In this entry I discuss the joys and pains of that free online user generated encyclopedia, Wikipedia. If you haven’t used Wikipedia chances are you have at least heard of it. This web-based social software has come under heavy scrutiny in the media over the last several years. Perhaps most recently, was the incident of a wikipedia editor whose PhD credentials turned out to be a scam. You can read about that controversy in the New York Times and Wired News. There are strong advocates and equally strong nay sayers of this social project. I’ll clear the air now and say I’m a big fan of Wikipedia. Its an excellent resource and if you continue reading you’ll find out why.
First the low down on what exactly it is:
Wikipedia is an online searchable encyclopedia of the whole of human knowledge - or at least it tries to be. Articles in Wikipedia are written completely by volunteers. Who knows, maybe your neighbour writes articles for Wikipedia. You could write for them too.
Already you are thinking - “hold on! Anyone can write articles!?” Doesn’t that lead to multiple errors and nothing but someone’s opinions not the facts or a balanced article at least. Thankfully, there are several systems of checks and balances in Wikipedia. You may write an article but there is a volunteer moderating what you’ve written and it can be edited for content as well as punctuation.
It must be pointed out that Wikipedia strictly enforces several rules. 1) articles appearing on the site should be based on secondary research - this isn’t a place for opinions or primary research. 2) Articles should cite their sources.
There is a strong and loyal community of Wikipedia users who are surprisingly dedicated to the quality of the content that appears there. Yes you may find mistakes, errors, or just plain bad writing in Wikipedia but thats the nature of the beast. This incredible social project relies on people like you to find and point out the mistakes in Wikipedia.
According to Wikipedia:
There are over 75,000 active contributors working on more than 5,300,000articles in more than 100 languages. As of today, there are 1,698,213 articles in English; every day hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world make tens of thousands of edits and create thousands of new articles to enhance the amount of knowledge held by the Wikipedia encyclopedia. Visitors do not need any specialised qualifications to contribute, since their primary role is to write articles that cover already-existing knowledge, and people of all ages therefore can write Wikipedia articles.
Excellent uses for Wikipedia:
- A primer on subjects of interest
- As a starting point for further research (usually full of links to other webpages, documents etc.)
- A place to find answers to those ready reference - factual questions
- A starting point for information on obscure topics
A few uses not recommended:
- Citing Wikipedia as a source for your PhD. Dissertation - unless of course Wikipedia is the topic (Don’t cite it as a source for college papers)
- Medical, legal or other sensitive information
*You can begin with Wikipedia just don’t end with it*
If you are still interested in learning more about Wikipedia - I haven’t bored you to tears - visit their about page.
We’ll call this step one in our introduction to Wiki’s - so please if you have 10 minutes - explore Wikipedia. NLLS is looking at using Wiki software to host our procedure manual and other documents.