Happy birthday Wikipedia!

Wikipedia is one of the best things to have happened to people all over the world

Published - January 21, 2011 06:42 pm IST

ALL TIME FAVOURITE: Wikipedia caters to info-related needs of all sections. Photo: Bhagya Prakash

ALL TIME FAVOURITE: Wikipedia caters to info-related needs of all sections. Photo: Bhagya Prakash

“Hello world. Humour me. Go there and add a little article. It will take all of five or 10 minutes.” Launched with these simple words on January 15, 2001, Wikipedia has grown, to be the biggest, most wide-ranging, volunteer-written and peer-reviewed reference work in history. As it celebrates its 10th anniversary, nobody would have imagined even in one's wildest dreams back then, its scale, scope and possibilities that it has racked up today. With more than 17 million articles in 270 languages, it has become one of the top five websites on the web.

“I use Wikipedia all the time. You can search virtually any topic, and you will find a Wikipedia entry in the first few results,” says Mohan Gupta, a techie who writes and edits entries.

Free, open, planet-sized, up-to-date, and available to anyone around the world, Wikipedia is as much a sociological phenomenon as a technological one in creating global repository of knowledge.

(Wiki is a computer program that lets web surfers to collaborate, create update and edit any web page. Also, it tracks every change and provides a discussion forum. Ward Cunningham devised wikis and coined the term ‘wiki' when he noticed the shuttle bus at Honolulu International Airport being called Wiki Wiki (quick, quick))

Writing an encyclopedia entry called for a life-time of knowledge and credentials. You just couldn't get two cents worth of your wisdom out in the open. But the Wikipedia model--- open-source--- removed all barriers. Open-sourced content meant that talent, wisdom and the desire to share it can be found anywhere. It meant that you need not be a professional or professorial to get your thoughts out. Though there were predictions about mobs vandalising the site, (and the continuing sneaking suspicion that its entries are inaccurate and unreliable,) Wikipedia blazed a new trail. That's because its community keeps a strict watch on the accuracy of the articles and in most cases, acts quickly to fix errors in individual entries. The volunteers clean up an entry of its discrepancies within minutes of posting it. Thus the site survives and thrives.

“Wikipedia has made life easier for everyone. Students refer to it, well, many times copy straight from it,” says Abhinav, an engineering student. “Basically it is good and entries are exhaustive, reliable. But for Wikipedia, I would have to go through a lot of books.”

For its sheer range of coverage of topics, Wikipedia has no parallel. “Earlier when you wanted to know something out-of-the-way or plain weird, you didn't have a chance unless you had a big library. But now when I need anything to know for pleasure or for reference, it's pretty much there,” says Sundar, a Wikipedia-evangelist. “You can also use the entries as a launching pad for further exploration of the topic you are interested in,” he adds.

“Sites like Wikipedia keep world's knowledge at your finger tips,” says Ravindra, an engineering student who refers to it all the time. “We all cannot buy the established encyclopedias like Britannica, but we can access Wikipedia anywhere anytime.” That makes it, he feels, one of the best things to have happened for people all over the world.

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