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Opinion

Wikipedia Has Changed the World in 15 Short Years

On any given Sunday afternoon, you’ll find me lounging on the couch engaging in a Wikipedia binge session. There are few resources in the modern world that can offer me so much information in just one surf session. The maze of articles that you can traverse in one sit down can show you just how interconnected the world really is. For instance, you can start out reading about lemurs in Madagascar, and somehow end up finding out that Jodie Foster dubs her own French-language movies. Composed of millions upon millions of articles about our world, there’s little doubt that the online encyclopedia has revolutionized the way we reference nearly anything.

15 years ago, when it first started, Wikipedia was a crowdsourcing platform before we even knew what that meant. The online encyclopedia was one of the first viable products we saw online that tapped the unrealized potential of having mass collaboration. The sum of individual desire to spread knowledge from every corner of the globe means that a multi-national force of free labor works around the clock to constantly update and improve the information available. If you’re young enough to remember what a standard encyclopedia was like, they have nothing on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia’s rise to top didn’t come without significant growing pains. All of us saw an eye-popping amount of wiki terrorism when the site first started. While academics and casual observers scoffed at the blatant inaccuracies that plagued its launch, Wikipedia is stronger than ever 15 years later. Naturally, there are still some issues that bedevil one of the world’s most popular websites. Nevertheless, it’s hard to overestimate the impact that a scrappy little startup from St. Petersburg, Florida has had on global culture.

We are the wiki generation. When in doubt, we usually Google something, and more often than not, the first search result is a Wikipedia page. Wiki, originally a Hawaiian word that means fast, has become a standard prefix for collaborative sharing of content. Other organizations have come about in the wiki-style, like Wikihow (a how-to guide to nearly everything), and Wikileaks (making previously secret information made available to the public). When there’s voluntary cooperation among people, the end-products can be a game-changer.

Generation Wiki has unlocked the beauty of crowdsourcing. Wikipedia has demonstrated that the collaborative open-source way of doing things can grow faster and better than anything the public or private sector can do with their paid staff. The synergy when we work together is unbelievably rapid and efficient.

Wikipedia was a watershed moment in millennial history. For 30-somethings like me, the online encyclopedia has been a fixture in my existence for half of my lifetime. It’s hard to believe 15 years have passed since I discovered I could peruse articles about far-away places, esoteric ideas, and influential people. Wikipedia has certainly brightened my existence, and changed the way the we all view the world one article at a time.

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