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Wikipedia's 683 million visitors

30 June 2008

Wikipedia has long been a rather controversial reference source. The fact that it is open to anyone to edit the entries has always been regarded with suspicion by academics. Last year they launched Citizendium as a counterblast. This is intended to replace Wikipedia as the web's leading reference work and it is being directed by expert editors. Contributors will use their real names and it is not open for anyone to edit like Wikipedia is.

The new reference site is led by Larry Sanger, a co-founder of Wikipedia who left to become a critic. He says: ' Wikipedia has accomplished great things but the world can do even better. By engaging expert editors, eliminating anonymous contribution and launching a more mature community under a new charter... The result will be not only enormous and free, but reliable.' The site describes itself as 'Wiki with stricter editing rules and obligatory disclosure of editors' real names'.

Can the new reference source catch up with Wikipedia? It looks unlikely, as the giant online encyclopedia now attracts 683 million visitors annually, having been set up just seven years ago. These visitors currently read more than 10 million articles in 253 languages - and this is before the next billion people come online in the next ten years.

Its founder Jimmy Wales, argues that the different points of view on Wikipedia are part of the point of the online encyclopedia: 'This is what I truly want from an encyclopedia; I do not want to be fed one side of the story. I want to know what the legitimate claims are.'

On 12 May News Review asked whether it was the end of the line for print encyclopedias, and concluded that it probably was. The challenge that Wikipedia and other online reference sources provide is terminal. Once you have got used to researching online, it's hard to go back to any other approach, as it simply starts to feel dreadfully slow and cramped. So Wikipedia and Citizendium will slug it out, but in the meantime anyone researching online will benefit from both sites being available. Online research is brilliant for authors and the Internet has made it possible to do most kinds of research from your own computer.

Jimmy Wales should have the last word: 'The internet has created greater opportunities for access, debate and transparency in the pursuit of knowledge than ever before. It is not a threat to diversity, nor a reason for postmodern retreat from the pursuit of absolute truths. As we will see when the next billion come online, there are many cultures in the world but only one reality.'



On the WritersServices site: Using the web as a research tool and Advanced Searching