Book Review: 'The Wikipedia Revolution' by Andrew Lih

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Sunday, April 12, 2009


By Andrew Lih

Hyperion. 246 pp. $24.99

I recently read a magazine article that mentioned Nikola Tesla as if everyone knew his accomplishments. I didn't, so I threw his name into a search engine. A Wikipedia entry came up first. Fifteen minutes later I had a much better idea of his inventions.

As media critic Andrew Lih explains, Wikipedia has become one of the 10 highest-traffic sites on the Internet based on a pretty crazy idea: Rather than use experts, create an encyclopedia written and edited by anybody who wanders by. Every entry has an "edit this page" tab that you can click on without registering or signing in or getting any permission, and your update appears instantly. Consumers who just browse entries may be oblivious to the fanatical volunteers who write, edit, patrol for vandalism and argue vehemently with each other. Lih tells of the 2002 "Spanish Fork," a revolt by members who started their own version, Enciclopedia Libre, over a mere hint that Wikipedia might carry advertisements.

I learned from Lih to check out the "Discussion" pages. They show what grade articles have been given by the vote of members. That article on Tesla, for instance, is "B-class," not quite up to the "Good" standard.

-- Dan Keating

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