Happy Birthday Wikipedia

15 January 2011 is the 10th anniversary of Wikipedia. To mark the occasion, there is an explosion of discussions ‘in praise of Wikipedia’ on television, radio and newspapers. The fact that Wikipedia’s birthday has generated so much interest points out two interesting things. Firstly, how this online tool that contains a plethora of information about almost everything in the universe has become an important part of our life. Secondly, the power of the internet to create anniversaries of brands that are celebrated all over the world.   Brands existed much before the internet came into being. People across the world owned products but we didn’t have anniversaries that got people talking about Rolls Royce, Virgin or Rolex…

What makes brands like Wikipedia or Google so popular that the world takes notices whenever something is said about them? The answer is simple: these are the tools that have dramatically changed the way we consume knowledge and information.Wikipedia, for example, offers more than 17m articles in 270 languages without a charge. Every day thousands of people edit entries or add new ones. For someone looking for information Wikipedia provides quick summary or in-depth information about a topic.

There have however been serious concerns about the accuracy of information that is posted on Wikipedia.  Some academics frown, when Wikipedia is even mentioned. In 2009. Britain’s exam watchdog, Ofqual, warned that Wikipedia was not “authoritative or accurate” and entries “may be completely untrue”.  However, in my opinion, Wikipedia compares well with the accuracy of books, newspapers and magazines and it provides an excellent starting point for research. Its ability to provide a quick overview of a subject, with links to abundant references, is of immense value. I agree with those that say the references must not be taken on face value, and if it is being used for a wider research, it needs to be cross checked.

The fact that Wikipedia has become an indispensible part of the knowledge economy has made institutions take it more seriously. Most researchers ensure that the pages are correctly updated. Most brands and companies like to have Wikipedia pages. After all everyone wants to be heard and probably the greatest success of Wikipedia is that also gives voice and shape to something. It is true that  references on topics in Wikipedia can be conveniently manipulated to raise doubts, but like any product, it should be left to the discretion of the consumer to use the information or not.

Google, is because these brands reach out to people and make themselves a part of their life. Above all, these tools provide a free and centralised view about the world.

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