It’s true. For all our faults, we humans have done something amazing at Wikipedia. Sure, the folks on staff there deserve a bit of credit, but it’s the millions contributors like you and me that built that phenomenal resource. And fast. And it ain’t exactly done yet. I just took a look at the English Wikipedia statistics page again. Eleven million registered users. Not bad. Three million articles. A whopping 350M page edits. If the average edit takes a minute (gee, that seems short to me) then that’s at least 6M hours of work! All done free for the rest of us to make use of. And of course that’s just in English; I figure we oughta multiply by ten for all the other languages (and yeah, that seems low also). Equally amazing to me is that even the organizing structures and policies were all built organically by volunteers. The approach has been “let’s try to find policies that will work.” And, one way or another, 11M registered users (plus a bunch of anonymous users and some bots) managed to figure out how to work together, for free, to build something functional and useful.
So, yes, I marvel at the remarkable edifice that is Wikipedia, and I think it says something about what humans are capable of. And yet, I’ve only made a few small edits there. Instead, Wikipedia’s success motivated me to create my own wiki around how we humans can work together in practical ways to make lives better. ( “WinWinWiki” got as big as 14 pages before I joined Chris and Lonny here at Appropedia, which had more pages, maybe even 100.) Appropedia’s hard problem is that much of the information we value often resides nonverbally in people’s heads and not on some web page. Find the words to describe how to select the best local dirt for your earthen blocks takes some cleverness. Consider something as “simple” as rainwater harvesting. Wikipedia has a nice overview page on the topic, but they don’t provide enough information to build your own system. Appropedia has a portal focused on rainwater harvesting, with lots of links to practical articles on actually doing some rainwater harvesting. No doubt there are still unanswered questions, or regional variations that could be added. Some of that info is hiding on the web somewhere, but some might be in your head. Or in someone’s head who (gasp!) doesn’t spend much time on the internet, or perhaps doesn”t have regular access (at least for a couple of years).
Appropedia faces a lot of the same challenges that Wikipedia did, and some different ones as well, but there’s one challenge Appropedia won’t face. When Wikipedia was first getting started, many said it was impossible. “Who’s going to spend the time? How can content quality be maintained? How will disputes be settled? If you let just any unregistered Schmo edit, it’ll be a spammer”s paradise. Yada yada, it’ll never work.” But of course it has worked, amazingly well. (Here’s a nice self referential article about that, and, for balance, a discussion of criticisms. I just love that.) And since Wikipedia has been-there-done-that, the notion that Appropedia is impossible seems rather naive or even far-fetched. The question is not “if” like-minded humans can build a large open library of practical and sustainable solutions, but “how” or “when”. I find that profoundly inspiring.
It’s why I’m here. Oh, and I have a 6-year-0ld son. He needs to understand what’s possible for humans to do by working together. When he’s my age (“39”), he’ll have another two billion people to share the planet with. Maybe you can help me show him what we can do together?