17 October 2011

How Wikipedia has Changed

In 2003 this is what the Wikipedia entry on mantra looked like:

mantra(sanskrit)-"awareness spell" According to traditional etymology, mantra gets its name from providing protection (trâna) for the mind (manas).

A mantra can consist of a single letter, a syllable, a word, or even an entire phrase.

The next editor expanded this a little including the phrase:

Originally these were meaningless, and were a mechanism used to prevent thought. Usage in Western society today is primarily with meaningful phrases that an individual wishes to bear in mind constantly, particularly when striving to create personal change.
and a see also reference to "OCD" (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). This was the state I found it in. I set about writing a lot more text, under my then online nom-de-plume. Little of what I wrote 9 years ago remains, but what I wrote spurred people to edit and write more so it was almost worth it. Subsequently Wikipedia realised that they needed editorial guidelines and these shaped the article as it evolved. I don't participate in Wikipedia much these days - I post in some discussion pages but I don't edit. I haven't even read the latest entry just in case I get drawn into it again.

It is one of the interesting features of Wikipedia that the entire history of an article is preserved and can be accessed. We can see how entries evolved, and not doubt as we speak someone is doing a PhD on just this topic. At least with Wikipedia we get a sense of the article as an evolving, changing thing unlike a print encyclopedia where the process of creation is completely hidden.

Wikipedia even provides stats. The article has been edited 1373 times, an average of once every 2.28 days since 16 March 2003. A total of 599 users have been involved! Each making on average 2.29 edits. 2008 was the peak year for edits with 317. Since then the rate has dropped off steadily so that last year there were only 115. Nearly half the edits were by the most active 10% of users, which suggests that the other 90% made about 1 edit each.

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