The first time I heard about Wikipedia, I got really excited; I characterized it as a “world mind”.
I saw it as a place to share knowledge that anyone (with an online connection)could contribute to and/or benefit from. I confess I was initially impatient with, and disparaging of, those who told students not to use it. As the conversation about Wikipedia developed, I moved into the “use it to start researching, but don’t cite it” for my students, and “It’s an amazing source; check it out” for my friends and acquaintances.
I stumbled across Jon Udell’s screencast which gave me an understanding of how Wikipedia works; I highly recommend you take the 9 minutes to view it
After watching Udell’s screencast, (or instead of, or before) read danah boyd‘s short take on the importance of Wikipedia – http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/06/27/knowledge_acces.html
I find myself in close agreement with her.
Wikipedia brings me great joy. I see it as a fantastic example of how knowledge can be distributed outside of elite institutions. I have watched stubs of articles turn into rich homes for information about all sorts of subjects. What I like most about Wikipedia is the self-recognition that it is always a work-in- progress. The encyclopedia that I had as a kid was a hand-me-down; it stated that one day we would go to the moon. Today, curious poor youth have access to information in an unprecedented way. It may not be perfect, but it is far better than a privilege-only model of access.