Our Virtual Middle Ages

Wikipedia , the online encyclopedia, is the most impressive collective intellectual project ever attempted – and perhaps achieved. It demands both the attention and the contribution of anyone concerned with the future of knowledge.

Because of the speed with which it has become a fixture in cyberspace, Wikipedia ’s true significance has gone largely unremarked. Since its sixth anniversary in 2007, Wikipedia has consistently ranked in the top ten most frequently viewed Web sites worldwide. Everyday it is consulted by 7% of all 1.2 billion Internet users, and its rate of usage is growing faster than that of Internet usage as a whole.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia to which anyone with a modicum of time, articulateness, and computer skills can contribute. Anyone can change any entry or add a new entry, and the results will immediately appear for all to see – and potentially contest.

“Wiki” is a Hawaiian root that was officially added to English in 2007 to signify something done quickly – in this case, changes in the collective body of knowledge. Some 4.7 million “Wikipedians” have now contributed to 5.3 million entries, one-third of which are in English, with the rest in more than 250 other languages. Moreover, there is a relatively large group of hardcore contributors: roughly 75,000 Wikipedians have made at least five contributions in any given 30-day period.