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Since Wikipedia was launched online in 2001 as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit," it has blossomed to more than a billion words spread over 10 million articles in 250 languages, including 2.5 million articles in English, according to Wikipedia cofounder Wales in the foreword. Lih, a Beijing-based commentator on new media and technology for NPR and CNN, researched Wikipedia and collaborative journalism as a University of Hong Kong academic, and he has been a participating "Wikipedian" himself for the past five years. He notes the site has "invigorated and disrupted the world of encyclopedias... yet only a fraction of the public who use Wikipedia realize it is entirely created by legions of unpaid and often unidentified volunteers." Other books have surfaced (How Wikipedia Works; Wikinomics), but Lih's authoritative approach covers much more, from the influence of Ayn Rand on Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales and the "burnout and stress" of highly active volunteer editor-writers to controversies, credibility crises and vandalism. Wales's more traditional earlier encyclopedia, the peer-reviewed Nupedia, began to fade after he saw how Ward Cunningham's software invention, Wiki (Hawaiian for "quick"), could generate collaborative editing. Tracing Wikipedia's evolution and expansion to international editions, Lih views the encyclopedia as a "global community of passionate scribes," attributing its success to a policy of openness which is "not so much technical phenomenon as social phenomenon." (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Wikipedia is a revolutionary phenomenon, changing fundamentally the landscape of networked collaboration, e-learning, and, as librarians know all too well, mediated information provision. Depicted here is a Wikipedia insider's narrative of the development of Wikipedia. The reader cannot help but become a Wikipedia enthusiast, rooting for the volunteers and lamenting the often public setbacks. The passion and commitment of the early founders and the continuing skyrocketing success of this resource and community truly inspire in a way few online networked communities can. Beijing-based Lih, who formerly taught at Columbia University's School of Journalism, characterizes this revolution as only partly technological. The real revolution is social-an apt point when one considers the philosophical underpinnings of this resource, the articles' neutral point of view, while remaining a free resource anyone can use and distribute. The manner in which volunteers labor tirelessly to shape and then govern over Wikipedia's success underscores the social attributes of this revolution. For anyone who has ever wondered how and why Wikipedia rivals standard encyclopedic works; recommended for larger public libraries.
Posted June 19, 2013