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Wikipedia is a free Online Encyclopaedia that I first stumbled across about a year ago whilst researching an article I was writing on the languages and dialects of Europe. I use Google as my everyday Internet search engine and as I entered various words and phrases I found myself taken to a specific article within the Wikipedia database time and time again.
I found that the majority of the articles were incredibly informative but most importantly they were written in an extremely basic format and were very easy to understand.
Within the text of each article you will regularly come across specific words which are in bold text and I quickly discovered that these were hyperlinks to related articles in Wikipedia so once you have found your first article of relevance it is then incredibly easy to jump around to another relevant page and another.
I quickly became very impressed with Wikipedia to the point where I found myself searching Google for specific information within Wikipedia. For example if I needed to know how people in the world spoke French as their native language I would type into Google " World number of French speakers" and follow it by the word "wikipedia" and invariably Google would take me straight to a Wikepedia article containing the answer to this question. From here I could then jump to related articles within Wikipedia such as "French dialects" or "Countries spoken." etc.
Occasionally I would click on a word link and find a message telling me that no article on this subject had yet been written and beneath this there would be an invitation to submit an article and it was only at this point that I began to realise the principle behind the Wikipedia project.
Wikipedia is not only a completely free online encyclopaedia it is also written entirely by the public and updated constantly. There is the facility to add further information to an article or correct misleading or incorrect information but to do this you will need to register yourself as a member to be able to access the member only features of the site. Registration is quick and easy and also totally free.
Wikipedia is as far as I know a unique project which works on the principle of sharing the individual knowledge of individuals with others. The Wikipedia homepage actually contains its own search engine where you can search for specific words, phrases or questions so obviously there is no need to use an initial search engine like Google as I used to do in my early naivety, but of even more use there is also the facility to ask a question or reply to a question asked by others. The theory behind this is both simple and clever and to me it epitomises the very thing that makes this site the success story that it is. The principle as I see it is that all of the answers to every question are out there and there will always be someone who will know the answer to a specific request no matter how obscure it is.
The Wikepedia database was formally launched on the 15th January 2001 and is expanding at a phenomenal rate everyday. It is now one of the largest free sources of information available on the Internet. I personally find it a lot more useful than many of the well known encyclopaedia's like Encarta or Hutchinson's as although the articles published in these are excellent they are quite regimented and tend to concentrate on general specific topics which have mass appeal rather than more general and sometimes obscure subjects.
Wikepedia can also be used as a source of obtaining general knowledge and each day there is a random featured article and a collection of interesting facts. All articles are checked for their suitability prior to being published and anything controversial will be immediately removed making it a family friendly site which is fun for both adults and kids of all ages.
All articles can also be displayed in various languages, in fact articles have been published in well over 100 different languages but every article is available in English, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese as a minimum and you set one of these as your principal default language when you visit the site for the very the first time.
I am delighted to have discovered Wikipedia and would definitely suggest that if you get the chance then take a look.
I find Wikipedia very useful indeed, and I too was wondering about abuse, spoof info etc, until you covered that part towards the end.
Deru 30.10.2005 21:08
I've come across it quite a few times from my Google'ing. Didn't know it was user submitted answers. I was wondering about the accuracy of the info but you mentioned the checking before publishing at the end.
belfin 28.10.2005 18:34
I wish I had read this one yesterday as I spent ages trying to remember the name of this site as my daughter was needing info on some form of cell biology thingymajig that I couldn't pronounce. The articles can be really useful. Belinda