This is an essay.
It contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. This page is not an encyclopedia article, nor is it one of Wikipedia's policies or guidelines, as it has not been thoroughly vetted by the community. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.
Consider the following:
- Wikipedia is one of the world's top websites, with global appeal, and widely recognized as a crowning achievement of humanity.
- The Wikimedia Foundation has a considerable financial endowment, earmarked for sustaining the site.
- Wikipedia has a large and technically capable audience with immense goodwill towards the project.
- The content of Wikipedia is not that big by modern data management standards.
One may combine these statements to extrapolate that Wikipedia will still exist in the far future, or at least for as long as technological human civilization lasts.
This essay explores some of the consequences of Wikipedia still existing in the year 3000, in the year 30,000, or even beyond.
Scale of audience
There could be billions and billions of people over the long-term future. If 140 million people are born every year for the next 100,000 years, then 14 trillion people—1800 times more people than are alive today—will be born in total. As the global digital divide will probably close by the end of this century, the vast majority of them are likely to have Internet access, and therefore, access to Wikipedia. This means that Wikipedia could have trillions of readers over the very long term. Even small contributions could have a large impact due to Wikipedia's potentially vast future readership.
Recommendation for today: If you see something broken, however small, fix it!
An extensive corpus of current human writing is likely to be available to analysts in the far future. Databases that are currently private may become public, either through security failures or because the passage of time renders their contents no longer sensitive. We currently have few qualms about publishing the private letters of Lewis Carroll or the private diary of Samuel Pepys. In the future, automated stylometry may be able to correlate different sub-corpora of writings - for example, private communications retained by your local ISP or Nation State Actor may eventually find themselves in
21st_century_emails.zip, for any 30th-century data scientist to play with. Rigorous data minimization and OPSEC is very difficult to maintain over time. The timing of your Wikipedia contributions, and their stylometric content, may be used to de-anonymize you.
Recommendation for today: Contribute as though your Wikipedia identity will eventually be correlated with your real-life identity.
Reliance on archives
The premise of this essay is that Wikipedia survives into the far future. There is no such assumption that its sources will also survive. Commercial websites like newspapers and journals will eventually either cease to trade, or delete old content that is no longer profitable. This has already happened for a great many sources, and we thus already rely on archives - particularly the Internet Archive. This issue will compound over time, to the point where the vast majority of our references will point to archives.
Wikipedia is nothing without its sources. Therefore its mission is highly aligned to the mission of archival institutions.
Recommendation for today: Support archival institutions in preserving sources, particularly the Internet Archive.
All currently copyrighted material will eventually fall into the public domain. Expect the Star Wars article to host a complete lossless copy of the movie in its infobox by the year 2072. References which are currently expensive to verify, such as to commercially published books where no copy exists online, will eventually become simple links to archives. As more sources become public domain over time, renewed effort will be put into reviewing the accuracy of references using those sources.
Recommendation for today: There is no reason to avoid citing copyrighted material as a source. Make future verification easier by citing specific page numbers in books.
Will today's articles become more or less important in the far future?
If human culture continues to expand, increasing the concept limit, then each article will be a correspondingly smaller proportion of the totality of human culture. Is there a finite amount of editorial attention that will become spread ever thinner, always biased towards newer concepts, leaving our current era obscure and neglected? The 21st century may be as relevant to the 301st century as the year 27,978 BC is to us. Today's popular articles that currently enjoy deep watchlists may be almost forgotten. While some articles like mathematics and chemistry may never cease to be relevant, our current forms of media and modes of being may become perceived as one-dimensional and trivial.
Will we need enhanced tools for article archiving and locking to prevent unnoticed senescence? Or is it more likely that we will have AI-based tools to guard articles as they retire into their eventual long period of rest?
Alternatively, perhaps the far future will consider our era not obsolete, but foundational. In an interstellar far future where the human population reaches into the quintillions, perhaps every human alive today will be considered immensely notable for being one of the first humans, and our lives will be analyzed in immense detail, the way we venerate rare pioneers from our own history. There may be billions of Wikipedia editors available to pore over every knowable event from our time. Wikipedia's own meta-material, such as edit summaries and talk pages, may themselves be celebrated artefacts. Having an ancestor who made one of the first trillion edits to Wikipedia may be considered auspicious.
Recommendation for today: Write as though you will be read. Act as though you will be judged.
Over time, language change has the potential to change the makeup of the current Wikipedias. Languages typically do not merge, though globalization may drive minority languages to extinction. There may be fewer Wikipedias in the future. Alternatively, isolation through distance (potentially interstellar distance) may counteract globalizing forces and create multiple distinct languages with languages like English as the common ancestor. A further alternative is that machine translation becomes good enough to map seamlessly between any language pairs, which could serve to preserve minority languages and negate the need for segregation of Wikipedias by language - any article could be written in any language, and then localized to any reader.
In any of these scenarios, whether using manual or automated translation, or whether trying to avoid language fragmentation, the reader is helped when we write clearly.
Recommendation for today: use standardized language based on clear definitions. Avoid neologisms, idioms, and slang.
Time and distance issues
A centralized database may be too slow for editors living more than a few light-minutes away. Technologies such as IPFS and eventual consistency may need to be adopted to support quasi-concurrent editing. Alternatively, Wikipedias may need to be sharded by planet, similar to how they are currently divided by language. The Sol Wikipedia may be a completely independent encyclopedia to the Tau Ceti Wikipedia.
Recommendation for today: plan ahead!