Remember Microsoft Encarta? Microsoft’s own take on the encyclopedia, which came out on CD and amazingly contained little videos of Martin Luther King’s speeches as well as various other multimedia tidbits from colourful maps to sound grabs of historical events? Or Britannica’s expensive and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to put its own offering on to a CD? (I don’t even know if Britannica still exists. It comes up in Google but the website appears to be down?).
Well, I remember these early digital tools well, and remember thinking ‘Wow!, the whole encyclopedia on one CD, how cool is that? Every kid should have that in their school bag!’
That was a while ago, and many modern computers aren’t even shipping with a CD drive at all now. So long that it’s hard to believe that the open source free alternative Wikipedia is ten years old tomorrow. What a monumental project: to put up a crowd-sourced body of knowledge on everything and to have it as a free, ad-free, resource for everyone.
Three and a half million articles, nearly 23 million pages of material and around fourteen million registered users (they’re the ones who contribute) It’s an amazing resource and while we all get frustrated sometimes at how our students tend to see it as a ‘one stop shop’ for their research (that’s our fault, not theirs) it’s conceptually incredible. And, particularly good for contemporary events like the terrible Tuscon Shooting this week where it bring the key facts and references them in detail.
Sure, it’s had it’s problems, and its vandals, and some have been quick to condemn the democratisation of this space, but what an amazing contribution. Happy birthday Wikipedia!