Source of book image: http://kellylowenstein.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/wikipedia-revolution1.jpg
Wikipedia is a very unexpected and disruptive institution. Amateurs have produced an encyclopedia that is bigger, deeper, more up-to-date, and arguably of at least equal accuracy, with the best professional encyclopedias, such as Britannica.
I learned a lot from Lih’s book. For instance I did not know that the founders of Wikipedia were admirers of Ayn Rand. And I did not know that the Oxford English Dictionary was constructed mainly by volunteer amateurs.
I also did not know anything about the information technology precursors and the back-history of the institutions that helped Wikipedia to work.
I learned much about the background, values, and choices of Wikipedia entrepreneur “Jimbo” Wales. (Jimbo Wales seems not to be perfect, but on balance to be one of the ‘good guys’ in the world—one of those entrepreneurs who can be admired for something beyond their particular entrepreneurial innovation.)
Lih’s book also does a good job of sketching the problems and tensions within Wikipedia.
I believe that Wikipedia is a key step in the development of faster and better institutions of knowledge generation and communication. I also believe that substantial further improvements can and will be made.
Most importantly, I think that you can only go so far with volunteers–ways must be found to reward and compensate.
In the meantime, much can be learned from Lih. In the next few weeks, I will be quoting a few passages that I found especially illuminating.
Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia. New York: Hyperion, 2009.