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Wikipedia is 10 years old and still a bit idealistic

January 15, 2011 | 12:16 pm

Wikipedia turned 10 on Saturday -- a decade of operation for the free encyclopedia built largely by volunteers on the Web.

And, just as anyone would hope for a 10-year-old,  Wikipedia is still a bit idealistic, a vestige of the Internet's early free and heroic days, writes Timothy Garton Ash for The Times' Op-Ed section.

The site is currently the fifth-most visited Website on the Internet, with about 400 million people visiting each day, looking up information on just about anything -- science, math, languages, art, culture, company histories and entries on sports stars, too.

Garton Ash not only contributes to The Times' Op-Ed pages. He's also a fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor of European studies at Oxford University.

Of Wikipedia's first double-digit anniversary, he writes:

What is extraordinary about this free encyclopedia, which contains more than 17 million articles in more than 270 languages, is that it is written, edited and self-regulated almost entirely by unpaid volunteers. All the other most-visited sites are multibillion-dollar businesses; Facebook, with just 100 million more users, has been valued at $50 billion.

Visit Google in Silicon Valley and you find yourself in a vast complex of modern buildings, like the capital of a superpower. You have to sign a nondisclosure agreement before you even get through the door. The language of Google executives veers between that of a U.N. secretary-general and a car salesman. One moment we're talking universal human rights, the next "rolling out a new product."

But Wikipedia makes no profit off of its popularity, not because of any inability to do so, Garton Ash notes. Rather, the Website stays free of charge and nonprofit by choice -- a choice that has grown rare in the ever-growing landscape of Tech companies looking to reach millions of users on the Web.

Wikipedia is overseen by the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which occupies one floor in an anonymous office building in downtown San Francisco. You have to knock hard on the door to gain admission. If Wikipedia's founder and principal architect, Jimmy Wales, had chosen to commercialize the enterprise, he could be worth billions, like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. Putting it all under the not-for-profit umbrella was, Wales quipped to me, at once the stupidest and the cleverest thing he ever did.

Garton Ash does a great job of looking a bit deeper at those who contribute to Wikipedia and its mission of bringing information, at no cost, to those who surf the Web, as well as some of the challenges the site faces.

To read the rest, check-out his Op-Ed piece Look it up: Wikipedia is turning 10.

Also, as the Technology blog noted Wednesday, there are hundreds of Wikipedia birthday parties and events taking place on Saturday. For a full list, check out Wikipedia's 10th anniversary Webpage.

RELATED:

Wikipedia looking to diversify content, authors and party a bit

Wikipedia set to unveil new features

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Video: Wikipedia co-founder, Jimmy Wales, talks about Wikipedia's 10th anniversary. Credit: Wikimedia Foundation via Vimeo.

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