Three things have happened, in a blink of history’s eye: (1) a single medium, the Web, has come to dominate the storage and supply of information, (2) a single search engine, Google, has come to dominate the navigation of that medium, and (3) a single information source, Wikipedia, has come to dominate the results served up by that search engine. Even if you adore the Web, Google, and Wikipedia – and I admit there’s much to adore – you have to wonder if the transformation of the Net from a radically heterogeneous information source to a radically homogeneous one is a good thing. Is culture best served by an information triumvirate?
All this means is that things haven’t changed much since the 19th century? I think that for most of the twentieth century, the one set of books most homes relied on for “facts” would have been an encyclopeida, the same way that people in the 17th century, if they had books, would have had two for sure: a Bible, and Pilgrim’s Progress.
But, in addition to this, it offers dynamic updating , infinite length, and distributed input (diversification of what rises to the level of interest/inclusion). In other words, Wikipedia is the library. It wins because it is the most generically useful, and because people use it to check facts. Also, it condense information into the length people looking for facts need, i.e., shorter.
Abundant information easily accessed