Wikipedia’s first edit was made 20 years ago today. At the time, the idea seemed absurd. Make a website anyone can edit available to the public to become a source of knowledge.
Somehow it worked. Facebook and Twitter are filled with mostly nonsense, yet Wikipedia thrives as a reliable source of information.
The secret is in the editing. Other forms of social media may curate their content by taking down objectionable posts, but no one edits the rants of any of my many uncles on other platforms of social media. My mother’s brothers are free to post about how Obama is a Muslim and Trump is the one true God on Facebook, but, were they to make such claims on Wikipedia, it would be taken down in seconds.
What remains is a go-to source for a first-read on any topic. Whenever I write a piece for the Oregon Catalyst and think I have chosen a word that some readers might be unfamiliar with, I create a hyperlink to the best website devoted to explaining what that locution is all about. Often the Wikipedia entry for that word offers the best choice.
According to the Economist magazine, Wikipedia gets 20 billion unique page views a month. It’s like a widely disseminated vaccine for our other pandemic, the viral spread of misinformation in a post-truth world. Hopefully, Wikipedia can be sustained for another 20 years.
Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.