Why Wikipedia is so great

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As you read and idly edit Wikipedia, sooner or later you're bound to ask yourself: "Just why is Wikipedia so great? What accounts for its overwhelming splendidness?" For your convenience, we have explained this for you on this page.

  • Wikipedia articles are extremely easy to edit. Anyone can click the "edit" link and edit an article. Peer review per se is not necessary and is actually a bit of a pain to deal with. We prefer (in most cases) that people just go in and make changes they deem necessary. This is very efficient; our efforts seem more constructive than those on similar projects (not to mention any names).
  • Wikipedia has almost no bureaucracy; one might say it has none at all. But it isn't just the "Wild West." There are social pressures and community norms, but perhaps that by itself doesn't constitute bureaucracy, because anybody can just go in and make any changes they feel like making. And other people generally like it when they do. So there aren't bottlenecks; anyone can come in and make progress on the project at any time. The project is self-policing. Editorial oversight is more or less continuous with writing, which seems, again, very efficient.  :-)
  • On Wikipedia, there are no required topics and no one making assignments. That means that anyone can find part of the encyclopedia they're interested in, and add to it immediately (if they can do better than what's already there--but at this stage, there are necessarily very many gaps in our coverage of the universe!). This increases motivation and keeps things fun.
  • Wikipedia is open content, released under the GNU Free Documentation License. Knowing this encourages people to contribute; they know it's a public project that everyone can use.
  • Articles seem to be getting steadily more polished. Articles seem to have a tendency to get gradually better and better, particularly if there is one person working on an article with reasonable regularity (in that case, others have a tendency to help). There are some articles we can all point to that started out life mediocre at best and are now at least somewhat better than mediocre. Now suppose this project lasts for many years and attracts many more people, as seems perfectly reasonable to assume. Then how could articles not be burnished into a scintillating luster?
  • Wikipedia seems to attract highly intelligent, articulate people with a little (or a lot of) time on their hands. Moreover, there are some experts at work here. Over time, the huge amount of solid work done by hobbyists and dilettantes can (and no doubt will) be hugely improved upon by experts. This both makes Wikipedia a pleasant intellectual community (or so it seems to some) and gives us some confidence that the quality of Wikipedia articles will, in time if not yet, be high.
  • Wikipedia is growing at a dizzying rate. Wikipedia produces articles at over 1,300 per month (at present, March 31, 2001; if you count only "substantial" articles, it's closer to 850 per month). This rate of growth has been slowly increasing. And the word is only slowly getting out about Wikipedia.
  • We have a slowly-growing source of traffic--and therefore more contributors, and therefore (very possibly, anyway) an increasing rate of article-writing--from Google and Google-using search engines like Yahoo! and Netscape. The greater the number of Wikipedia articles, the greater the number of people will link to us, and therefore the higher the rankings (and numbers of listings) we'll have on Google. Hence, on Wikipedia "the rich (will) get richer"; or "if we build it, they will come" and in greater and greater numbers.
  • Our likelihood of success seems alarmingly high. Our getting 100,000 articles is definitely not out of the question. At the current rate of growth, we'll do that in four years (2005). Indeed, it's also far from impossible that we could have 1,000,000 articles someday (Everything2 recently announced they had 1,000,000 nodes); there are, surely, 1,000,000 topics of discussion in existence, and if Wikipedia hits it big, or even simply continues on as it has been, which seems plausible, then they might all be covered...eventually. It also seems rather likely that there will always be a lot of mediocre stuff. But it's possible--how likely we'd be able to tell after more months of experience--that articles would just gradually improve until they were polished to a Nupedia polish. We've already seen many instances of this.

See also Wikipedia/Our Replies to Our Critics.