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For those of you who have already seen the light, I hope this provides a bit of interesting background information. For those who have not yet experienced this miraculous invention in all its glory, I bestow upon you the gift of eternal knowledge.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...www.wikipedia.org
Long, long ago, when Sonic was just a twinkle in Sega's eye and pacman roamed the earth, we didn't have the Internet. We used to have these strange artefacts that were made out of paper (you know, the stuff that comes out of printers) called BOOKS.
When we had to find something out for school, we had to go to these great houses of learning, filled with dusty scrolls and manuscripts and guarded by fierce, inhuman monsters. We called them LIBRARIES.
The birth of the Internet, for better or for worse, changed everything. Suddenly, infinite knowledge was just a mouse-click away. And as we all know, knowledge is power, and power, well.....it corrupts!
The trouble with the Internet was, and to some extent still is this: anyone can appear to be an authority on anything. If you needed to find something out about the Saxons, Spanish architecture or Star Trek, you wouldn't just approach any old bod on the street and trust the information they gave you would you? With the birth of the Internet, this is what was happening; people were putting their conspiracy theories, opinions, lies and "educated guesses" onto the screen for the whole world to see, with no way of validating the information.
Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopaedia put a stop to all that...well, nearly.
Arise Sir Wiki and take the sword of truth.....
WHAT IS WIKIPEDIA?
Wiki - wiki (a technology for creating collaborative websites, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning "quick")
Pedia - a written compendium
Wikipedia is basically a collection of over 14 million articles, on an unimaginably vast range of subjects that can be written or edited by anyone with an Internet connection.
It is a completely free-to-use, advertisement free, non-profit making resource with charitable status which relies on voluntary donations. With a staff of just 35 people, it has become most of the most widely used Internet sites in the world.
THE HISTORY OF WIKI
The idea of an on-line encyclopedia was first touted by Rick Gates in 1993. Wikipedia was launched on 15 Jan 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, created initially as a "feeder" for expert-written online encyclopedia "Nupedia", which it has since dwarfed in terms of popularity.
HOW ACCURATE IS WIKI
As a source of information, Wikipedia's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness; the fact that anyone can contribute. This obviously means that errors can and do occur, either deliberately or erroneously. Fortunately, wiki's massive user-base ensures that any such errors are quickly noticed and corrected.
An anonymous editor changing an article without justification is likely to be noticed very quickly and can be blocked from future editing.
As wiki's control mechanisms are reactive rather than preventative, care should be taken when treating the wiki word as gospel. For that reason, Wikipedia is an excellent starting place for research on virtually any topic, but all information should be verified for accuracy.
MY USE OF WIKI
My use of wikipedia verges on obsessive. I am a bit of an anorak when it comes to facts and am forever searching pages if I hear of a name, band-name or film I've never heard before. I also use it as a resource for researching reviews. Wikipedia is actually pretty difficult to avoid as, if you search for virtually anything on Google, a related wikipedia article will be one of the first pages you find.
Off the top of my head, a couple of my recent searches have included:
- The film "Slumdog Millionaire" mentions a cricketer by the name of Jack Hobbs. As something of a cricket fan, I was surprised I had never heard of him and so brought up his wiki entry. - After a session on the treadmill, I had a pain in my leg which I thought might be shinsplints. It wasn't, turns out I was just getting old!
It should be said, the amount of information on a particular subject varies greatly. Obviously the more popular a subject, the more information you're likely to find and the greater the level of accuracy as there will have been more checks.
Of course, if you're searching for a particularly obscure subject, you're only going to find any information if anyone could be bothered to write something in the first place. However, with over 3 million articles in the English wikipedia, there can't be many subjects left that haven't got an entry at all.
If it's really specialist information you're after, then you might be better off looking elsewhere. For example, if it's information about a film you're after, wiki can give you a great introduction but for more in-depth information, you would be better off looking at a specialist movie site like IMDb.com. Likewise, I would be reluctant to solely rely on the information when researching illnesses.
THE SITE ITSELF
I rarely use the wiki homepage, as I generally end up going direct to particular pages through Google. The reason for this is that the search engine isn't particularly good; if you spell a word wrong, it won't come up with logical alternatives like Google.
The front page is rather bland looking and uninspired. The search box is there and you can choose which language you want. There are also links to other wiki tools: Wiktionary Wikinews Wikiquote Wikibooks Wikispecies Wikisource Wikiversity Commons (media repository) Meta-wik (wikimedia project co-ordination)
The front page of the English wiki displays a featured article, short news articles (with links to related pages in the article), a "Did you know?" section, "On this day..." and a "featured picture".
