The Past and Possible Future of Wikipedia

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The London Review of Books recently published one of the best single articles I’ve ever read about the history and possible future of Wikipedia, in a review of Andrew Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution.

The LRB article, by David Runciman, starts off by comparing Wikipedia to the one-volume encyclopedias of a former time; pre-eminently, the Columbia Encyclopedia, whose editors were jazzed, in 1993, to include such up-to-date information as the recent election of Bill Clinton.

(By the way: if you ever wanted to imagine what a 1-volume paper edition of Wikipedia might look like, look at these photos, and then imagine a  book 1,100 times thicker. Then you’ll have some idea how huge Wikipedia really is.)

Runciman carried out certain experiments: for example, he compares the 70-word, clear and informative entry for Ayn Rand in the Columbia with its bloated and foggy 8,000-word counterpart from Wikipedia, and finds the Wikipedia article wanting; but then he turns to the entry for Jimmy Wales, writing that it is “admirably even-handed, managing to convey that Wales is both something of a visionary and also something of a creep.”

The full article is very long but well worth reading. Link.


Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →