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RSA: Why Wikipedia Works

Jimmy Wales details the logic and community behind Wikipedia. Plus: what's the the online encyclopedia's most popular search topic?

SAN FRANCISCO. Jimmy Wales believes that freedom and security go hand in hand. That's the sentiment that Wales used to open his keynote at the RSA Conference on Wednesday.

Wales is the creator of Wikipedia, the global open source encyclopedia that is used by hundreds of millions of people every day. The original concept behind Wikipedia is all about giving all people free access to the sum of human knowledge.

"What is the sum of all human knowledge?" Wales asked. "It's a basic summary, not a book length treatment but it's also not a travel guide."

In the past 12 years since Wikipedia was founded, the open source community that contributes to Wikipedia has written just over 24 million articles in 285 languages.

China

While the name Wikipedia has become well known in the English lexicon, it's still not quite as well known in China.

During his keynote, Wales showed pictures of restaurant menus from China that had the name Wikipedia as the name of food items. For example, Wikipedia with noodles.

Why is that the case? Wales has at least on theory.

"For anything you type into a search engine, what's the first thing that comes up?" Wales remarked. "So how do you say the name of this mushroom in English? Wikipedia."

Geography

The types of things that people are searching for varies from country to country. Wales took a humorous slant on what those variants might be all about.

"Germans are the most interested in geography… I'm just saying," Wales said as the audience politely smirked. "I don't make that joke in Germany."

Sex is also a popular topic as people do turn to Wikipedia for information.

"Sex is in the top group of searches for all languages, except for French and Spanish," Wales said. "Why is that? Well, the French and the Spanish are actually having sex while the rest of us are just reading about it on the Internet."

Operating Principles

The basic principles that enable Wikipedia's successful operation are relatively straightforward. The first key item detailed by Wales is that that there is a Neutral Point of View (NPOV).

"Wikipedia itself shouldn't take a stand on any controversial issue," Wales said. "We are not telling people what to think, we want to give people the range of information so they can make their own decisions."

jimmy wales, wikipedia

Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.




Tags: open source, Wikipedia


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