This is old news now, as they say about anything that’s more than one news cycle old. However, before I forget, I need to acknowledge that a couple of weeks ago Jimmy Wales, the man who founded Wikipedia, spoke in my current home city, Bristol.
That’s the British Bristol, by the way; I know that several other cities around the globe share our name.
We were honoured in that, though his UK visit was to mark the tenth anniversary of Wkipedia, this was the only public talk he gave on the trip. The event was co-hosted by Bristol University, the Bristol Festival of Ideas, HP Labs and Bristol City Council; predictably, the venue was`packed to the rafters.
Like millions of others I am a regular user of Wikipedia. Years ago people used to joke about the assumption that “anyone could post stuff” and thus the accuracy was not to be taken for granted. However, I’ve read in an impartial source that on scientific matters, for example, it’s said to be as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica.
What I didn’t know was the size of the worldwide volunteer community of both writers and editors: 100,000 all told. 83% are men and the average age is under 30. The requirements to be a volunteer were said to be “intelligence, obsession and spare time” – but if the first two were present, the people find the time, even if it’s at 2 a.m.
Wales’s vision was of “a worldwide force for free learning and general education, run with modest resources, engaging communities worldwide.” To have achieved all that in ten years, providing all that information in 200 languages, with no corporate sponsorship and with a payroll that is still only 50 (” I worry if we’re getting bloated”) is remarkable.