Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert first published the “Encyclopedie” in 1751, during the Enlightenment. It was not the first compiled book of knowledge but it was a meant to be a comprehensive encyclopedia that categorized knowledge in a scholarly way. It consisted of 71,000 article written by members of the respective field being written about, it was a collaborative effort. Between 1751 and 1772 there were revisions and additions made. Diderot wanted to make sure this knowledge was put down for the future benefit of others. Why was this so important? How would one decide what is important enough to go into a comprehensive encyclopedia? After all it must be published to be of use to anyone.
By the 20th century the most popular encyclopedia was the “Encyclopedia Britannica”. It signaled a commitment to education and it was an indicator of social status. They were heavy, cumbersome and expensive. The encyclopedia was hard to update and some of the information was subjective, racist ideas and imperial thoughts. It was authoritative knowledge, nut again who decides what constitutes authoritative knowledge? Who should maintain this knowledge?
With the advent of the internet more people are able to have access to more information, The more that information and ideas are seen the better they can be improved upon. Richard Stallman, a software freedom activist, created a free operating system in the 1980’s for people to use. However they had to follow the 4 freedoms of software: free to run any program for any purpose, free to study and change program if need be, freedom to redistribute to thy neighbor, and the freedom to redistribute your modified copies to others. These were modeled after Roosevelt’s four freedoms. Stallman believed that if you enclosed information you restrict its dissemination. If you restrict the dissemination there will not be as many people looking and using the software trying to improve and create and better product. With GNU and Linux people that want to use the software improve and the software continues to get better and better. Crowd sourcing requires no central authority and people can improve because they are internally motivated not because they have to or are getting paid.
While encyclopedia’s may have been the foremost place to find authoritative knowledge, they have been by far surpassed by the amount of information of the World Wide Web. The WWW can provide more than just one side of subjective knowledge allowing people to make better decisions. Sometimes this backfires however, because of the amount of misinformation of the internet.