Published on November 18, 2007
Overall, Wikipedia, a non-profit organisation, has over two million articles in English, compared with around 80,000 articles in the long-established Encyclopaedia Britannica, previously the world's pre-eminent encyclopaedia. Besides English, Wikipedia is available in many other languages including German and French (with over 500,000 articles in each version), and Polish, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish (with over 250,000 articles each). However, Wikipedia is less popular in certain languages such as Hindi; there are only about 14,000 articles in that language, which is spoken by more than 280 million people in India.
Wikipedia is free of charge for everyone as it was founded on the premise that the whole world would benefit if every single person were given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. According to Wales, free access means the freedom to copy material, modify it, redistribute it as well as redistribute modified versions of the content on a commercial or non-commercial basis, while the software and file formats are also free.
On accuracy and authority, Wales said the free encyclopaedia, which spent US$2 million-$3 million (Bt67 million-Bt101 million) this year using funds mainly from small donations, has continually improved its quality. A recent study by the journal Nature compared the accuracy of Britannica and Wikipedia in articles related to scientific topics of comparable length and found that Britannica contained an average of three errors per article, while Wikipedia averaged four.
In Wales' opinion, Wikipedia is good at neutrality and moderation compared to other media and as such it helps generate calmer and more measured discussions and debates on topical issues. According to Alexa.com, the free encyclopaedia is now the world's eighth most popular website.
Meanwhile, Wikia Inc, a commercial open-source entity of collaborative communities, hopes to extend the Wikipedia model beyond non-profit educational and research communities with a virtual library. The company's collaboration vision is to create a library with over 3,000 topics in 66 languages with information of enduring value plus news and opinions and a collaborative blog.
According to Wales, creative commons licences, which provide a flexible range of protections and freedoms for authors, artists and educators that build upon the "all rights reserved" concept of traditional copyrights to offer a voluntary "some rights reserved" approach, have gained popularity among the general public. Therefore, this is helping to provide a base layer of so-called raw cultural materials. In other words, this allows people around the world to join forces to create a culture of sharing and creativity which, Wales argues, is not based on a purely market-driven exchange, but rather on an intellectual exchange. The popularity of creative commons licenses also underlines the growth of the "pro-sumption" trend as more and more people become both producers and consumers of such media as books, music or videos. Wikipedia, Wikia collaborative communities and video-sharing website YouTube are among the examples, but what we're witnessing is just the beginning as there has yet to be widespread collaboration among participants.
For instance, the video clips we see on YouTube are only the first wave of this phenomenon. The next step is to encourage people to collaborate as more and more people become comfortable with the increasingly cheaper and better video camcorders. For instance, there could be an educational documentary jointly created by, say, 100 volunteers around the world on a topical issue such as the effects of global warming their perspectives on the subject relative to their geographic locations.
For the project, each of these 100 participants would be assigned to do a video interview and all content could be then put together as a powerful documentary co-produced by ordinary people. Citizens' journalism, such as that practised on Ohmynews.com in South Korea, is another example of decentralisation and empowerment of ordinary people.
As for Thailand, Wales was upbeat about the role of Thai volunteers on Wikipedia and the country's participation in the new economy, but noted that censorship is still a problem here.
His parting shot was that such a policy could hold back development, as the new economy requires the free flow of creative ideas.