Happy birthday Wikipedia

Wikipedia is celebrating its 10th anniversary today! Back on January 15, 2001, after a failed attempt to launch a conventional online encyclopedia called Nupedia, Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia with few expectations. Today, Wikipedia is available in more than 250 languages, includes some 26 million entries, is read by over 400,000,000 people per month! And all of the content is uploaded, edited and kept fresh by those users of the site, or the ‘wikipedians’ as I’ve seen them referred to.

Sue Gardiner, current CEO of Wikipedia, is quoted in a recent Yahoo News article as saying, “”Wikipedia turned out to be more successful than anybody ever imagined or ever even aspired for it to be. It took on a life of its own and became this hugely popular thing.

For me, Wikipedia provides an insight into the profound change that is occurring in our world of business, education, politics – anything you can think of really. It’s a message presented to us by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams in their 2007 book, Wikinomics, in which they explore how some companies in the early 21st century have used mass collaboration (also called peer production) and open-source technology, such as wikis, to be successful. (I’ve recently been sent a copy of their latest book, Macrowikinomics which I’m almost finished reading now, and will review in an upcoming blog.)

The issue will be that, like Wales back in 2001, we have little idea of what the future may actually evolve to be. Right now, many of the institutions that have served us well for decades—even centuries—seem frozen and unable to move forward (including our schools and education institutions). They are ripe for reinvention by mass collaboration. Wikipedia has provided us with an insight into what is possible. The exciting thing is that we all now have the opportunity to participate in imagining and creating that future, through the use of social participation tools and environments such as wikis. This is Wales’ call to action as he asks for even more people to be actively involved in contributing to the Wikipedia knowledge base (as opposed to simply reading it).

So… happy birthday Wikipedia! Here’s to the next ten years when I’m sure we’ll see the manifestation of what Tapscott and others are talking about.

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