Wikipedia: should academics be involved?

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, spoke today at the University of Bristol in an event held by the Bristol Festival of Ideas. Several of us from the Policy Press attended, along with 700 others and 3000 watching a live webcast. It was his only public lecture in the UK, timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Wikipedia and an exciting event to be a part of.

Jimmy started with a few comments about the purpose of Wikipedia – free access to knowledge for all – and revealed that it is now the fifth most popular website in the world with over 408m visitors each month. Articles are written in around 200 languages, with articles in English making up less than 20% of the total. Wikipedia employs only around 50 people, but has around 100,000 volunteer editors, 87% of whom are male with an average age of 26. Part of his mission is to widen participation by encouraging more women and a wider variety of age groups to participate. He spoke of a generation for whom an encyclopedia is “something like Wikipedia” rather than the other way around.

After his lively and interesting talk, Jimmy took questions both from the floor and those watching the webcast. In answer to a question about whether universities should allow Wikipedia to be used as a resource, he spoke of the need for more academic editors to contribute to Wikipedia and the importance of quality in the articles. It would be great to hear your thoughts about this – is Wikipedia a useful resource for students and academics, or should it be best avoided? And should academics get involved in editing it, or concentrate on other forms of information dissemination?

Kathryn King, Marketing Manager, The Policy Press

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