I remember when I was in elementary school and we would all research our science, history, and book reports using the CD-ROM encyclopedia software, Encarta. If you don’t know what Encarta is, I don’t blame you. It was short-lived because the internet took over just after its creation. Moving on to middle school and high school, the internet was far more prevalent. People were starting to get high-speed cable internet and new websites were popping up all over the place. One such website, Wikipedia, quickly gained notoriety in schools. Many of my teachers would exhaustively reiterate “Wikipedia is not a credible source” when students would turn in research papers and book reports citing a Wikipedia article.
Back when it first came out, I remember Wikipedia being looked at by experts and academics as something that would never truly take the place of real encyclopedias or libraries for looking up information. Literally, anyone with an internet connection could edit the articles housed on Wikipedia after all! Well, 20 years later, Wikipedia is so prevalent that the most popular search engines and AI assistants in the world, used by billions of people per year, use it when looking for “facts” to respond to user searches and requests. The name Wikipedia is ubiquitous in American culture and is often used as the first way to settle an argument with your peers.
The fact that Wikipedia doesn’t display ads or charge money for access still amazes me. They’re completely funded by grants and donations as well as volunteers who maintain all the articles on the site. All articles are still written and edited by humans, which makes it even more astounding how accurate most of the articles are on the site, despite tons of political and corporate interests that would love to control that content (and they have certainly tried—and failed—to change that content!).
“Cultures constantly change. Relying on Wikipedia’s current one may, therefore, seem a risky strategy. Katherine Maher, the Wikimedia Foundation’s executive director and CEO, says that if Wikipedia did not already exist it might not be possible to create it on today’s fragmented, commercially minded internet.”
From The Economist, “Wikipedia is 20, and its reputation has never been higher“
So, happy birthday Wikipedia! Maybe one day soon our teachers and professors will let us use you for factual citations in our book reports. I mean, that would make our lives a hell of a lot easier in school, don’t you think?
Senior Front-end Developer