“Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.”
– Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales [1]

Why am I here?Edit

It's not finished!

Wikipedia is a paradox — it doesn't work in theory, only in practice. And no, it doesn't work all the time, and no, you shouldn't trust it completely. You should know what you're dealing with, and if it's critical information (for your job, or a grade, or what have you) you should check what you read here with other sources. (Of course you should do that with any information — and do note that the best Wikipedia articles will cite some of those other key references to make them easier to find, as well as giving you the terminology to do a more effective search of other sources.)

And yet....

As a highly addicted editor here, I don't find very many errors when I'm doing fact-checking. Missing info certainly, poorly written info certainly. Vandalism and copyright violations, certainly. But in general everything that looks like a properly formatted article has been touched by enough editors to be accurate. Clicking "random page" repeatedly will get you a few clunkers, but most pages are at least a decent starter article, many on things Britannica will never touch. The subjects I know well were fairly well-written and accurate before I got here in 2003, and I hope are even better now that I've expanded and tinkered with them. I am continually astonished with the quality that this crazy system has produced, and with the increasingly sophisticated attempts to improve the quality without sacrificing the openness that made it possible.

As the Bismarckian saying goes: "People who enjoy eating sausage and obey the law should not watch either being made", and Wikipedia is the same — its underpinnings are chaotic, bewildering, and sometimes downright ugly.

And yet...

To me the addictive thing about it is that it's surprisingly good after only a handful of years, and I really want to see where it can go, and help it get there with my own writing and editing skills. It did not even EXIST before 2001, and now has almost two million articles in English alone. It is good, and getting better, but it requires a dedicated core of editors to keep it going that way, or it will get overwhelmed by the vandals, or warped by more subtle tricksters and propagandists. So far, we're generally winning, and I really want to see where it's going to be in ten to fifteen years when it has matured a little more.

When I first got on the World Wide Web in the early 1990s (graduating from Usenet on an amber terminal to the giddy heights of America Online!), I was excited about the potential for learning, but over the next few years I was really disappointed to find out that searching for basic encyclopedic facts usually led you to a teaser page for a pay service, or else a tidbit of dubious reliability on a personal site. That model certainly didn't last!

Wikipedia was definitely not the first, or the only, site to provide encyclopedic knowledge for free -- I have great respect for all the pioneers in the field, and the driven individuals, organizations, and even governments who built their own educational websites. However, Wikipedia is the one which seems to have found the key to keep expanding and staying current, in a way that no single stakeholder has ever been able to do before.

One important thing to remember is that Wikipedia is under a copyleft license (the GFDL), which means that anyone can not only read it for free, but can copy and use the text for any purpose for free (so long as they credit the source and don't try to claim copyright themselves). This is a radical departure from Britannica and its cohorts, where the ownership and pricing of knowledge is paramount.

Why is this important? Well, it's a virtuous circle.

Why haven't the traditional encyclopedias had any real competition? Because they own the copyright on the textual presentation of the knowledge they've compiled, and the only way to compete is to write your own encyclopedia from scratch -- start with the facts and begin writing down everything human beings know in your own words. Why hasn't anyone done it? Because traditionally it would take a staggering amount of up-front investment to hire the writers and researchers just to get started, and when it was finally done, then you'd be competing against some powerhouses of the reference world without any reputation to rely on. Even Encarta, with all the resources of Microsoft to draw on, was started by purchasing the existing encyclopedia Funk & Wagnalls.

Still, there have been lots of people out there who have wanted knowledge to be free, but weren't ready to take on the whole project themselves. And there are millions of people out there with billions of true, verifiable, hard-learned and hard-earned facts in their heads, and at least some of them are delighted to share if you ask them — especially if it's easy for them to do, and doesn't require a huge commitment.

So how do you convince a lot of people to volunteer to write an encyclopedia? Well, first you make it a non-profit project, so they're not being asked to donate their hard work to make someone else rich. Toss in a neutral point-of-view policy to keep controversial issues from tearing the thing apart.

Then you commit to making it available in every language on Earth, so that even the poorest communities on the planet will eventually be able to read about water purification, and agricultural techniques, and the moons of Jupiter, not to mention every minor character on The Simpsons and Coronation Street. So there's your humanitarian angle.

On top of that, you find a licence that allows anyone to use the content — human knowledge that can be freely distributed by anyone, instead of being locked up behind copyright laws. Free for teachers, for students, for textbook publishers, for humanitarian organizations, for anyone. That includes the profiteers, and there will be many.

However, the fantastic thing is that the only way for a profit-making enterprise to compete with a free resource is to do something to add value to the content. They must organize it, proofread it, fact-check it, filter it, print it, distribute it on DVD, or otherwise convince people to spend money on something they could get for free just by coming to Wikipedia in the first place. By the terms of the GFDL, any improvements they make to the content must also be GFDL-licensed and can be incorporated here, and any improvements they make to the presentation or distribution are simply helping to fulfill our mission of making the knowledge we collect here available to every person on earth.

