "it is good to be able to celebrate an American invention that, for all its faults, tries to spread around the world a combination of unpaid idealism, knowledge and stubborn civility."

...that goes beyond Wikipedia's page: When Wikipedia started, "nobody knew exactly what to make of it and its goal," says Sue Gardner in The Guardian. "It started off as "an easy target for jokes and criticism," when it "wasn't very good" at all. But, over time, "Wikipedia gets more credible, and more trusted, every day." Along the way, it has "become an indispensable part of our daily lives." What was once "an experiment" has blossomed into an enterprise that relies on people "helping each other" for free. It's a site "worth defending, both for the future success of Wikipedia and more broadly, for the whole of the internet." More sites should do what Wikipedia does.