Sunday October 3, 2010
IN an e-mail conversation with Jimmy Wales before he arrived in Malaysia last Monday, he mentions how excited he was with Wikipedia’s evolution, especially with the growth of the site in all the languages of the world.
“The Malaysian language edition (ms.wikipedia.org) has over 70,000 articles – up from 52,000 just one year ago,” he said via e-mail.
His aims to have at least “250,000 articles in every language that has at least one million native speakers”.
“I think Wikipedia has proven that ordinary people can be trusted to do the right thing, and together they have built a remarkable storehouse of knowledge. Human beings love to learn about the world, and hundreds of millions of people spend countless hours learning about the world through Wikipedia,” he writes in the e-mail.
However, human nature being what it is, people don’t always do “the right thing”. The downside to having a website that can be edited by anyone is that you sometimes get unreliable facts creeping in. Sometimes, outright lies.
London’s The Times newspaper listed The 10 biggest Wikipedia hoaxes (Aug 25, 2009), one of which said – briefly in February 2006 – that a teenage Tony Blair (former Prime Minister of Britain) kept posters of Hitler on his bedroom wall.
(Amusingly, Wales’ Wikipedia biography lists his birthday as Aug 7 or 8 – it is Aug 8, or so Wales hints on his blog, blog.jimmywales.com/2007/08/08/my-birthdate.)
Wales often asserts that Wikipedia’s team of volunteer editors keep this “vandalism” at bay, or at least under control.
So, should we be worried that a Wall Street Journal article (Volunteers log off as Wikiepdia ages, Nov 27, 2009) cited a study that suggests that there’s an exodus of editors?
“The Wall Street Journal ran this article, and it was based on a research study that was later retracted because it was just wrong. They made an error in their calculations.
“The truth is, for English Wikipedia and some of the other large languages, the number of those editing or contributing is basically stable. It goes up and down every month, depending on the seasons,” Wales says. The “smaller” languages, on the other hand, are still growing.
“We’re not in any kind of crisis. The article said that we had lost 57,000 editors in the last year. I said, ‘Well, I found them – in my refrigerator’. It was just a badly done study. It’s basically stable in some of the large languages,” he insists.
While it may have problems, Wikipedia serves an important function.
“One of the things that people don’t always remember or recognise is that in many languages the problem that we have is having too much information,” he says.
“The role that Wikipedia plays in English, is having that summary – very simple, concise summary,” he says.