Happy belated 10th birthday, Wikipedia! I hope that January 15 was wonderful for you.

Many social commentators are critical of Wikipedia for its democratic editorial policy that enables virtually anyone to edit any article most of the time, but to these critics’ chagrin, the wiki is accurate at least on some things as I’ve noted about health topics.  However, beyond surprising its critics, Wikipedia has done far more.  For example, it has helped codify information that more people have easy access to without the need of visiting a library or purchasing expensive reference books.

I would like to point out that Wikipedia has inspired people to codify information whether a sizable portion of the general public views it is as trivial or not.  For instance, if I have a question about a TV show, movie, or song, I typically go to Wikipedia (since I don’t have to provide a citation very often on such things for a college paper…); I’ve found it interesting how quickly and comprehensively people update entries about very recently aired TV episodes.  Further, in many cases you can read detailed summaries and analyses of characters and plots that are far more sating than what is found on official show sites.  Wikipedia is a wonderful source of up-to-date information about contemporary entertainment.

Does the Encyclopedia Britannica update its site with information about the latest NCIS or Top Chef episode?  Likely not.  In fact, I just did a quick search and couldn’t find anything about either show on the site.  I can see how neither show passes the editorial muster of the encyclopedia, but Wikipedia’s mission to make information universally accessible allows for a more broad definition for what’s “fit for print” – although it does have a notability threshold regulating what deserves an entry and what does not.   While I do cede that there are likely “more important” topics that encyclopedias need to remain abreast of, I bet future social scientists will find information found on Wikipedia about Gigli or The Bachelorette invaluable as they try to suss out our culture.

I believe that the same can be said about most other topics that Wikipedia has information about.

Finally, I want to give props to two other entertainment wikis that I personally enjoy: Memory Alpha about Star Trek and Fringepdia about Fringe.  Both sites provide far more detailed information than the franchise/show’s official sites.  Further, since successful wikis require participation, I believe that they are successful because they were started and are managed by fans independent of media company involvement – unlike the TV show wikis I stumbled upon back in early 2008 that were thrown out to the masses by the media companies instead of passionate fans starting and managing them. No doubt that these two successful wikis were at least partially inspired by Wikipedia.