Examining Wikipedia

A website that has always fascinated—from a contributors and content prospective to a revenue prospective is Wikipedia. A wiki, a website that allows collaborative content of its content and its structure by its users, first was started in the 1990’s. What made wiki’s unique was in part the way the website was written—if regular users like you and me were going to be able to edit the content, it couldn’t be written in some fancy coding language.giphy

Instead Wikipedia uses a basic text formatting system to allow anyone, even those who don’t know HTML, to edit the site. So who are these people constantly editing and updating the site? What’s interesting is that the content is largely originally added by random people. It is the changes made to the site that are largely done by a small number of people who are considered experts. These experts are largely volunteers, but there are also some paid employees.source-3

Wikipedia takes into account the “crowd’s wisdom”. Once a page is up, it is easy for anyone to make a minor change. You can make it quickly without having to ask permission from a higher up. This encourages people to make changes when they see fit, “thousands and thousands of individual users each adding a little bit of content and out of this emerges a coherent body of work” said Jimbo Wales, the face and cofounder of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is in essence an encyclopedia and therefore requires a lot of knowledge about a lot of different people. This is why it’s so important that it uses the crowd to source this information.

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There are over 31,946,638 registered users who edit the pages. The largest demographic? Retired men and men in their mid twenties. This brings back the idea that retired people need something to fill their time from an earlier class discussion. Editors can also evaluate the quality of articles. If the article is deemed high quality it is deemed “featured” status. You can tell because these have a small bronze star on them. There is also a little silver lock symbol that appears on “semi protected” pages. These are pages that can only be edited by registered, confirmed users. There are different degrees of protection denoted by different color lock symbols.

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Another unique feature of Wikipedia is the listing of external links and sources on the bottom of each page. This makes it easy for the reader to do further research. That being said, many people use Wikipedia as a starting point before using their sources to do further research. Although some people still question the accuracy of Wikipedia, most people trust the site nowadays. Part of this is because the Wikipedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, is a non profit organization. This is important because it takes out the possibility of investors pushing bias’s. They also don’t have ads on the platform which is part of the appeal of the site to many users.

Wikipedia has such a small number of employees, last reported at 277, that it does rely heavily on society to make these updates and maintain its accuracy. Because there are still some people who question the accuracy of the site most people use it as a starting point before using other sources to confirm the information.giphy-3

They also rely heavily on donations in order to continue to offer their site for free. Most encyclopedias require a paid subscription. Most of their funding comes from small donations from its users—usually less than $30. Part of Wikipedia’s goal is to be free—their mission statement states that they want to “empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content”. It’s pretty cool that they have decided to stay free even though they could definitely charge a subscription fee. So many people rely on it to answer silly questions and research interesting topics. It is even updated in real time so many people use it for news. Society has largely come to the agreement that the information is accurate and therefore reliable. I for one, don’t know how I would have survived school without it.

5 comments

  1. Ah, good ole Wikipedia. I remember Wikipedia was the best thing ever then deemed the worst to use for school, and none of your resources could be a Wikipedia source! Now we have learned that as their might be non-fictional information on Wikipedia, it should only be used as a starting point for your research. I know people are trusting Wikipedia more than before especially for small or not as important questions they might need answering. I wonder if they decided to start charging to use Wikipedia, how reliable will the information then be? Would anyone who has at least paid to use the service still be able to add information whether or not it is completely correct?

  2. Wow this was so interesting! The mechanics and sources of information on Wikipedia has always been an enigma to me– I didn’t realize they had paid employees editing the site or protected pages. I also never realized that it is a non-profit with no ads, which is incredibly hard to come by on the internet these days especially for a site as big and established as Wikipedia. I am sure if they were a for-profit it would be more biased, but I wonder if that would actually deter people from using it as a source of information. Great job!

  3. I remember a couple years back, there was a notification on the Wikipedia page claiming that they may shut down due to the lack of funding, and that they would greatly appreciate any contributions. I’m happy to see that they have kept afloat and most importantly, that they have continued to be a free service. I think everybody is secretly reliant on Wikipedia as a relatively accurate source of information (at least if they want a quick understanding of the topic at hand). Also, because Wikipedia almost always shows up near the top of the Google search, a large number of people enter the site, which I would assume makes it more prone to editing and adding of updated information. I hope the crowd continues to contribute and keep the old friend alive.

  4. As an avid user of wikipedia, I enjoyed learning a little bit more about how it works! The fact that there are over 31,946,638 registered users really blew my mind, but then again it is definitely necessary for the massive amount of information on the site. In this day and age, it seems like nobody does anything unless they are going to make money, so I wonder if it is just a matter of time before Wikipedia starts charging for their information.

  5. Nice post. I’ve done ALOT of research on Wikipedia. If we get some time I’ll cover it in class. It’s a fascinating place.

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