"All the News That’s Fit to Print Out"
How did the world’s biggest online encyclopedia turn into a leading source of daily journalism?
By JONATHAN DEE
Published: July 1, 2007 - NYT - The New York Times Magazine
(...) "Wikipedia, as nearly everyone knows by now, is a six-year-old global online encyclopedia in 250 languages that can be added to or edited by anyone. (“Wiki,” a programming term long in use both as noun and adjective, derives from the Hawaiian word meaning “quick.”) Wikipedia’s goal is to make the sum of human knowledge available to everyone on the planet at no cost. Depending on your lights, it is either one of the noblest experiments of the Internet age or a nightmare embodiment of relativism and the withering of intellectual standards.
Love it or hate it, though, its success is past denying — 6.8 million registered users worldwide, at last count, and 1.8 million separate articles in the English-language Wikipedia alone — and that success has borne an interesting side effect. Just as the Internet has accelerated most incarnations of what we mean by the word “information,” so it has sped up what we mean when we employ the very term “encyclopedia.” For centuries, an encyclopedia was synonymous with a fixed, archival idea about the retrievability of information from the past. But Wikipedia’s notion of the past has enlarged to include things that haven’t even stopped happening yet. Increasingly, it has become a go-to source not just for reference material but for real-time breaking news — to the point where, following the mass murder at Virginia Tech, one newspaper in Virginia praised Wikipedia as a crucial source of detailed information."
Jonathan Dee is a novelist and a contributing writer for the magazine.