“Knowledge is power” goes the common saying. Throughout history, knowledge has been hoarded by the powerful. One of the game-changing aspects of the internet has been the democratization of knowledge, accessible at one’s fingertips. Dr. James Nitit, founder and president of IntelLegend, had the distinct honor to meet Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia fame personally. Their conversation left Dr. James Nitit deeply moved by the friendliness, humility, and wisdom of the Wikipedia cofounder.
Wales’ vision for Wikipedia evolved from a website called Nupedia, a professional, peer-reviewed platform with a daunting review hierarchy that discouraged participation. Troubleshooting this creative bottleneck led to the idea of an open-source framework that would be reviewed and revised by a group of volunteer experts. However, this fell through, due to the professionals’ perception that articles written by enthusiastic amateurs would lower the academic credibility of the platform. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the non-professionals got to work producing content that the wiki model truly got off the ground.
“What started as a seemingly crazy idea became an overnight sensation,” states Dr. James Nitit, who met Wales at an event for tech startups. “Users loved the idea that anyone could contribute to the collective pool of knowledge, whether they were a well-researched amateur or a seasoned professional.” According to Dr. James Nitit, Wales’ ability to embrace the ordinary is one of his greatest business assets. “In a world governed by bureaucracy, the fact that Wales embraced the contributions of regular men and women with his open-source business model is a testimony to his adaptability – a key element of entrepreneurial success.”
Overall, Wales has taken a hands-off approach to his brainchild, viewing himself as the titular head of the enterprise. This collaborative environment has allowed Wikipedia to become one of the most visited websites on the internet. According to an article in MIT Technological Review, the free, open-content, open-edit platform had a total of 27.5 million articles – including 4.4 million articles in English – as of 2013, making it the largest encyclopedia in the world.
In 2017, Wales launched WikiTribune to combat the effects of fake news and give underreported news items a voice. His career is an example of how knowledge should be shared, validated, and free for all.
- Knowledge Should Be Shared
Wikipedia was built on the premise that knowledge is a free resource that should be shared by all. In this sense, sharing implies communal ownership as well as distribution. In the old days, knowledge – specifically, the written word – was the province of the privileged and powerful, such as the nobility and the clergy. Books and proclamations were read aloud to an assembled audience, who had to trust that the information was true.
We don’t live in the Dark Ages anymore. Knowledge should be public domain, not restricted by the few for the few or hoarded for profit. Again, Wikipedia’s nonprofit model can serve as a guide for an open-source framework.
- Knowledge Should Be Validated
For the free flow of knowledge to function successfully, people need to be able to trust that the information they read is true and accurate and to have the freedom to edit it accordingly. Just as everyone should have access to the same information, so everyone should have the autonomy to revise it until it meets standards that allow it to be accepted as facts.
Initially, people were concerned that Wikipedia would damage academic integrity. While the site still tends to be used as a first rather than a final point of reference, a 2005 study reported in a 2009 Live Science article revealed that Wikipedia was almost as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica, while a 2008 study showed 80 percent vs. 95–96 percent accuracy between Wikipedia and its competitors.
- Knowledge Should Be Accessible
Wikipedia’s nonprofit status encourages the free use, as well as the free flow, of knowledge. While many people would be happy to turn the well-known platform into a for-profit business venture, Wales has preferred to depend on voluntary donations, initiated by its December fundraisers, to prevent the knowledge from being dominated by large corporations. In this day and age, that type of decision is rare indeed.
“In a digital age, people like Mr. Wales ensure that knowledge remains free and accessible to all,” declares Dr. James Nitit. “And for that, he earns my utmost appreciation.”