Wikipedia is celebrating its 20 anniversary, but this giant free electronic encyclopedia, which is still standing in the era of the tyranny of commercialization on the Internet, faces a set of challenges that must be overcome. Historian Remy Matisse, former president of “Wikimedia France”, told AFP that “Wikipedia” is a “small miracle” in the era of Internet commerce and the great growth of the most prominent technology companies known as “GAFAM” (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft).

Founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wells
Founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wells

Wikipedia, which was founded by the American Jimmy Wales on January 15, 2001, with a non-profit aim, seeks to gather all knowledge in the world on one online platform thanks to millions of volunteer contributors. The encyclopedia soon achieved immediate success, as the first site, which was in the English language, was followed by the German and Swedish sites in March 2001, and ten other sites soon followed, including the Arabic, French, Italian, Chinese, Russian and Catalan sites.

Jimmy Wales hopes that in the future, “Wikipedia” will spread in developing countries. He stressed the need for the “billion newcomers to the Internet to want to contribute.” The founder revealed in an interview with Agence France-Presse that he dreams of “an institution that will last (…) like the University of Oxford.”

Wikipedia is the seventh site in the world in terms of the number of visits it attracts, and it includes more than 55 million articles published in 309 languages. Each site has separate content, as there are no translations but original contributions, sometimes supplemented by robots from public data. And unlike the traditional encyclopedia written by well-known experts, this collection of amateurs’ knowledge, and often anonymous, has sparked countless criticism and hostilities from certain academic circles.

Lack of diversity
“It turns out that the reliability of Wikipedia is high when we know in detail how to monitor content, write articles, and exchange between users,” said Lionel Barbie, a lecturer at the University of Paris-Nanterre. However, the problem lies in the diversity of sources and topics covered, as there are issues that do not receive sufficient attention, especially those related to developing countries.

This is due to the identity of the shareholders, as they are mainly from the United States and Western countries. The author of “Wikipedia: In the Backstage of the World’s Largest Encyclopedia” (First Editions publishing house) noted that “the desire to build an encyclopedia does not attract anyone, and the contributors are often urban residents and university graduates.”

As for the lecturer at the University of Lyon 2, Marie Noel Doutry, she explained to AFP that “the contributors to writing articles on Wikipedia are 80 percent white men.” Natasha Volt, the founder of the “Les Sainte Pag” project, which aims to combat gender imbalances, noted that “the share of women in CVs in the French Wikipedia rose from 15 to 18.6 percent.” But she believed that the gender gap will never be closed because the truth is that women’s achievements have been little documented “throughout history.”

A refuge in the face of the excesses of social networks? –
Lionel Barbie reminded that “Wikipedia” is, in the era of the rise of “Gavam” companies, one of the rare sites that still resists Utopia, the idea of ​​the Internet as a “decentralized participatory network for the exchange of knowledge.” And he stressed that “Wikipedia” is in the end the greatest common digital benefit that the Internet has provided us. Jimmy Wales stressed that “Wikipedia” does not deviate from its mission “seeking to achieve more income, so we do not face the problems we see today, namely the designed algorithms. In a way that encourages increased profits from advertising. ”

“The commercial Internet also has an interest in the survival of Wikipedia,” said Mary Noel Daugherty. She added that “Google has promoted the emergence of Wikipedia, but in return, it uses its articles in its own search engine and has a large traffic through this encyclopedia.”

Some see the encyclopedia model as the antithesis of the massive circulation of misinformation on social networks. In conclusion, “Wikipedia” stands in front of two major challenges: the first is to continue to encourage users to contribute to the encyclopedia, and the second is to make its content more moderate.


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