What is Wikipedia?
Wikipedia is one of the largest online information portals on the internet today. Almost anyone who knows how to navigate the internet will have encountered it at one point, whether it’s first hand or through the grapevine. It’s almost as popular as Facebook or Google, and is usually at the top of the search results list when searching for something on Google. That alone is evidence of the site’s popularity or online traffic.
Taking from Wik ipedia’s slogan, it is “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”. This means that all the content is free and easy to access; it covers pretty much any topic under the sun; and the users can contribute to the articles through edits and revisions.
Lifted from the site itself, the five pillars of Wik ipedia are pretty self-explanatory, and are summarised follows: 1) It is an encyclopedia; 2) It strives to be neutral, unbiased, accurate, and reliable; 3) The content is free and can be used, edited, and distributed; 4) Respect other editors, and; 5) The policies on editing articles change over time.
How Did It Start?
Wikipedia was officially launched on January 15, 2001 but as with all concepts, it had its predecessors. The idea of an online encyclopedia was first brought up in 1993 and in 2000, Nupedia was established, where the articles were to be written by experts. However, traffic was slow and the number of articles being posted was going at slower than a snail’s pace. Finally, the creators Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger decided to design a similar site where anyone could contribute. Thus, Wik ipedia was born.
Jimmy Wales was the brain behind the conceptualisation of the entire project, which is something that Sanger himself states in his personal memoir. Wales hired Sanger to take care of the technical aspect, including how to make the entire system run smoothly and effectively – he’s also the one who coined the name. Many credit Sanger as a co-founder, even though he left the team in 2002 due to what he said were differences in opinions on where to lead the project.
After one year, Wik ipedia had expanded to cover around 20,000 articles in 18 different languages. Within five years, they were at a whopping million articles. Now, the English version alone has close to 5 million articles and averages 750 new ones every day. When considering all the articles in the 271 languages it’s available in, the total is more than 13 million articles.
Given the enormous volume of articles, one can only imagine the nightmare that is monitoring the content and edits of each one to ensure the accuracy and credibility of the site. That’s why over the years, it has been caught in the crossfires between avid supporters and critics who doubt the reliability of the information.
Because anyone is free to edit the content of Wik ipedia, the site became prone to malicious content and vandalism, as well as information that went against one of their golden rules: information from a neutral point of view. It became harder to control the quality of edits, despite a huge team of volunteer editors. Over the years, their policies on openness to the public have changed to address these concerns.
Of course, the site still remains free and free to edit. However, now only registered users can create new articles. There are also degrees of protection on certain topics, particularly those that are controversial or prone to vandalism. When an article is “semi-protected”, only certain editors have access to modify it. Other articles are also locked so that only the site administrators can edit them.
Edits and changes are now also viewable by the public. Each page has a “History” portion, where each revision is cataloged for others to review. This way, each article is a collaborative effort between editors. Vandalism is not always easy to spot, but the more obvious ones are usually removed within a few minutes, which is something the administrators and editing team try to ensure each time.
Why Wikipedia is a Good Source of Information
Because of the issues surrounding them regarding credibility, most academic institutions – and even Wik ipedia itself – will maintain that the site is NOT acceptable as a major resource for academic papers. That’s likely because of the mix-and-match kind of information that’s present in each article. Here are some reasons why Wik ipedia is still a good source of information:
If you’re in doubt about some parts, check the links at the bottom of each page. Usually each chunk of information is either formatted by a hyperlink or is followed by one (in number form) that leads to an external resource. There is always a disclaimer at the top if there is information that hasn’t been verified, and the little blue question mark in place of the hyperlinked numbers will tell you that as well.
Wiki History and Why the Information is Excellent
The main page of Wik ipedia is a good portal for learning, if anything. There, you’ll get to read about a featured article, featured list, and a featured picture. There’s also a portion giving quick updates on recent news, so you stay well-informed. There are also tidbits of random information in the “Did you know…?” section, and a slice of history in the “On this day…” section.
Remember that Wik ipedia can be edited by anyone, so people with the appropriate knowledge can contribute. Many people assume that the information on the site is set in stone so if it’s wrong, there’s no remedy and the article and information are suddenly broken beyond repair. Don’t forget that people are keeping track of these articles. If someone knows that the information is wrong, it’s likely that they’ll edit it to make it right.
In line with this, you can be pretty sure that the information is up-to-date. New developments, software updates, deaths, births, discoveries, inventions, and generally anything that happens is chronicled in the relevant Wik ipedia articles.
Just because the articles contain a mix of information from different sources, doesn’t mean the information is false. It may not be accepted as a real source when doing research, but it’s a good way to familiarise yourself with a topic before you delve into the deeper research.