03 November 2005

Free the Dictionary

Free the Dictionary
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of the Wikipedia spoke at UC Berkeley this afternoon. Wikipedia is now the largest encyclopedia. In terms of number of entries and number of words, it is larger than the Encyclopedia Britannica and Microsoft Encarta combined, and has more readers than the web sites for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, the LA Times, combined.

The Wikipedia runs on 120 servers across multiple data centers. The main one is in Florida, with the others in the Netherlands, France, and South Korea.

All of the hardware is managed by volunteers, with no formal schedule and no hierarchy. All coordination is done via IRC -- whoever's on takes part. In an emergency, the admins have each other's phone numbers.

Like most open-source projects, there's a core set of users who do most of the work. 615 users (0.7%) account for 50% of the edits. I believe 0.7% means of all editors. Anonymous users account for 18% of all edits.

Wales says that one of the key features of the Wikipedia is real-time peer review. The recent changes page is watched by hundreds of people daily, and users have created tools to monitor these feeds and automatically detect likely problem edits.

He then talked about the decision-making process, pointing to the Votes for Deletion page. While users "vote" for whether or not to delete a page, the vote is actually a dialog where they come to an understanding of whether the page has merit or not. The vote isn't automated or formally counted -- there's no 2/3rds majority rule -- instead the process is flexible and reasonable.

Wales says that almost every programmer who sees this wants to automate it, but doing that would lose the human dialog and community while at the same time making the process easier to game.

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