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From the Actrix Online Informer August 2012

Wonderful Wikipedia

by Rob Zorn

Where would you go if you wanted to find out the average size of an ostrich egg, or how many times Brazil has won the World Cup, or what the pancreas does?

Nowadays, rather than going to the garage and unboxing all 32 dusty volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica, most people turn to Wikipedia, the free internet encyclopaedia.

The name Wikipedia is a portmanteau of wiki (a type of collaborative website, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning "quick") and encyclopaedia. Currently Wikipedia has more than 22 million articles, is available in 285 different languages and is managed by volunteers all over the world. The English version alone has more than 3.9 million articles, a word-length fifteen times that of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and has more than 100,000 regular contributors. Wikipedia is the sixth most popular site on the internet, receiving 2.7 billion monthly page views from the United States alone.

Jimmy Wales, the man credited with founding Wikipedia, said his vision was to create "a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge."

What makes Wikipedia interesting is that it's open sourced, which is why some people are not such big fans of the site. Being open sourced means anyone can contribute to it, anyone can create a new page and anyone can edit it. And Wikipedia haters say this is where the site loses its credibility. If anyone can edit and change information, there's no guarantee that anything on the site is factually accurate at any given time.

This is a fair point. I had a friend who was arguing with his wife about the recipe for authentic guacamole. He was adamant it had lemon juice in it, but she argued it didn't. He looked it up on the internet and discovered he was wrong, but rather than admitting that to his wife, he edited the Wikipedia page for guacamole to say lemon juice was an essential ingredient. She still thinks she lost.

What my friend committed is known as Wikipedia vandalism, and it happens a lot. Generally there are no restrictions on editing pages. Some pages are protected and can only be edited by members, but the vast majority are sitting there unprotected.

However, the majority of pages are closely monitored, and studies have shown Wikipedia vandalism is not long lasting, and in most instances, is fixed within a few hours. My friend in the guacamole argument checked the next day to undo his crime, but found someone had already deleted his edit.

Furthermore, in 2005 Nature magazine ran an investigation to compare Wikipedia with the online Encyclopaedia Britannica. The results showed that Wikipedia came very close to the same level of accuracy as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and that they both shared a similar rate of errors.

Other critics of the site have questioned the quality of the writing. They argue that everyone who writes on a subject must have an opinion or bias which will affect the information they include on the page. Furthermore, people will write about what they know, so subjects related to popular culture will receive far more attention than lesser known subjects.

While many see this as a shortfall, others consider this the beauty of Wikipedia. Wikipedia's purpose is not to be just another encyclopaedia, but rather to reflect the general knowledge of internet users at the time. So while hundreds of people may have edited Lady Gaga's or Johnny Depp's Wikipedia page and included their own opinions and biases in doing so, the fact so many people from different walks of life are involved means it all gets balanced out. All the different opinions are represented, and the end result is one that reflects them all.

Interesting pages

Along with all the pages you'd expect to be included on Wikipedia, there are some pages that'll have you scratching your head, wondering why anyone would ever put any time into writing such a ridiculously irrelevant article or list.

These include pages dedicated to:

 

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