China / Hot Issues

The best things in life are free

By Soma RoyChowdhury (China Daily) Updated: 2016-01-25 07:45

I really can't get enough of the information age. Finding out stuff is so ridiculously simple these days. In my time, we would have to ask around, or trek to the library, find the relevant book and then hunt for whatever it is we sought, with no guarantee at all that it would be found.

But now, no sweat, we just "Google" it. Whether it's news or pop trivia or some obscure Byzantine couplet, or even information on some rare disease, it's all just a few taps on the keyboard or mobile away. Of course we can no longer smugly smile when we are the only person able to recall the date of an important event or an exact quote, but one can't have everything.

And when we Google, chances are, among the first three search results will be a link from Wikipedia. There is hardly an Internet user around the world, I'll wager, who has not benefited from the bounty of this online encyclopedia. Just think how fantastical the whole idea might have seemed in the beginning. That world of detailed information on anything under the sun, and beyond it. The website is said to receive more than 15 billion page views a month, with 7,000 new articles posted every day by its 80,000-strong army of unpaid volunteers. For Wiki, knowledge IS free.

More's the sense of awe, when you read how its co-founder does not regret not monetizing his obviously wildly successful net venture.

Jimmy Wales, the self-confessed atheist from Alabama (going by Wiki), says he grew up with a thirst for knowledge, and fondly remembers keeping track of annual updates on the World Book Encyclopedias. And that arguably geeky fascination saw Wales set up Wikipedia 15 years ago this January with Internet project developer Larry Sanger and others, though Sanger left the nonprofit the following year.

The best things in life are free

Wikipedia survives on donations, however small. People may recall the bearded figure that sometimes popped up on a searched page, with a plea to donate as little as $1 to keep the site humming. That would have been one of the fundraising drives aimed at readers, with Wales as its face. Whether we donated or no, Wiki kept on going, and growing.

Of course, a venture such as this is not without its share of controversies. Those range from claims that Wales, 49, interfered in posts on prominent personalities or is regularly contacted by celebrities to tweak their information, or that editing has been passed on to professionals, or even that donations are used to fund junkets for staff.

What is undeniable is that Wiki is a brand with global reach. But Wales may be the only Internet entrepreneur who is not a billionaire, unlike peers such as Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates.

However, he has no regrets, Wales told Britain's The Telegraph. His vision is simple: He wants every single person to have free access to knowledge.

In a sad world where greed is good and mendacity an enviable trait, this one's a winner.

Hot Topics