Tuesday, September 13, 2005

DEFINING JOURNALISM: What is WikiPedia when 350,000 are authors?

Society of Professional Journalists: "News junkies find Wikipedia more than encyclopedia

The Wikipedia, which has surged this year to become the most popular reference site on the Web, is fast overtaking several major news sites as the place where people swarm for context on breaking events. Traffic to the multilingual network of sites has grown 154 percent over the past year, according to research firm Hitwise. At current growth rates, it is set to overtake The New York Times on the Web, the Drudge Report and other news sites. But the rising status of the site as the Web's intellectual demilitarized zone, the favored place people look for background on an issue or to settle a polemical dispute, also poses challenges for the volunteer ethic that gave it rise. 'We are growing from a cheerful small town where everyone waves off their front porch to the subway of New York City where everyone rushes by,' said Jimmy Wales, the founder of the volunteer encyclopedia. 'How do you preserve the culture that has worked so well?' From hot topics like Internet, sex and Hitler -- some of Wikipedia's most popular entries -- to obscure technical or scientific subjects, the site draws users attracted by its professed neutrality in defining controversial topics. The Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org) is based on a form of collaborative Web editing software known as 'wikis' designed for group editing, in contrast to self-published blogs, which are typically used for personal commentary. Some 350,000 people have contributed to the grassroots publishing phenomenon, which lets any Web user contribute terms, background context or just correct spelling for 2 million words or phrases in more than 25 active languages.