Wikipedia’s Tenth Anniversary

For Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary, The Atlantic asked several people (“all-star thinkers,” natch) to contribute their thoughts about the indispensable crowd-sourced encyclopedia and its importance over the past decade.

James Bridle’s entry, which looks at the historiography of Wikipedia, was particularly great:

Why is there this accepted version of history that ignores all these differing versions and opinions — versions and opinions that, if we understood them properly, would utterly change our own worldview, and if we all understood them, well, who knows how many future conflicts would be avoided?

The reason is that we are bad at historiography. Because we don’t save all these different versions and we don’t understand them and we don’t have a way of seeing them. This is history written by the victors.

The article on The Iraq War is over five years old. It has been edited over 12,000 times. Printed out, the changes alone fill a twelve-volume encyclopaedia.

The article’s history contains arguments over numbers, differences of opinion on relevance and political standpoints, and frequent moments when someone erases the whole thing and just writes “Saddam Hussein was a dickhead.”

This is historiography. This is what culture actually looks like, a process of argument, of dissenting and accreting opinion, of gradual and not always correct codification.

And for the first time in history, we’re building a system that, perhaps only for a brief time but certainly for the moment, is capable of recording and making use of every single one of those infinitely valuable pieces of information, a new project for every generation.

That’s really the perfect way to think about history and culture and how Wikipedia fits into both.  It’s also interesting to consider how authoritative and stable Wikipedia has become in its decade-long existence. Remember when it first launched and people talked about how it was the wild west of information? How anyone could edit an entry anyway they pleased? Sure, it’s still like that a little bit, but the wrinkles have been ironed out and the site is now, mostly, a reliable source of information.  Here are its first 10,000 entries.  [via gizmodo/clusterflock]

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