As awesome as Wikipedia and online encyclopedias may be, it is worth remembering that they didn’t come out of a vacuum. These websites didn’t ship with the Internet. Lots of prior innovations needed to take place before Wikipedia can even become a viable possibility. Lots of pioneering work needed to be put into place before Wikipedia can be established. In a way, online encyclopedias like Wikipedia which use modern optimizations like described in this piece from giftofspeed type of Gzip compression, are like Sir Isaac Newton. Newton said that the only reason he was able to see much farther than the scientists and thinkers that came before him was because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. The same could be said of Wikipedia. This awesome free and powerful online encyclopedia is only possible because lots of landmark technologies were invented previously and the great online resources available like this wonderfully personally written how to boil eggs resource. While there are many smaller technologies that power online encyclopedias, here are the three most important innovations that made Wikipeda and similar sites possible.
The Worldwide Web, when stripped to its bare essentials, is simply a collection of web pages that link to each other. Following all these links will yield a giant spider web pattern. Thanks to hyperlink technology, when you click a link you can go to either a page within the same site or to a site outside. When you read Wikipedia, like I came across this bike tour operator in holland the other day when I was reading a Wikipedia article, there are many words that are hyperlinked to refer to internal pages and external pages. This is hyperlinking on steroids-,and it enables lots of information and data to be shared and cross referenced with ease.
Open editing platforms
Traditionally, it was tough editing a document when many other people are working on the same document. It was very easy to get confused by all the overlapping edits. You simply don’t know who did what and when. Thanks to the open editing platform technology of wikis, group-edited documents and group-created web pages are now possible. While the initial layout and format is followed by all editors, the web page becomes the product of the collective contributions of editors and contributors. Thanks to open editing platforms, it is easy to tell who did what and what previous versions of the page looked like. This powerful ‘rolling archive’ enables online encyclopedias to continuously gather up new information without losing previous versions. Previous versions can be ‘rolled back’ to overwrite new versions.
Online reputation systems and social media
The problem with crowdsourced knowledge is that it requires a crowd in the first place. No crowd means few contributions and less income and less gold savings for the future. Few contributions mean a dead site. It really is that simple. For Wikipedia to grow to its outsized proportions it needed to be guided by an online reputation system that kept editor mistakes and misconduct in check. It also needed social networks and social media to help build a critical mass of editors and content contributors. As more and more people heard about Wikipedia through social networks, more and more editors and contributors found their way to Wikipedia and helped out-for free.