From Publishers Weekly
Since Wikipedia was launched online in 2001 as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit," it has blossomed to more than a billion words spread over 10 million articles in 250 languages, including 2.5 million articles in English, according to Wikipedia cofounder Wales in the foreword. Lih, a Beijing-based commentator on new media and technology for NPR and CNN, researched Wikipedia and collaborative journalism as a University of Hong Kong academic, and he has been a participating "Wikipedian" himself for the past five years. He notes the site has "invigorated and disrupted the world of encyclopedias... yet only a fraction of the public who use Wikipedia realize it is entirely created by legions of unpaid and often unidentified volunteers." Other books have surfaced (How Wikipedia Works
), but Lih's authoritative approach covers much more, from the influence of Ayn Rand on Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales and the "burnout and stress" of highly active volunteer editor-writers to controversies, credibility crises and vandalism. Wales's more traditional earlier encyclopedia, the peer-reviewed Nupedia, began to fade after he saw how Ward Cunningham's software invention, Wiki (Hawaiian for "quick"), could generate collaborative editing. Tracing Wikipedia's evolution and expansion to international editions, Lih views the encyclopedia as a "global community of passionate scribes," attributing its success to a policy of openness which is "not so much technical phenomenon as social phenomenon." (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* A subject that is long overdue in receiving its very own solo-book treatment is Wikipedia, the Internet version of the encyclopedia, named after wiki, the Hawaiian word for quick. How it started—and proliferated, despite human foibles and scandals—is the focus of academic and Wiki expert Lih. It is fitting, too, that a Beijing-based technologist chronicle the amazing growth of this knowledge phenomenon, fueled by volunteers across the world, which allows anyone to openly edit any page of the Web site. Its different beginnings, via alternate sites and dedicated geek hosts, are documented, as is the fascinating process of how an entry is entered, edited, and transformed—with Lih’s metaphor, the Piranha Effect, particularly apt. With its international standing now ranked number eight among Web sites, containing two million individual articles, the Wikipedia, nonetheless, has encountered its share of issues, whether generated by trolls (those troublemakers who drag issues through the community) or the more serious vandals, such as Essjay, whose claim to be a well-known professor appeared in a New Yorker article. An easy, nontech, intriguing read about a Web miracle that today rivals Encyclopaedia Britannica, according to well-respected publications, in the quality of many of its articles. --Barbara Jacobs