CAPE TOWN – Most top web companies have betrayed the public trust by how they have utilised user data. In the process, the creators and founders of these leading web companies have amassed wealth for themselves. 

Among the top 10 web companies, though, there’s one that has proven to be trustworthy and that is Wikipedia. This week, the web organisation has been in existence for 18 years. It celebrates its birthday at a time when people have lost trust in other platforms on the web.

In the forest of untrustworthy web organisations it is worth examining the building blocks that brought us one of the most trusted web organisations in the world. 

Wikipedia’s rise has been driven by a crucial difference in values that separates it from its peers, which include the top 10 websites. Volunteerism is at the centre of what has enabled Wikipedia to survive for such a long period of time. 

The activism within the Wikipedia community has been crucial in managing content on the platform. Its editors have the power to delete posts, block editors and protect pages that are in the news or being vandalised. 

To become an editor, one must be nominated and undergo an application process. All editors remain volunteers. The Wikipedia community spirit, as well as its content management model, has affected the web as a whole.

To understand the impact, one has to look at how the tech sector and other sectors have used Wikipedia. 

Stephen Harrison, who is writing a book about the Wikipedia community, has identified various sectors that are benefiting from Wikipedia.

Siri, Alexa and Google are already pulling their answers from Wikipedia when responding to questions. The online encyclopaedia has also been widely used in the legal sector.

According to a paper in the Yale Journal of Law & Technology, Wikipedia has been  cited in more than 400 judicial opinions. The education sector has also used it for education purposes. 

A number of professors are doing away with traditional writing assignments and instead asking students to expand or create a Wikipedia article on the topic. Facebook recently released a feature using Wikipedia’s content to provide users more information about the publication source for articles in their feed.

One other major unique feature about Wikipedia is its founder. 

Jimmy Wales is one of the few founders, if not the only one, among major web organisations who is not a billionaire. 

This financial aspect about Wales is probably one of the reasons that has enabled Wikipedia to remain innocent when others are guilty of all sorts of misdeeds.

The financial model behind Wikipedia, although it has led to economic struggles at times, has been the secret sauce behind the platform. 

As the world is grappling with the impact of tech companies in society, Wikipedia has over time shown that it’s possible for a tech organisation to make an impact without harming society. 

Creators of tech platforms, as well as policymakers, should take a hard look at this organisation, which is showing how to do tech the right way.

Wikipedia has its imperfections around representation of other members of society, such as women, Africa and other less represented communities. To fix this is less complicated than fixing the damage caused by other platforms. 

For the sake of representation, Africa has to take full responsibility for shaping this platform to represent the African continent accurately. This is a noble goal for Wikipedia as it becomes the adult in the web space. For now, there are enough reasons to celebrate the existence of this important digital platform.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of The Infonomist.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.

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