In The Long Tail Chris Anderson describes the process behind the creation of the Wikipedia as “tapping the collective wisdom of millions of amateur experts, semi-experts, and just regular folks who thought they knew something.” “This is not” says Anderson, “the way encyclopedias are supposed to be made.” This is, however, the way the Oxford English Dictionary was made. Check it out in the Wikipedia!
Imagine if the construction of the Wikipedia relied upon contributions from thousands of volunteers submitting their information on slips of paper. This was the case with the OED. From the beginnings of the OED project in 1857 to the point where the 1st Edition of the dictionary covering all letters of the alphabet was published in 1928, over 70 years had passed.
In contrast, from its inception in 2001 to 2005, the Wikipedia made available over 1 million articles. Critics of the Wikipedia have pointed to the inexpert nature of Wiki contributors and the errors that occur in many of the articles. The venerable OED was no less prone to this type of weakness. For a fascinating account check out Simon Winchester’s account.