Wikipedia and the future of the Internet

Wikipedia celebrates its 20th birthday and there are a lot of interesting articles out there about the wonderful and weird phenomenon that wikipedians have created and are curating. Here are a few of the perhaps less well-known

“No Rest for the Wiki: The free encyclopedia is one of the last vestiges of an earlier internet” by Rebecca Panovka. In this article the author focuses not just on the accomplishments, but also some of the remaining challenges Wikipedia is facing – such as gender and language diversity, micro-aggressions and increased complexity. There is an interesting question here — how big can Wikipedia become? When will bit rot set in and start creating problems? There is a bet to be had here on how old the Wikipedia will become; most assume that the success of the project so far guarantee that it will continue to evolve in the same way over the coming 20 years, but there is an alternative interpretation (I am not taking sides) according to which we have already passed peak Wikipedia. That is not a reason to despair, rather the opposite — it is a reason to think about how the centralized collaboration of the Wikipedia could transition into a more decentralized, perhaps modularized, collaboration.

“An Oral History of Wikipedia, the Web’s Encyclopedia” by Tom Roston. This is a long, but worthwhile read with interviews tracking the history and origin story of the Wikipedia. It contains one nugget of quoted, that I think is interesting – and that is that original plan was to get to 100-200k articles, but the site grew well beyond that. That it could grow into millions of articles was not within the conceivable in the beginning. There is something about this that should remind us that we have built technologies that scale incredibly efficiently, and the flip side of that is that we have built things whose growth we often cannot control. The resulting size is interesting, and what determine the future growth curve of the Wikipedia will be interesting to find out. In fact, growth seems to be slowing — suggesting, again, that Wikipedia may be peaking.

The future of Wikipedia, no matter what, also says something about the future of the web, and modeling and discussing different scenarios for Wikipedia may give us some ideas about what is really going on with the web.

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