Natalie Haynes: Wikipedia shows the internet at its best

Share
Related Topics

Wikipedia will celebrate its 10th birthday later this month. And its users will celebrate with ad-free pages, because the annual Wiki fundraiser has been a record-breaker this year. The Wikimedia Foundation plastered its pages with pictures of co-founder, Jimmy Wales, staring moodily at the reader and asking for cash. Although it provoked ungenerous criticism from some parts of the blogosphere (mocked-up Wikipedia pages with Wales's face superimposed on woodland creatures, for a start), it worked. The banner ads sporting his face received three times more clicks than the ones without him, and they received higher average donations.

Operation JimboStare, as the campaign became known, raised over $16m (£10m) in 50 days. Its donations are the perfect illustration of Wikipedia's strength: 500,000 donors in 140 countries gave an average of $22 each. The democratic nature of its financial arrangements is a mirror of the site's administration – volunteers contributing what they know or can find out on almost every subject you can think of. Wikipedia is the fifth most-visited website in the world, but it only has about 45 people actually working for it. The other 100,000 editors are all doing it for nothing.

Plenty of people dislike Wiki in principle – for its inaccuracies, its bias, or its occasional inability to cover in-depth subjects that teenage boys won't be interested in. In my experience, those people rarely visit the site, dismissing it entirely because they once found a ropey article. And as someone whose Wikipedia entry – written by someone I have never met and whose name I don't know – once compared me (favourably) to a Sesame Street episode, I could easily be among them. At least, I would be if I hadn't been delighted – who doesn't want to be like Sesame Street? Idiots, is who.

But Wikipedia's critics have been slow to give them credit for trying to make the site better, and more accurate – introducing delays to any changes made on sensitive pages, using established editors to keep tabs on them. Of course, rogue elements get through: if you really wanted to make a false claim on an obscure topic, you might get away with it for months. But at least it could then be changed, which is something that can't be done with a massive volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Wikipedia is an extraordinary testament to the best side of the internet: democratic and dedicated to sharing information. At no point in history have ordinary people had free access to an encyclopaedia on this scale; Wiki currently has more than 17 million articles, and 400 million people use the site every month.

Even if you need more detailed or better-sourced facts, Wikipedia is a great starting point, since it's crammed with links to original texts, references and other websites. So maybe for the next fundraiser, Jimmy Wales won't be staring, he'll be smiling.

There's a little bit of George VI in us all

The King's Speech opens in the UK on Friday, and is hotly tipped to get a haul of Oscar nominations in a couple of weeks. It's one of those rare films which is receiving critical and audience acclaim alike, and for good reason: it's funny, touching and beautifully shot. It tells the story of George VI, trying to overcome a debilitating stammer, as one of the first monarchs of the broadcast era. Colin Firth invests the king with a combination of duty and vulnerability which is irresistible.

But the reason it resonates with audiences is surely because it doesn't offer any glib solutions to complicated problems. George VI still had a stammer when he died, as most stammerers do. There is no quick fix for many of the things we wish we could change about ourselves. What the movie has captured is the idea that we can never stop trying to overcome our demons, that there is no moment when we can say we are free of our past, and nor should there be.

The popularity of The King's Speech is, in other words, the perfect rebuttal to the lazy idea that we all simply looking for an excuse for everything wrong with our lives, to avoid taking responsibility for ourselves. The king has no excuses, and no possibility of shirking public speaking, his greatest fear. So he faces up to it with dignity and courage, and tries his best. And surely audiences love it because that is how they want to see themselves.

How can preventing a crime be wrong?

Michael Thompson of Grimsby has just acquired a criminal record for flashing his lights at other drivers, warning them of a speed gun. He was found guilty of wilfully obstructing a police officer in the course of her duties. He offered a rather specious suggestion that he was trying to prevent other drivers braking dangerously, something they would of course not need to do if they weren't already driving too fast.

And yet, I am puzzled by the ethical dilemma his case poses. Certainly, he was trying to help other drivers elude capture for breaking the law. But he was doing so by persuading them to drive within the law. They didn't get caught on camera speeding because he distracted the policewoman or disabled the camera, but because he convinced them not to speed. How is this morally different from someone approaching a shoplifter and telling them to put the item back on the shelf because the fuzz are outside? Is it really obstructing a police officer if you stop a crime before they can apprehend the perpetrator?

Perhaps speeding is different because of the possibility of causing injury or death. But even then: wouldn't we prefer a murder to be averted, rather than a murderer to be caught?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn