News came last week that Microsoft is discontinuing Encarta, they cited changes in the way people seek information and in the traditional encyclopedia and reference material market as the key reasons behind the termination. Wikipedia, written mostly by volunteers and amateurs, is flourishing however, despite the criticism it has received at the hands of the media. Naomi Alderman writing for the Guardian talks about the reversal of the “tragedy of the commons”,
The tragedy of the commons is a term coined by Garret Hardin to describe the way that human populations overuse and undermaintain common resources, leading to their destruction. The evidence of the tragedy of the commons is everywhere, from our over-fished oceans, polluted air and spendthrift use of fossil fuels to the unloved public spaces and graffiti-covered buildings in many cities.
Almost all Wikipedia pages are open to anonymous editing at any time. According to the tragedy of the commons theory there should be nothing but deliberately introduced errors, and fiction in every article. Instead we have seen the growth of a wonderful resource, where people volunteer their time and knowldege and help to maintain and grow it. Of course Wikipedia is always going to be open to vandalism, it is not policed or monitored, but if you are reading an article and you see an innacuracy you can do something about it and make your own contribution.
It is wonderful to see how the world has embraced and grown Wikipedia, this free and expandable knowledge source. It is the responsibility of all of us to maintain it and see it go from strength to strength.