Saturday, August 09, 2008

Wikipedians Leave Cyberspace visit Alexandria

In Alexandria, 650 Devotees Bemoan Vandals, Debate Rules;
Deletionists vs. Inclusionists

August 8, 2008

Alexandria, Egypt

The ancients ranked the Lighthouse of Alexandria, a 400-foot tower of stone, as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Just down the road, they overlooked a library that, beginning in the third century B.C., represented the greatest storehouse of knowledge anywhere on earth. The Great Library was the real wonder -- we can see that now.

The library's ghosts led Wikipedia to choose Alexandria last month for its largest gathering ever in meatspace. (In cyberspace the Wikipedians never stop gathering: It's a continuous round-the-clock rolling workfest.) The library managed to gather up most of the world's books, tens of thousands of papyrus scrolls -- and then it burned, not even a partial catalog surviving the cataclysm. Two millennia later, the Wikipedians are the library's heirs. Their online encyclopedia, going on eight years old, is many times more extensive than anything in print, comprising 2.5 million articles in English. Wikipedias have sprung up in 263 other languages, including Sanskrit, Choctaw and Twi. Wikipedians believe (and I do, too) that bits, being abstract, will outlast paper.

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