In this article for Wired, cultural correspondent Richard Clarke tracks the origins, the day-to-day functioning and the likely future of Wikipedia. He discusses how its founders first regarded it as an adjunct to another site; how “Wikignomes” keep the site up and running; how Alexa and Siri depend on Wikipedia for answers and will depend on it even more in the future; and why everyone who uses Wikipedia still remains slightly reluctant to cite it as a source. Clarke’s lively writing and lucid insights will captivate anyone who uses Wikipedia – that is, pretty much everyone.
Wikipedia has become today’s foremost knowledge source.
Today, Wikipedia is in the top 10 of the most visited sites on the internet, and it’s the only nonprofit on that short list. The English edition offers six million articles, tallying some 3.5 billion words. And yet, people still hold Wikipedia in slightly low regard. Few people willingly admit that they have gotten their information or opinion from a Wikipedia article.
Wikipedia remains free from specific cultural or political influences. It has no ads, no tracking of users and no visible trollers. It is an information source, a village, a library and, in its essence, a public gathering place. It hasn’t deviated from its initial mission: to provide, without charge, an encyclopedia of pretty much everything known – created by writers who earn not a penny. It’s hard to believe this place endures.
Wikipedia not only admits its own issues; it foments discussion about them on its own website. Many articles still suffer from poor writing and slipshod research. Fully 90% of its editors are men. Women and nonbinary writers suffer hacking, trolling and even murder...