For a long while, knowledge was privileged and so were books, and only privileged people had access to either. Then came printing presses and libraries, and in this printed age, knowledge was both more accessible.
Then there came a time when one didn’t flip but scrolled through not only the exports of Sweden but also detailed descriptions of every “7th Heaven” episode ever made. This editorial triumph represents the age of Wikipedia.
As it nears its 10th birthday Saturday, it has about 17 million articles — 3.5 million of them in English — making it the largest encyclopedia in the history of encyclopedias, if that’s indeed what it is.
Grumpy knowledge purists like to say it’s not — that true encyclopedias are not user-generated and do not allow dramas to have entries that are longer than those for some Ernest Hemingway novels.
Jimmy Wales, the site’s public face and most well-known founder, says that it is, and that Wikipedia’s just getting started. Today Wikipedia is a nonprofit institution, run by the Wikimedia Foundation, and has 57 paid employees, most of whom are engineers or office types. Even Wales’s official position is simply “board member,” and that position is not paid. Estimates of its worth have varied wildly, up to $5 billion a few years ago.
But Wales wants Wikipedia in every language of the world. The company is preparing to open its first international office, in an Indian city yet to be selected.
“We’ve always viewed it as a grand humanitarian mission,” Wales said. “To do something useful for the world.”
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