The Past and Possible Future of Wikipedia


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 →