The other day, a wide-eyed employee at my retirement center approached me as I was headed for the dining room. “I just looked you up on Wikipedia. Gosh, I didn’t know your were famous.” I laughed. Being on Wikipedia doesn’t make me famous. In fact, I recall an insider told me, when my entry was submitted, a discussion followed among the editors about the merits of including me. The decision to go forward was based upon my being the first elected Hispanic on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. The grounds were narrow and by the time the site went up, I’d left politics and had started a writing career.
Learning about the debate concerning whether or not I was Wikipedia worthy was, actually, comforting to me. In an open system, where anyone can write an entry, providing he or she knows the code, it’s good to know someone is in charge. As writer Paul Ford, points out, without such oversight Wikipedia could become a wild frontier. (“Big Data,” New Republic, November 2015, pg. 4) Adding or subtracting information is the work of volunteers, so gatekeepers are necessary to keep the system honest. With that caveat, it’s wonderful to see how this informal network has extended the site’s reach and that, like the Encyclopedia Britannica, it can claim to be a compendium of almost all the knowledge available in the known world and beyond.
According to Ford, wiki means “quick” in Hawaiian. (Ibid 4) A good description because, thanks to those worker bees, you and I have knowledge at our fingertips which is complied in a uniform way, making the information “readily parsed and explored.” (Ibid pg.) Beyond the base structure, there is another level of information, organized in larger blocks, to accommodate serious researchers. Want a list of national anthems for the world’s landlocked countries? Wikipedia can assemble that for you. In fact, if you know Wikipedia’s language, Lua, used to manipulate its software, MediaWiki, you have at your disposal all the capabilities of a sophisticated computer. (Ibid pg. 5) (Click)
To operate Wikipedia at its highest level requires a good bit of code-labor. But if you are willing to master that coding, Wikipedia will give you “the ability to see the world as a set of interlocking, faceted entities.” (Ibid, pg. 5.) That interlocking is its versatility. Its strength is that you don’t have to be a nerd to gather and share information at the basic level. Being user friendly, plain vanilla Wikipedia opens the world to everyone.