As if from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Open source, open data, open Web — the Wikimedia Foundation is all about information on the Web being open and free to use. That’s the thinking behind Wikipedia, the crowd-created online knowledge base of more than 27 million articles written in nearly 300 languages.
The volunteer editors of Wikipedia could be anyone: Your mail carrier, your neighbor, your third-grade teacher, your third-grader. And while most of the time these contributors are mere disambiguated user names behind a computer screen, when they get together, it’s a celebration of all things Wiki and open — IRL, of course.
On a recent Sunday, some members of the Wikimedia D.C. chapter — an eclectic mix of 50 or so area academics, professionals and all-around geeks — met up in Meridian Hill Park, not far from the White House, as part of the nationwide “Great American Wiknic.”
“We joke that if you get Wikipedians together for five minutes they start talking about copyright,” says Jim Hayes, a Wikimedia D.C. member and Wikipedia editor. Copyright is something Wikipedians respect, to be sure, but talk inevitably turns to copyright when the subject of free Internet comes up. With the infamous congressional SOPA and PIPA bills a year and a half behind them, Wikimedians have their eye on Washington, on the lookout for any more legislation that would attempt to overprotect and overpunish, in their view. “We’re not trying to be pro free everything,” Hayes says. “It’s just — let’s be reasonable about how we draw the line, and how we honor copyrights, and how we make use of our public domain heritage.”
Online Branches 
“Cultural institutions now are seeing Wikipedia as a way of increasing access to holdings, or fulfilling their educational missions by looking at Wikipedia as the place where … their audience is actually going on the Web,” explains Dominic McDevitt-Parks, the Wikipedian-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution.
Open Access 
Jeremy Pesner, a graduate student at Georgetown University, has a casual affiliation with Wikimedia D.C., but a vested interest in its mission. Pesner recently returned from a research trip to Drexel University where he said he went through 17 boxes worth of archives belonging to the school. The information Pesner was seeking is open, public record, but impossible to access anywhere but a library in Philadelphia. “Most information isn’t doing any good sitting in books on shelves in archives, things that haven’t been looked at for several years,” he says. “We want as much online to do as much research as we can.”
Handling The Truth 
Fellow Wikipedian Andrew Breza points out Wikipedia’s policy of “verifiability, not truth” meaning that editors must find a fact independently reported in more than one source. Beyond that, it’s out of their hands. “Wikipedia is exactly as good as its source material is,” Breza says. “If … this came from a New York Times article, then you should trust that fact as much as you trust The New York Times.”
For Wikipedian Fran Rogers, this is one of the ultimate takeaways of the project. “Because Wikipedia is freely licensed content, copyright-wise. Even if the foundation disappeared, the content would still live on forever,” she says. “The content is going to be with us until the end of human history more or less, in some form or another.”
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External Links 
Anchor’s note: Asked Hannah, an intern on NPR’s Social Media Desk, to report on the gathering of Wikipedians as if it were a Wikipedia page. She nails it. — L.W.