Wikipedia on ABC Nightline

As I was heading for bed, I just saw ABC's Nightline story on Wikipedia. Wikipedia uses the wiki application MediaWiki for its content management system. The Nightline story was as close to a fair and balance story on an IT subject you can find on a non-technical program. The story focused not so much on technology as it did the people of Wikipedia, mainly the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, and the community of wiki users.

The biggest challenge for the reporter was to explain to television viewers exactly how an open community such as those found on open source projects and wiki sites actually work together. How do 1.3 million articles get written by volunteers? Wales didn't seem to have an answer except to say that all he knows is that it just works.

"Nature ran an article last December where they compared Britannica and Wikipedia on certain scientific entries, and they found that the Britannica articles contained around three errors per article, and Wikipedia articles contained around four errors per article, so when we heard that, we were somewhat pleased, because at least it showed people that it's not completely insane," Wales said.

When I was watching the show all I could think was how do you explain the dynamics of open source communities to those who have never heard of such a thing? How would I explain what the community is all about when I don't think any of us can explain why it works. A very challenging task indeed and I'm glad Wales didn't have an answer...because I think it would have confused the average television viewer even more.