Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book 3: The Wikipedia Revolution: How A Bunch of Nobodies Created The World's Greatest Encyclopedia


I hope that everyone enjoyed their long weekend and took a time-out to appreciate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s great legacy.
This is one of my favorite quotations
This past week, for the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, I started out reading The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime by Miles Harvey, but spending the entire weekend reading 349 pages about maps, while very interesting, did not seem to me like an ideal situation. Plus, I'm still desperately trying to catch up on Downton Abbey (there's something about British period drama that really relaxes me), and Hulu.com just added the first season of Sabrina, The Teenage Witch to their collection (I was feeling nostalgic!). Long story short, I decided to switch gears and read The Wikipedia Revolution: How A Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia written by Andrew Lih and published in 2009. I've always loved learning about the origins of things that make their way into my daily life. Not to mention that Lih's book is a lightweight at only 229 pages.

Anything with "revolution" in the title is sure to be riveting, right?

As is my standard practice when diving into any nonfiction book, I immediately checked out the copyright date and was a bit dismayed that it was written in 2009. Three+ years in the world of the Internet is enough time to produce drastic changes. Fortunately, much of the content was focused on the history of Wikipedia, and I took the statistics mentioned in the book with a grain of salt.

Through Lih's layman-friendly prose, the reader gets acquainted with the most important computer-related breakthroughs in the 20th and 21st centuries. While library school had equipped me with some basic knowledge, this book provided some in-depth coverage of revolutionary ideas like free and open source software and copyleft. We are also introduced to the interesting personalities that contributed, directly and indirectly, to the creation of Wikipedia including Richard Stallman, champion of free and open software, who refuses to drink Coca-Cola (in protest of "the suspicious murders of unionized workers at Coca-Cola plants in Columbia") and Ward Cunningham, developer of the first wiki, who coined the term after the Hawaiian word for "quick". Lih also explores the challenges and controversies that have plagued Wikipedia throughout the years and the novel solutions that have allowed the encylopedia to thrive. 

If you can get past the use of the word "tome" on every page (okay, maybe not EVERY page), this really is an absorbing account of the creation of one of the most widely-used, and most unique, encyclopedias out there. The fact that this project was almost entirely produced by unpaid volunteers makes it even more fantastic, and I'm willing to bet that anyone who reads this book will get the urge to jump online and edit a few Wikipedia entries themselves. 

Sharlene Edwards
Program Director

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