Wikipedia–The “Red Cross of Information”

Adrian Dale (L) with Jimmy Wales

Marydee has given you some great quotes from Jimmy Wales’ fascinating keynote address.  Here is my summary along with some audio clips. 

Wikipedia, a freely licensed encyclopedia written by thousands of volunteers in many languages, is owned by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization and, according to Alexa, is the 8th most popular site on the Web.  Wales characterized it as the “Red Cross for information”.  The foundation is supported by small donations from people all over the world and will spend $2 to 3 million this year.  Amazingly, Wikipedia has only 10 full time employees; all the rest of the labor is done by the users and volunteers.  Wikipedia operates under the free GNU Documentation License, which means that anyone is free to copy, modify, and redistribute the database, and if modifications were made, to redistribute the modified versions.

Wales is working on a number of new projects through Wikia, a completely separate organization.  Wikia will house the rest of the library—every other kind of book, work, or community that people might want to build.  It is extending the Wikipedia model beyond just nonprofit educational and research communities and is really creating a new type of reference work which will not compete with traditional reference.

Wales is even building a new search engine, Search Wikia, in which, in contrast to today’s major search engines, will use open source algorithms.  Everything will be out in the open, especially details of how the search engine operates.  Wales expects that Search Wikia will improve the relevancy and accuracy of the results and will result in an enhanced user experience.

 I was impressed with the question and answer period, which was one of the best I have heard.  If you would like to hear some of Wales’ thoughts:

  • Click here to hear about educators who forbid their students to use or cite Wikipedia.
  • Click here to hear about the current and future role of the library.
  • Click here for thoughts on capturing the world’s knowledge.
  • Click here for a discussion of the quality of information in Wikipedia.

 Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today


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