Leading article: Source of wonder

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The Independent Online

Could the cyber chickens be coming home to roost for the pioneers of the internet revolution. First Google (motto: "Do no evil") came in for a barrage of criticism for its decision to censor its new Chinese search engine. And now Wikipedia, the web's "open-source encyclopaedia", is in the firing line due to a number of misleading amendments to pages by mischevious contributors. A question mark has arisen over whether visitors to the site can really believe what they read.

These are reasonable points of debate. But we should also bear in mind that we would not even be discussing this were it not for the popularity of such online sources of information. The power and scope of the internet continues to confound predictions. When Wikipedia was launched five years ago, there was no shortage of voices arguing that it would never work. Who, it was asked, would want to post valuable information for free? And who would trust such information if unsanctioned by the hand of an editor? Well, millions of us, it turns out.

Wikipedia has a team of 1,000 volunteers to police its pages. This dedicated team eradicates errors with an evangelical zeal. As a result, the vast majority of the information on the site is accurate. As for deliberate sabotage, perhaps the truly surprising thing is that so little of it goes on, considering the site is wide open to absolutely anyone with a computer terminal and an internet connection. If Wikipedia is truly the "people's version of history", it confirms Rousseau's contention that, far from being fallen creatures, mankind is actually rather good - at least in the fascinating state of nature that has been created by the world-wide web.

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