Over the past few months, Wikipedia‘s push for public funding has evolved from spokespeople (in the form of both celebrities and “everyday” people) to a “voice of reason” via Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia’s founder). Upon logging on to the site, the user is greeted with a banner the following banner, requesting you take a moment from your browsing to consider what Wikipedia is… and what Wikipedia could be:
It’s easy to see where Wales is coming from. If a company like Microsoft or Google pruchased a percentage of Wikipedia (much like Microsoft did with Facebook), it would certainly make it easier for the “non-profit” to stay afloat… but would it affect the information provided?
I submit, and I trust you will agree, that it certainly would. Imagine you, a Wikipedia user, are interested in researching Professional Wrestling storylines (a personal favorite procrastination search of my own). As you find yourself reading about a feud between the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan during Wrestlemania VI, you discover a link for “Mr. Perfect,” one of your personal favorites wrestlers. When you click on the link, however, it’s not “Mr. Perfect’s” Wikipedia page that opens, it’s his “Bing” or “Google” search results (depending, of course, on the partner).
Here in lays the problem. As Wales points out, “We Need to Protect Wikipedia.” If Wikipedia is publicly funded, as Wales hopes, the above scenario will not come to fruition. Instead, a site where “every single person on the planet has free access to the sum of all human knowledge” will be possible. As Paul Levinson notes in New New Media (Penguin, 2009):
Wikipedia is the most thorough-going, consistantly user-driven system on the Internet. It is the pick of the new new media litter, at least insofar as its primary, revolutionary charactersitic of allowing consumers to become producers (p. 90)
Tonight, while watching Monday Night Football (MNF) with my girlfriend’s family, I was asked what the lineage of announcers since the start of MNF was. Logically, I searched Wikipedia and came to an answer within seconds (if not sooner). Some of the article, I’m sure, was written/edited by ABC (long-time broadcaster of MNF). Other components, likewise, were indubitably composed by ESPN (who has held the rights to MNF since 2006 — yes, I got that bit from Wikipedia). Furthermore, there are the multitudes of NFL fans and MNF traditionalists who have added and edited their factual components of “all-things” MNF.
In a microcosm, this is what makes Wikipedia “revolutionary.” As the title reads, I wonder if Wikipedia can, one day, become this all encompassing “good’ that Wales depicts in this open-letter to Wikipedia users? My best guess is that it will. There are millions of people in the world who can’t stand not knowing “who sings that song,” “what other shows is s/he in,” or “what’s the meaning of life?” Wikipedia does, for these questioners and more, represent a haven for knowledge. And it is a haven that Jimmy Wales hopes will remain safe from taint in the near future.