Most of the features on the front page seem to be for random browsing whereas I would normally be looking for something in particular, so this is another reason I rarely enter the site via the homepage.
The pages themselves are normally clearly set out and divided into categories. For example, searching for the cartoon "South Park" (obviously a popular category!) and you'll find a whole load of information including the following: Details (country of origin, voices etc) Settings and characters Origin and Creation Guest Stars Criticism and controversy Political Impact Media and Merchandise This is just a small selection but shows you the vast range of information at your disposal.
At the bottom of the page, as at the bottom of every page, is a list of sources and notes and also relevant categories (eg Black comedy, Colorado, Satirical television programmes) and links to these wiki-pages.
Also, within each page are hundreds of links to other wiki-pages, meaning there is a huge amount of background reading you can do on any subject.
It is for this reason that you can find yourself reading about one subject and go on to a different entirely which is part of the appeal of wikipedia and the reason it is possible to spend so much time on it.
It is reckoned to be possible to go between any two pages on wikipedia just by clicking on links between them. Just to show you the variety of pages on offer, I picked two random subjects (cupcakes and Michelangelo) and tried to find the shortest route between them using links. This is what I came up with: Cupcakes - microwave oven - infrared - atomic - Isaac Newton - astronomer - Galileo - Pope John Paul II - Vatican city - Michelangelo
That gives you some idea of the range of information available.
As previously mentioned, Wikipedia is vulnerable to being vandalised by users, who have on occasion misused it for their own benefit. Some examples of extreme abuse include:
- The arbitration committee decided in 2009 to restrict access to its site from the Church of Scientology as well as "a host of anti-Scientologist editors" as both sides had resorted to "battlefield tactics" - Following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, a fake charity called QuakeAID attempted to promote itself on Wikipedia - In October 2005, Alan Mcilwraith was exposed as a fake war hero with a Wikipedia page
SUCCESSES: However, due to the countless checks that take place, the website has become an increasingly reliable source of information for everyone from school children to journalists. For example: - In 2007, Wikipedia was deemed fit to be used as a major source by the UK Intellectual Property Office in a Formula One trademark case ruling. - After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, Wiki's article was accessed 750,000 times in two days, with newspapers published local to the shootings stating that "Wikipedia has emerged as the clearinghouse for detailed information on the event."
Wikipedia is a fantastic resource which is great for finding out information for a wide variety of purposes, or just for browsing for something to do. With the Internet (and therefore wikipedia) now available on computers, laptops and even mobile phones, it is incredible to think of the amount of information that is now available to us.
The fact that so many people use it and the regular updating means that, as well as an encyclopaedia, it can also be used as a news resource, containing breaking stories as more information is revealed.
There are always going to be problems with a public-edited resource such as this; it will always be open to abuse and inaccuracies. As long as you verify the information if it is to be used for anything important (school coursework, to research illnesses etc), it is an excellent first resource for finding information.
Jimmy Wales, the organisation's founder, was quoted as saying: ""Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge". This is the aim of wikipedia and, for me, it is a very worthwhile attempt. To turn this non-profit making project into one of the top 5 browsed websites of all time is an incredible achievement.
Wikipedia will never be perfect, because it is not necessarily written by experts. Having said that, it should be pointed out that no resources on their own can be said to be 100% accurate and studies have shown that levels of accuracy are comparable to the Encyclopedia Britannica, which has in many cases been treated as gospel by generations. The advantage of wikipedia is that errors will generally be corrected before most users ever have chance to see them. In that way, the more people that use wiki, the more accurate it will become.
Articles are available as soon as they are written, before being reviewed independantly. Accuracy would be improved if they were checked first, but this would be a huge task and so, for the time being, wiki is probably best off continuing with the system it has at the moment.
It is also worth pointing out that there is also a site for children or adults who struggle with the English language: simple.wikipedia.org. I think this is a great idea as it makes this resource available to even more of the population.
Personally I love wikipedia and firmly believe it to be the greatest invention since sliced bread ("a loaf of bread which has been pre-sliced and packaged for convenience. It was first sold in 1928, advertised as "the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped." This led to the popular phrase, "the greatest thing since sliced bread"). This invaluable information, of course, comes from wiki. where would I be without it?!