Stir all those elements vigorously, and you wind up with a community, and all the good and bad things that implies. The good: as an editor, you often get virtually instant feedback, and start to develop a reputation that you're eager to enhance and retain. You feel a sense of responsibility to come back every day: to create something new, to watch over what you've built, to polish what others contribute, and to keep the barbarians at least somewhat at bay... and you feel this wonderful cheerful competitiveness, to write something good enough to withstand the quasi-Darwinian editing process here. The bad: Build anything, and someone will try to see how hard it is to knock it down. And: Put four people in a room, and one of them will become a politician.

And yet...

You start talking about the long term — about being one of the first large information sources on the web that is truly free. You start talking about what will happen if this works; that because it's free, it's going to be the default resource for a whole lot of people, and you start to get a little bit awed by the responsibility to build it properly, and keep it open, and keep it sane, and most of all, to get the facts right, because this work is going to be a base on which many unforeseeable future projects will be built.

New technologies which allow others to mine our information — our date lists, our categories, our interwiki links, our biographical and geographical data, etcetera ad infinitum — are just now beginning to be developed. As we continue to develop our database structure and APIs to make this information easily available and machine-readable, Wikipedia data is going to be incorporated into a huge number of other online and offline applications.

The task will never be finished, as there's always an incoming avalanche of unformatted, unreferenced, badly linked articles, but the core group of articles which have been refined and polished in our policy-and-guideline-tumbler is also always growing, and by definition, the articles which get the most attention are those which are most popular and which the most people are looking at. It'll never be perfect, but I think that it will always be useful.

We started out with a few articles, a few volunteers, and no reputation at all. Now we've grown fantastically — millions of volunteer editors, millions of articles in over a hundred languages, and we're one of the top ten sites on the web. Because our content grew out in public, the reputation grew along with it, almost without even trying; Google's funny that way.

Growing pains? Scaling issues? More at stake when we get it wrong? You betcha. Conflict between our foundation values and the needs of preserving what we've built? Absolutely. Worth helping it along? I sure think so.

I think that what we're doing here is going to be the ground level of something huge in the next century. I might be wrong — maybe the vandals and the point-of-view warriors will eventually overwhelm the dedicated core of editors to the point where people no longer trust us. Maybe the dedicated core itself will become insular and stagnant. Maybe the site will fade off the top fifty list in a sad, limping finale, but you know what?

Even if this project does fail in its present form, we will still have done something mighty, because anyone who wants to has access to the 6,259,058 articles we've already finished (and that's just in English!). They can discard anything they thought wasn't good enough, and put it in print or on the web in any format they want, editable or not, and still have the most enormous collection of general encyclopedic knowledge ever put together by human beings.

In the end though, I don't believe we're going to fail. I think we're going to continue growing and evolving, and the Wikipedia of ten years from now may look totally different from what we have today, but I don't think this resource is ever going away.

I am an idealist, I admit it. I won't try to convince you to trust Wikipedia on every detail — just keep watching it and see what happens.

19:26, 12 May 2007 (UTC) -- most recent version

Who am I?Edit

she thinks not, therefore she is not.

  • I have been an artist, and an INFP, all my life.
  • I have been a gamer since October of 1987.
  • I have been a programmer since the summer of 1998.
  • I have been a mother since June of 2000.
  • I have been a Wikipedian since February 12, 2003.
  • I have been a Wikipediholic since February 19, 2003.
  • I have been a Wikipedia custodian since February 12, 2004.
  • I was promoted to "Gunnery Muse" by User:Func on October 13, 2004. ;)
  • I reached my five thousandth edit in the wee hours of October 30, 2004.
  • I was a Mediator throughout most of 2005.
  • I have been a knitter since 2006.
  • I reached my ten thousandth edit on March 4, 2006, the same week Wikipedia got its millionth article.
  • I worked for Wikia from March 2007 to March 2010.

My sig:


= [[User:CatherineMunro|Catherine]]\<sup>[[User_talk:CatherineMunro|talk]]</sup>

(borrowed from Solitude -- check the "Raw signatures" box to use it)

My contributionsEdit

My portal proposal

Duran DuranEdit

The many faces of John TaylorEdit

John Taylor: John Taylor (poet), John Taylor (1704-1766), Johnnie Taylor, John Taylor of Caroline, John Taylor (1770-1832), John Whittaker Taylor, John Taylor (1808-1887), John Henry Taylor, John Taylor (American football player), John Mark Taylor, John Taylor (Velocette), Jack Taylor, and still in progress: John Taylor (jazz), John David Taylor, John Taylor (1480-1534), John Taylor (1503-1554), John Taylor (1694-1761), John Taylor (1752-1833), John E. Taylor, John Taylor (Taylor Ham), John Tayler,

Recognized articlesEdit

Created articlesEdit

Other articles I created or contributed to significantly:

Gamemaster, Miniature figure painting, Role-playing, Dungeon Master, Dungeon magazine, Universal Studios, Clive Davis, Snoop Doggy Dogg, [[Tina Turne