Researchers at Oxford University have just published a paper that offers a piercing insight into the workings of the online resource, Wikipedia. Although the popular website is heralded as an example of how to use the internet productively, research shows that the vast majority of its content is written by a minority of rich, western, countries. In fact, nearly half of all edits to ‘geocoded’ articles, i.e. those which are linked to a specific place in the world, were made from five countries. The Netherlands, for example, has more edits to its name than all of Africa combined. Furthermore, of the minority of edits that come from developing countries, many are about Europe and North America, meaning the dominance of the developed world over Wikipedia’s content is stronger.
With over three billion internet users worldwide, the possibilities for communication and the sharing of knowledge are endless, in theory. Similarly, Wikipedia’s contributions to this field are unmatched online, and should be recognised. Regardless, insights such as these are important for how resources like Wikipedia develop in future.
However, are these issues at all novel? Historians will of course be well aware of biases within historical sources. Indeed, Human Scientists may observe that the very idea that European and North American cultures are more ‘developed’ than their Eastern counterparts is in itself a Western narrative, ignoring the role of the Islamic Golden Age, for example, in providing the intellectual foundation for many societies today (Historians, Sociologists, and Economists alike may all be interested by the contributions of Ibn Khaldun to all of these fields). In any case, this research will hopefully allow Wikipedia to consider how to redress this imbalance, and ensure the resource can fulfill its potential as an accurate and comprehensive means of sharing information.
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