Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Sum of all Knowledge

That's the goal of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia: Creating a world in which every single person is given free access to the sum of human knowledge. Wikipedia is free both as in beer (meaning that you don't pay to have access to encyclopaedia contents) and as in speech (meaning that you can take the content and do anything to/with it, except deprive other people of that right). Material is released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia written collaboratively by its users; anyone can contribute. Pick a subject that you know something about, write an article, and it gets saved to the encyclopaedia database immediately. Millions of people will instantly have access to what you wrote. Considering the number of articles Wikipedia contains, though, it's probable that someone else has been there before you. In that case, you can freely edit their work and improve the article. That is, essentially, how Wikipedia works. They harness the power of thousands of volunteers who share knowledge of a wide variety of subjects. For more information, you might want to read the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia.

Why am I posting this now? After all, Wikipedia has been around for a while. This week is special; Wikipedia reached 1 million articles! In comparison, the Encyclopædia Britannica contains about 120,000 articles.

The Wikimedia Foundation, the parent organisation of Wikipedia, is involved in a Fundraising campaign to support Wikipedia and its sister projects. Spread the news; help Wikipedia today!


Sanketh said...

I had almost given up reading ur blog. I was wondering if UIUC got the better of u. Good to see u back again. I was almost certain I'd see "Im' Off to See the US.." when I dropped by. Well I haven't read your posts yet. Let me get down to that.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to know what you thought about art being expensive. An author/poet writes, a publisher pays him a LOT of money, and then prints books that are expensive enough for a lot of people to not be able to buy it. Fine, I am completely okay with the fact that books/music/cinema cannot be as free as wikipedia, they have to cost something (wouldn't want to starve the creators), but the question is, how much? Ideally, art should seek nothing more than its own expression and its own sustenance. After taking into account the money to meet basic expenses, how much of monetary profit can an artist aspire for?

Nitish said...

Indu, there are two different kinds of art here. When dealing with literature, for example, the cost you pay for a book is partly to compensate the artist, but also partly for the expense of printing and marketing the book. Books aren't priced high because of greedy authors; they typically receive a very small percentage of the income.

If you consider painting/sculpture, the price is typically much higher than the cost of materials. But such art is expensive not because of the artist, but because of society. Artists don't often put prices on their work; they receive whatever people are willing to give them. If they produce great art, they will be well compensated. (This is as it should be; in any field, the best practicioners receive more than the incompetent.) For years before an artist becomes famous, his works may be sold at very low prices. Often, the real money is made not by the artist, but by the purchasers of those early works.

Most great artists aren't in it for the money; they need to express themselves in a certain way. That's not to say that they may not appreciate being well-paid; just that it's not their primary motivation. Finally, rewarding an artist for his effort has an added benefit; it frees him from the constraints of worrying about the market value of future work. If an artist knows that he has no financial worries for the next two years, he can focus on great art for its own sake instead of producing art that will sell well.

Anonymous said...

BTW, the fact that people don't get away with wrong information is a myth. I read of an experiment where a guy purposely changed this page to show wrong information, as an experiment, and then changed it back after *5* days because nobody had bothered.

Not that this means I don't love Wikipedia - but perhaps the information there is best taken with a pinch or two of salt.

m. said...

how can you verify information? like somebody just pointed out, you can enter any old thing and get away unnoticed.

id say it can be regarded as best as some kind of bring-the-world-together hobby... but as a legitimate source of information? i dunno....