Reflection on Wikipedia’s Importance in the Digital Age

Stacks of old books
Photo Credit: Jan Mellström, Unsplash

Wikipedia was launched in 2001 and has since grown to have over a billion visitors to the site each month. The online enclyclopedia is a household name now and its influence is immense. Some scholars, such as Burdick et al., boldly claim that Wikipedia “is the most comprehensive, representative, and pervasive platform for knowledge production ever created by humankind.” And according to Wikipedia itself, it is the “largest and most visited reference work in history.”

So why is Wikipedia so successful and well known?

Wikipedia’s popularity and success are most likely the result of many different elements, but some of the most apparent are that it is a free open access resource, relying mostly on volunteers and donations to run, it is a collaborative project thatanyone with a Wikipedia account can contribute to, and it remains inclusive by being available in 336 languages.  Because of this popularity, the platform is often one of the first results on many search engines, like Google, which continues to perpetuate its popularity.

Wikipedia and Academia

Though Wikipedia is typically the top result when asking a search engine any question, the usage of Wikipedia has been scorned by academia since its early years. The reasons are plentiful, but it seems to come down to an air of mistrust for the encyclopedia from academic circles—students plagiarizing from the site and vandalism in various entries may have created this sense of mistrust. However, many scholars, such as Darius Jemielniak, argue that Wikipedia should be embraced by academics especially. Jemielniak points out that Wikipedia is quite strict on its vandalism rules and requires that all sources on each entry are verifiable by other sources.

Accessibility and Information Dissemination

Returning to the fact that one of the main reasons for Wikipedia’s popularity is its accessibility, it is important to acknowledge how that accessibility impacts information dissemination. A recent example is the 2020 pandemic and how Wikipedia and the World Health Organization (WHO) joined together to get covid information to as many people as possible. Since the WHO, a legitimate and global source, used Wikipedia for its information dissemination, it is clear that Wikipedia has had a great influence on how we get our information. Because of Wikipedia, information is more available to more people than ever before.

Final Thoughts

Considering all these factors, Wikipedia has clearly changed how we access information in the digital age. Wikipedia is often a researcher’s first stop, and it is a great starting point for greater research. Of course, this could be detrimental to us if the information on Wikipedia is incorrect or inaccurate. However, it is up to us, the collective users, to fact check any information we receive from any source, including Wikipedia.

Elaine Streeter

Elaine Streeter

Elaine is a creative and professional writer based in Columbus, GA.