If you need evidence that the world has changed a lot since you were in high school, look no further than this quote from Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia.
“When I go to speak at a university or high school, it’s completely insane how excited the kids are about Wikipedia,” Wales said. “I remember when I was in school, if they told us that the editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Britannica was coming, we would’ve probably just killed ourselves.”
This must be the dream reaction for any product. Not only has Wikipedia made the only other brand name encyclopedia irrelevant, forced its digital competition into early retirement and made itself the de facto case study proving that crowdsourcing works, it’s endeared itself to high school students.
The latter obviously relates not merely to an encyclopedia and its content, but to all that Wikipedia represents: entrepreneurialism, purpose, and most of all an open invitation to participate.
There continue to be marketers, critics and brands that don’t really get what it means to have two billion new participants in a media landscape previously controlled by a few. Columnists write about how we embrace technology they claim we don’t need. Marketing strategists continue to imply that brands are being falsely lured into social media.
But Wikipedia, along with other community creations such as Firefox, reminds us that people rejoice in being heard and having the opportunity to contribute.
My wife once had a letter published in the New Yorker magazine. This was eight or nine years ago when expression was only free if you owned the publication. Her letter, one of for or five published that week, merited emails and phone calls of congratulations from everyone she’d ever known. Seems insane in today’s world.
I’m not surprised that Wikipedia gets such an enthusiastic welcome. Nor am I surprised that Britannica would have been greeted with yawns if not worse. One invites you to be part of the experience. To have a say and feel fulfilled by your contribution. The other simply declares that they already know it all and don’t really need any help from you.
Jimmy Wales implores brands to “make stuff that doesn’t suck.” I would add to that, “do something that makes high school and college students overjoyed to see you on campus.”