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Wikipedia's Global Future

Interviewee: Joseph Reagle, Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University; Author of Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia
Interviewer: Hagit Ariav, CFR.org
February 3, 2011

As Wikipedia celebrates its tenth anniversary, a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study shows that 53 percent of American adult Internet users rely on the user-generated online encyclopedia.

However, access to the site is not universal. Joseph Reagle, author of Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia, says "only 42 percent of online visitors are from the global south." Additionally, countries such as Iran and China have periodically blocked the site. The worry there, Reagle argues, is that "points of view or concerns or knowledge, however you define knowledge, won't be represented on Wikipedia. Furthermore, they won't have access to the information that is already on Wikipedia."

Meanwhile, in China, the search engine Baidu has launched a competing Chinese-language project called Baidu Baike. Reagle identifies this development as part of a larger trend. "It's interesting that a number of Western efforts and projects and companies who tried to have a presence there, in the end kind of gave up. And now, local competitors are becoming quite significant, and at some point might even exceed the bounds of China."

As for Wikipedia's next ten years, Reagle expects that while recent trends of fall-off in English language contributions may continue, "Wikipedia and other Wikimedia Foundation projects will have an opportunity for significant growth in participation in other portions of the world."

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