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This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2005, Frankfurt, Germany.




Editing notes:

  • Need to copy/paste/xlate? paper to here
  • Need more bio information, should have university

The political importance of the Wikipedia Project : the only true Encyclopedia of our days[edit]

  • Author(s):'' {{{...}}}
  • License: Jean-Baptiste Soufron
  • Slides: Jean-Baptiste Soufron
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  • 'Note:' {{{slides}}}

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About license

GFDL and CC-by-sa

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About the author[edit]

Jean-Baptiste Soufron is a lawyer and active Wikimedian; his translation of Lawrence Lessig's "The Future of Ideas" was published last month. for more information, see his website.


"Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing." -- Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales

I am convinced that Wikipedia is the only real Encyclopedia of our days because it’s the only one that relies on a real political goal : to pursue freedom over content and information.

On the other hand, books like the Encyclopedia Britannica are nothing else than simple knowledge compendiums without any political soul and usurping the term "Encyclopedia".

It’s quite clear today that Wikipedia is not only a catalog of knowledge available on the web : it is a wiki that can be edited by anyone and it features an open content made available under the terms of the copyleft GNU Free Documentation License. To sum it up, Wikipedia is a free catalog of knowledge, which means that the underlying principle of Wikipedia is not only to use the Internet as a media but also to deliver a content that is free and will stay so.

This may lead to funny effects like an encyclopedia written in Klingon or superdetailed articles about high-tech subjects but we must really understand that this freedom is the real difference between Wikipedia and other so-called encyclopedias of today : Wikipedia relies on the political principle to extend freedom, to change the society of the 20th century by giving control over content to everyone.

In that sense, it’s also clear today that only Wikipedia can pretend to be a real Encyclopedia.


see the original paper from Spring 2005

An excerpt:

Maybe there was one point that seemed pretty obvious to me. Maybe it was because I am French and because, half-asleep during junior high schools history lessons, I hypnotically learned when my French professors used to teach me about the famous French philosophers Diderot and d’Alembert, the famous French Enlightenment of the 18th century, the famous French Encyclopédie : how can someone pretend that an encyclopedia is only a place where information should be accurate ?

It seemed to me that, first of all, a real encyclopedia should be a place directed toward a political project of its own, and not only toward some sort of simple scientific dictionnary project.

The Encyclopedia of the French philosophers was not just a knowledge base project, but it was also a political project designed to propagate the ideas of the Enlightenement and to establish the reign of "Reason" as the basis of modern public debate.

And then, I would argue that Wikipedia is the only modern encyclopedia to offer a political project rather than a simple scientific project. Thus, Wikipedia is the only knowledge base project that deserves to be called encyclopedia because it is not only aimed at making some knowledge available to the public but it is also aimed at being free.

It’s easy to forget that the original encyclopedia from Diderot and D’Alembert was not simply a knowledge catalog, but a " -reasoned- dictionnary of arts, science and crafts" as its final title states. Here, the adjective "reasoned" is not to be understood as "organised" but as being a part of a vaster political project to bring out reason as the main axis of public and political debate in the European 18th century. It was certainly a vast compendium of the technologies of its period, describing the traditional craft tools and processes. But most of this information was already available from other knowledge bases like the "Descriptions des Arts et Métiers" published earlier. In the end, even if the great work comprised 28 volumes, 71,818 articles, and 2,885 illustrations, it only became famous and valuable because it was politically-oriented and because it reached its political goal of transforming the 18th century society.