Wikipedia: Built on Common Knowledge.

Alvaro Espiritu Santo Raba

Not so long ago, if anyone in the world intended to do a search about any issue or topic they did their search with the help of an encyclopedia. Encyclopedia Britannica was the commonly used compendium of knowledge that helped generations of young people with their essays, homework and search for knowledge.

britannica-decoder-blog480Like most things in society, encyclopedias were transformed by evolving technologies as well as different social and political changes. The first attempt to bring this compendium of knowledge to the digital age was Microsoft’s Encarta Encyclopedia.  Presented in a CD-ROM format, anyone could search information regarding different subjects  whether they were astronomy and science or historical facts and information.

However, it wasn’t long before Encarta was replaced with a different information outlet that is still considered a primary set of information for people of all ages: “Wikipedia”.  Launched in 2001, Wikipedia is a collaborative process where people from all around the world can edit and contribute to all kinds of articles on the site.  18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors a month, has made Wikipedia number five in the most visited website ranking, just behind  Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft and Google.  (NY Times, “Wikipedia vs. The Small Screen”)

Some have criticized the website for its lack of accuracy, but its certain that now more than ever, Wikipedia has turned into a cultural icon.  A place we can go to hoping to gather some information and knowledge.  Why has this page proven more successful than Microsoft’s Encarta? Maybe it’s because the information transmitted here can be edited and shared by people around the world.  After all, our relation to things is always mediated by humans and our relation to other humans is always mediated by other things  (Vandenberghe, 32)


If we were to open the “black-box” surrounding this website and it’s impact upon society we would need to talk about mediology.  Considering that Mediology would like to bring to light the function of medium in all its forms. (Debray, 1)  This is not only a search engine, it is also a place where we can find photography, texts, even sounds and movies regarding art, history or even economy.

It is important to think of the impact it has made into our society sociologically and anthropologically, to think that millions of people around the world go to a single website in search for answers.  Like the greeks before us in an Agora, we gather in one single space fitted to the digital age to share and transmit knowledge.

Websites like this may have facilitated our search for answers.  Regardless, we shouldn’t treat Wikipedia as a cultural revolution that may turn books into useless tools, this site is only but a reference.  A quick way to solve doubts if you will.

However, links at the bottom of each article feature may enhance our reading experience; it encourages us to keep reading and searching for knowledge. Some may think that Wikipedia has made us people who are foreign to books and libraries.  But technologies are neither good nor bad inherently but rather they are both. (Vandenberghe, 12)

Like all technologies, the outcome strongly depends on the end-user.  While the main process surrounding this site may be the transmission of knowledge, ), it is important to continue to stay awake to the mode in which things do get transmitted: some things explicitly so (packaged), and some less explicitly so; some tied to intentions, and others not.  (Maras, 14)

Wikipedia is a reflection of a technologically embedded society, it reflects how we have turned dependent on technology to solve most of our problems. But it also has a silver lining.

If a website can have people from all over the world contributing and editing and article on their favorite movie or actor i believe it proofs the unlimited and even untested potential that mankind has to start projects with people all over the world in his pursuit of excellence.


NY Times, Wikipedia Vs. The Small Screen:

Frédéric Vandenberghe, “Régis Debray and Mediation Studies, or How Does an Idea Become a Material Force?” Thesis Eleven, 89, May 2007: 23-42

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Steven Maras, “On Transmission: A Metamethodological Analysis (after Régis Debray)”