2. "Free access to the sum of all knowledge"

Wikipedia's "Prime Directive"

Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's co-founder, had a grand vision for the Wikimedia movement:

"Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing."[1]

That's a tall order! And yet: 

  • Wikipedia remains among the top-10 non-shopping websites in the world [2] 
  • The English Wikipedia alone includes over 6 million articles and almost 40 million users [3]
  • Wikipedia is at least as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica [4] and it's better in a number of ways [5]

Looking (already!) for a little diversion? Have a quick look at the Wikipedia Recent Changes Map & see how Wikipedia is updated moment-by-moment.

But ... what is knowledge? 

Wikipedia has been accused of being "unscholarly" in a number of ways. You've probably heard people say "How can it be reliable when anybody is allowed to edit articles?" Once you understand how Wikipedia articles are monitored, discussed, debated, revised, and (when necessary) reverted, you understand that Wikipedia articles are seldom a free-for-all mishmash of truth, opinions, half-truths, and garbage. After all, more than 90% of medical students and 50­–70% of doctors use Wikipedia as a quick source for health information. [6]

Jimmy Wales wants to make the world's knowledge available to everyone, and given the data, it appears Wikipedia is on the road to enabling that vision. But what is knowledge? Who evaluates knowledge, and who decides who is permitted to contribute it? Wikipedians support the idea that anyone is allowed to help create knowledge and its value will be evaluated, on an ongoing basis, by those who review and use that knowledge. 

We'd like you to be thinking about the development, structure and nature of knowledge as you move though this MicroCourse.

In this MicroCourse, we'll be looking not just at how you can use Wikipedia (and other projects of the Wikimedia Foundation), but also at how you can contribute your knowledge, expertise, or other scholarly skills to further the vision of open knowledge.


[1] Jimmy Wales,14 October 2012. User talk:Jimbo Wales: Difference between revisions.  Accessed: 20 July 2020.

[2] List of most popular websites, as compiled on 16 April 2020. Accessed: 20 July 2020.

[3] Wikipedia Statistics, as accessed on 20 July 2020.   

[4] Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica . In c|Net, 16 December 2005. Accessed: 20 July 2020.

[5] Wikipedia Is the Last Best Place on the Internet. 17 February 2020. Accessed: 20 July 2020

[6] Why Wikipedia’s Medical Content Is Superior. 28 January 2019. Accessed: 20 July 2020.