Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and an encyclopedia project, and the project is made up of people. So why don't we, Wikipedians, try to describe ourselves abstractly? Here's an attempt. Inevitably everyone will have a different view of what we are, exactly. But there are perhaps a few attributes on which at least many of us agree.
One thing that should be recognized is that we are not a community in the "real world" sense; we are not bound together by anything more than electronic interactions. While electronic communities mirror much of physical communities, they are different.
In particular, the Wikipedia community is almost exclusively defined by what exists on Wikipedia.com, and to a lesser extent on Wikipedia-L. And the bulk of that is the entries themselves, and that is what is most important; only part is of the related commentary and discussion, the /Talk pages, etc. In understanding the Wikipedia community, it helps to understand the two parts: entries and commentary, the Pedia and the Meta, the meat and the sauce.
Editing is encouraged.
The Wikipedia community is:
- diverse. There are all kinds of people here: philosophers, history buffs, scientists, artists, religious people, generalists, specialists. Moreover there is communication between all those kinds of people; there are attempts to understand each other, despite differences in language or culture. Also, there are as many approaches and interests as there are people. But see united.
- knowledgeable. See brilliant prose
- personal. This may seem strange: after all, the goal is to create entries which are as objective and without personal bias as possible. But the openness of Wikipedia allows total self-expression within those bounds (and even without it in the personal pages); Wikipedians define themselves within the context of the project through their interests and goals. This brings both benefits and complications--Wikipedia takes advantage of personal qualities like trust, insight, imagination, idiosyncracy and empathy which bureaucratic institutions cannot; but it cannot do so without also having some of the downsides, including confusion, bias, mistakes, and hurt feelings. A healthy community doesn't eliminate the problems, but it understands how to deal with them.
- fragile. The success of the community depends on a large part on the presence of good wikipedians. Scare those elements away and the project will lose much of its appeal.
- unique. Are there other communities out there that combine the above attributes? Wikipedia has a unique mission, which shapes the community uniquely: it is a wiki (and hence very open), open content (and hence free), and an encyclopedia project. There is nothing like this in the world.
A list of Wikipedians
Wikipedian personal essays on the nature of Wikipedia and its community: