Lecture Notes Role Of Wikipedia In Making Info Accessible

Andrew Lih spoke at Chautauqua Institution this week on Wikipedia and its role in making information more accessible to the world. Photo by Georgia Pressley/The Chautauquan Daily

CHAUTAUQUA — Andrew Lih is one of the main reasons Wikipedia fills the knowledge gap and records history in real time.

And Wikipedia is used by many people as well as corporations.

Lih talked to an Amphitheater audience Wednesday at Chautauqua Institution about the Wikimedia movement, the way in which technology, through open access, allows people to draw connections across the country’s cultural heritage in ways never before possible. His presentation was part of the theme, “The Future of History.”

“So I don’t know if I’ve told you, but you are experiencing Wikipedia everywhere even if you don’t know it,” he said.

If people use Google to perform an internet search, it’s most likely that the article they access to read is from Wikipedia. Wikipedia is seen in places that it was not seen about 10 years ago, he said.

“What you may not know is that Wikipedia is actually being used anytime you say ‘Hey, Google?’ ‘Hey, Alexa?’ Almost always that answer comes back with according to Wikipedia,” Lih noted.

The same result happens to iPhone users when they ask Siri a question.

One of the benefits of Wikipedia is that it is free to use where there is no membership fee or a monthly fee.

“You are free to download the articles, modify them, copy them, sell them if you want to,” Lih said, “and that is the beauty of Wikipedia as a free encyclopedia.”

Wikipedia is one of the top 10 most visited websites in the entire world, and it is the only nonprofit found in the top 50, he said.

Wikipedia is named after the Wiki Wiki free shuttle buses at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Wiki in the Hawaiian language means quick. The online encyclopedia first started as for-profit called New Pedia, in 2000, Lih said. Later, Ward Cunnigham, a software developer, had his Wiki software where one could edit a page without having to log in. So, the people at New Pedia, Lih said, tried the idea of letting people edit pages.

The mission of Wikipedia is imagining a world a world where every person is given free access to knowledge, Lih said,

Currently, Wikipedia has 21 billion page views per month, 6.5 million articles in English, and more than 200 language editions.

“So it’s not just English, German, French or Spanish. There’s 200-plus languages,” Lih added.

Even though Wikipedia has simple rules, it has four main directives: NPOV — neutral point of view, so all sides can agree; NOR — no original research, no personal research or views; RS — reliable sources that will actually give reliable information; and V — verifiability, reliable sources give verifiability.

“Verifiability is what matters,” Lih said. “You don’t start off with a supposition, and then fill it with the facts. We work the other direction.”

Now, he said, respected libraries, museums are embracing Wikipedia as a collaborator to disseminate information.

There’s no better starting point for research than Wikipedia, but don’t let it be the ending point of any research. So it’s OK, he said, for students to use Wikipedia.

“But that’s my best advice, as a former college professor, to any student out there,” he said. “I highly encourage using Wikipedia all the time, but don’t let it be the ending point of your research. It’s a great way to bootstrap your knowledge about something, but don’t let it be the final word on anything.”

He referenced a librarian at the Library of Congress who told him that Wikipedia should not be cited because it’s Wikipedia. It’s like any other encyclopedia. Students are not to cite an encyclopedia. Use Wikipedia as a launch point for primary sources that exist, he said. Primary sources are first-hand accounts of events or topics that include interviews, photographs, letters, diaries, and sound and video recordings.

Wikipedia, Lih said, can be trusted just as much as any other news gathering source.

According to assembly.chq.org, Lih is a technology journalist, digital strategist and the author of The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia. An expert in online collaboration, digital news innovation and linked open data, Lih is currently Wikimedian at large at the Smithsonian Institution and Wikimedia Strategist at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

For his work, Lih has been a recipient of the U.S. National Archives Citizen Archivist of the Year award, and a Knight Foundation grant for his work with Wikipedia and cultural institutions. He was the inaugural Wiki Education Foundation research fellow in 2015. Lih has served an associate professor journalism at the University of Southern California, American University, and Hong Kong University, and started the new media program at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1995; in 2000 he formed Columbia’s Interactive Design Lab, a collaboration with the university’s School of the Arts to explore interactive design for both fiction and non-fiction, including advertising, news, documentaries and films.

Lih is a Wikipedia contributor and administrator on the English Wikipedia. He worked as a software engineer for AT&T Bell Labs from 1990 to 1993, and founded the new-media startup Mediabridge Infosystems in 1994 — online publisher of ny.com. Lih earned his Master’s degree in Computer Science from Columbia University.


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