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Wikipedia’s defining moment in social web era

It is another defining moment for Wikipedia. The public knowledge website is more than a decade old and remains among the top 10 Internet sites in the world, but some say it is becoming old and dowdy. Others want to keep it that way. At the Wikimania event held in Washington held over the past week, several hundred members of the 'wiki' community gathered for talks about the site and a two-day 'hackathon', aimed at improving Wikipedia.

Some in attendance said that Wikipedia, the free, open-source online encyclopedia, which is largely unchanged from when it began in 2001, needs upgrading in an era where people are turning to social media like Facebook and Twitter. 'It looks like it's 10 years old,' said Sebastian Wallroth, a software engineer from Germany. He said it is difficult for people to collaborate and there are hurdles in uploading pictures and video, unlike more user-friendly sites like Facebook.

Semere Tazaz Sium, recent graduate of Virginia Tech in software engineering, agreed that Wikipedia 'needs improvement from a user point of view'. 'It's a very powerful tool, but the user interface is a bit old,' said the native of Eritrea, who volunteers for Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder, who is still the public face of the project, said that questions about the site's future direction will be worked out in the same manner the web site operates –  collaboratively. 'I'm not the boss of Wikipedia, you are all the bosses,' he told the opening session of Wikimania at George Washington University on Thursday. Wales said that even forces are pushing Wikipedia in different directions, decisions won't be made in an 'authoritarian' manner. 'We've always viewed ourselves as a community brought together for a particular mission. We have core value, like a free and open Internet,' he said. 'The authoritarian model is not always the one that works.'

Wales and others admit that Wikipedia needs to do more to encourage participation.

Wikipedia has editions in 285 languages, including growing editions in Yoruba, Swahili and Afrikaans, over 22 million articles and one lakh active contributors. In some cases, Wales says articles are produced by 'bots', or computer programs that automatically generate or translate content.

But Wikipedians, the name for those who participate, see an urgent need to make Wikipedia more open to newcomers, to keep up with the vast amount of information it is trying to process. 'It isn't always the most polite or friendly place,' said a participant who goes by his Wikipedia name Kudpung. 'Wikipedia is the encyclopedia everyone can edit, but you have to jump through a lot of hoops, and there is no welcoming committee. So people will create new pages and edit pages only to find those pages or edits deleted, and they are not told about it in a nice way.'

Kudpung, a British national living in Thailand and longtime Wikipedia editor, said the site needs new people. 'It has been going for over 10 years and the number of quality encyclopedia articles has flattened out,' he said. 
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