Dr. Wikipedia: USI PhD Honoris Causa to Jimmy Wales
Institutional Communication Service
17 May 2014
The new digital interconnected world was one of the main elements for the honorary doctorate, at the 18th Dies academicus held on May 17, 2014, conferred by the Faculty of Communication Sciences to the Wikipedia co-founder and Wikimedia founder Jimmy Wales, "for his role in promoting the sharing of knowledge online through an open source encyclopedic platform, in different languages, and for different cultures."
Laudatio by Professor Lorenzo Cantoni, Dean of the Faculty of Communication Sciences
I am delighted that USI decided to confer the PhD Honoris Causa to Jimmy Wales. The motivation on the diploma well explains the reasons for choosing the person who started Wikimedia Foundation and the co-founder of Wikipedia: “For his role in promoting the sharing of knowledge online through an open source encyclopedic platform, in different languages, and for different cultures”.
It is about giving credit to the pioneering role in promoting a culture of sharing information through the internet, and in implementing the tools to makes it possible. Wikipedia is not just a place to exchange ideas on the numerous topics; it is also an opportunity for those languages and cultures that do not have an encyclopedia. Thought the English version is the most complete, it is true that all languages hold the same rights and are equally important (at the end of March 2014 there were 248 languages, ½ million entries in English and more than one million in Italian).
Many of us do not accept Wikipedia as a recognised source for papers and thesis, but the same thing stands for all encyclopedias. The university is a place for deeper knowledge, and encyclopedias should be used as a first approach to a topic. That is exactly what Wikipedia should be used for: a first glance at subjects we know nothing about, a starting point for further in-depth research. Contrary to printed encyclopedias, Wikipedia is constantly changing. This peculiarity makes it always updated thus completely instable with constant re-editing that might include possible mistakes.
It is not an encyclopedia in the strictest sense of the word, rather an encyclopedic quest: all entries are not final text rather ongoing discussions. Wikipedia is showing that the classical Encyclopedia as useful as it was in the past. Nowadays it is impossible to include in one printed text the changing notions of certain modern fields, and thanks to hypertext, we can also link different entries from different categories and sectors. Wikipedia is a great tool for understanding the global vision of knowledge. Common notions that are born thanks to the exchange between different people, cultures and languages.
Wikipedia is among the most visited sites worldwide – the 4th in Switzerland after Goggle, Facebook and YouTube. I think it is our task, as scholars, not only to recognise its potential for innovation and its fundamental role in building knowledge, but also to give our input to help shaping it into a valuable starting point for those seeking reliable information.