Jan 2011 press release draft

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South Africa, 11 Jan 2011

Wikipedia to Celebrate 10th Birthday on January 15, 2011

If you think that Wikipedia is just another crazy internet fad that has no true relevance to knowledge generation and discourse, then you need to carefully reconsider you standpoint. After all, 400 million people can't be wrong!

Ten years ago, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger founded Wikipedia, based on the concept of an encyclopedia that anyone could edit. At the time this notion seemed misguided and revolutionary at best, and positively dangerous at worst. And the initial results were underwhelming, to say the least. For example, the article "Astronomer" simply said: "Scientist whose area of Research is Astronomy." And for the description of Physics: "Physics is a very broad subject." Despite these beginnings, Wikipedia has grown into a detailed and relevant volume of information that is written for, and by, the world's people. Whilst to this day there may still be many in both the academic and business sectors who dismiss the online encyclopedia, it is now the fifth most popular website in the world, with 410 million monthly readers (comScore, November 2010).

Now, at 17 million articles in 270 languages and growing, Wikipedia is the only top-ten website in the world that is truly generated, supported and maintained by its users. It is written by everyday people who are committed to the goal of providing free knowledge to everyone who needs it. Over the last ten years, hundreds of thousands of people have contributed more than one billion edits to this vital resource. If the English version were printed out in its entirety, it would fill 2,647 typical encyclopedia-sized volumes - enough to fill a library shelf 15 metres long. If the pages were laid end to end, they would stretch almost three times the length of the Comrades Marathon course.

A global party

To commemorate this historic milestone, people from all over the world are planning to gather at over 200 events -- at least seven on every continent -- to celebrate Wikipedia. (Details of these events at http://ten.wikipedia.org/) Very few websites or bricks-and-mortar companies could boast of this kind of global support and recognition. And in South Africa, there are three events planned, in Pietermaritzburg, Cape Town and Stellenbosch ( http://ten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietermaritzburg http://ten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Town http://ten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellenbosch ).

Wikipedia and South Africa

Wikimedia is the non-profit organization that operates Wikipedia and other free-knowledge projects such as Wikimedia Commons, Wiktionary and Wikibooks. It is completely funded through donations and is free from advertising. One of the goals of the Wikimedia Foundation is to grow representation within the encyclopedia of all the world's languages. One of the ways to acknowledge and support this momentum is to encourage Wikipedians to establish country-specific Chapters, which independently promote the goals of Wikipeda projects in their own contexts and languages. Whilst there are over 30 chapters operating globally, there are currently no established African Chapters. Recently however, a group of South African volunteers has begun work on making Wikipedia more accessible and relevant to the local community, and within this goal is the creation of a local Chapter. The team will promote local awareness of the projects and their proper academic use, encourage translation efforts into local languages, support the creation of local free knowledge and media and offer scholarships for promising local students.

For more information and to set up interviews, contact:

  • Kerryn McKay (kerryn@africancommons.org)
  • Lourie Pieterse (clpieterse@physics.sun.ac.za)
  • David Richfield (davidrichfield@gmail.com)
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