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An unlikely revolutionary: co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales. © Photo by Manuel Vazquez/Contour by Getty Images

Wikipedia is the last bastion of idealism on the internet

Twenty years on from its humble beginnings, the online encyclopedia is now an indispensable tool

By Barbara Speed   March 2021

There are two stories you could tell about Wikipedia. 

One is that 20 years ago a web resource was launched that threatened academia and the media, and displaced established sources of knowledge. It was an encyclopedia anyone could edit—children, opinionated ignoramuses and angry ex-spouses. If I edited the page on particle physics to claim it was “the study of ducks,” the change would be instantly published. If I edited your page to call you a paedophile, that would be published too. Worse, although anyone could edit it, not everyone did: the editors were a self-selecting group of pedants and know-it-alls and overwhelmingly men. All of this led to biases in what soon became the world’s first port of call for finding out about anything. In time the site’s co-founder, Larry Sanger, would concede that “trolls sort of took over. The inmates started running the asylum.” 

But there…

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