The Wikipedia encyclopedia, a rare survivor of the Web's utopian beginnings, celebrates its 20th anniversary 4

Illustration from Wikipedia. – LIONEL BONAVENTURE AFP

“Wikipedia is the greatest digital common good”. The free online encyclopedia, one of the last “dinosaurs” of the libertarian and participatory Internet, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. “A small miracle” at the time of the triumph of the Gafam and the Internet merchant, thus describes the historian Rémi Mathis, ex-president of the association Wikimedia France.

Created on January 15, 2001 by the American Jimmy Wales with a nonprofit goal, Wikipedia’s ambition was to bring together the knowledge of the planet on a single online platform thanks to millions of voluntary contributors. The success was immediate. The first site was developed in English, German and Swedish Wikipedia followed in March 2001, and soon after ten more – including French, Italian, Chinese, Russian and Catalan.

Over 55 million articles published in 309 languages

The seventh most visited site in the world, Wikipedia has more than 55 million articles published in 309 languages. The content of each site is independent: no translations but original contributions, sometimes supplemented by robots from public data.

Contrary to the traditional encyclopedia written by recognized experts, this collection of knowledge compiled by amateurs, often anonymous, has drawn countless criticism and hostility from certain academic circles. “When we know in more detail the way Wikipedia is monitored, the articles are written, and the community exchanges, we can still consider that there is a level of overall reliability which is important,” said Lionel Barbe, master of conferences at Paris-Nanterre University.

A lack of diversity

There remains a problem of diversity in the sources and themes addressed, with blind spots on subjects linked to developing countries. In question, the profile of contributors, mainly from the United States and Western countries. “The fact of wanting to build an encyclopedia does not attract just anyone and the people who are there are often CSP +, urban, graduates”, supports Rémi Mathis, author of Wikipedia: Behind the Scenes of the World’s Largest Encyclopedia (First Editions).

“80%, or even more, are white men who write Wikipedia articles”, explains Marie-Noëlle Doutreix, lecturer at the University of Lyon 2. “We went from 15 to 18.6% of biographies of women in French-language Wikipedia, ”says Natacha Fault, founder of the“ Les sans pages ”project, which aims to combat gender imbalances. But the gender gap will never be fulfilled because the reality is that the achievements of women have been very little documented “throughout history.

“We did not turn away from our mission”

Despite everything, at a time of the triumph of the Gafam, the online encyclopedia is a rare survivor of the participatory utopia of the libertarian Web, designed as “a decentralized network of exchange and knowledge”, recalls Lionel Barbe, for which “Wikipedia is after all the greatest digital common good that the Internet has delivered to us”.

“We are not diverted from our mission for the sake of making more income, so we are not faced with these problems that we see today, this question of algorithms designed in a way that encourages engagement in order to increase advertising revenue, ”says creator Jimmy Wales. He now hopes that Wikipedia will spread to developing countries. “It is really important that the next billion people who arrive on the Internet want to contribute”, explains the founder who dreams of “an institution that lasts as long (…) as the University of Oxford. “