Check Wikipedia! It's a phrase almost as popular as "Google it." And oftentimes, when you Google it, you will be sent to Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, has become one of the world's top websites. But who keeps it chock-full of current information to sate the 200 people a second clicking on it? Wikipedians, that's who. Meet them in Morley Safer's 60 Minutes report Sunday, April 5 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Safer asks the website's former number-two Wikipedian, Sue Gardner, to characterize what they call the "Wiki Community." "It's about a hundred thousand people around the world, every political persuasion, every religion, no religion, from 7...to 75 years old," she says. "They are really smart...and persnickety. Right? Fussy people...careful...cautious...it matters to them that things are right," she tells Safer.
Three times a second. Twelve thousand times an hour, a Wikipedian somewhere makes an edit to existing material. What do the Wikipedians get out of their service, Safer wants to know? "I do the editing because I love it...You have the satisfaction of feeling like you have participated in something," says Amanda Levandowski, a law school graduate who usually focusses her edits Wiki articles dealing with law. "You have the opportunity to help other people find information about stuff you're into." After several years of being deemed untrustworthy, the site claims they are becoming more reliable - although even founder Jimmy Wales admits there some errors.
Helping people out on an almost unlimited amount of subjects is what the not-for-profit Wikipedia, which operates on donations, is all about, says its founder Jimmy Wales. "If we were ad supported, we would always be thinking...these people reading about Elizabethan poetry. There's nothing to sell them," he tells Safer. "Let's try to get them to read about hotels in Las Vegas...and we don't. We just don't care."
Wales is one of the most successful Internet entrepreneurs of all time, but unlike others like him, many of whom become billionaires, he isn't even a multimillionaire. He says he would rather do good than do well. "It just felt right that we should be a charity, free knowledge for everyone," he says. "That's always been our philosophy."
And it is a global phenomenon. There are 12,000 new pages of Wikipedia created each day. There are 35 million articles in 288 different languages as of this past February.
At the most recent Wikimania conference in London, attended by over 2,000, 60 Minutes encountered Wikipedians from across the globe, including Kazakhstan, Egypt, South Africa, Germany, and India.