A Brief History
On January 15, 2001, the online encyclopedia known as Wikipedia went operational, giving Internet users a marvelous resource for casually looking things up.
Owned and operated by the non-profit Wikipedia Foundation, Wikipedia is the largest single reference site on the Internet and is of course the largest online encyclopedia. Created by Jimmy Wales (MA University of Alabama) and Larry Sanger (MA and PhD from The Ohio State University), and at first only offered in an English language version, Wikipedia is now available in 250 languages and has an incredible 40 million articles! With over 18 billion page views and 500 million new visitors a month, the monster online encyclopedia has become an Internet favorite. Despite warnings from academic types to be wary of the accuracy of Wikipedia articles, studies have shown that the accuracy of Wikipedia’s information is close to that of the esteemed Encyclopedia Britannica. Critics also claim articles can be somewhat slanted to the bias of the writer, which of course can be true of anything that is written, anywhere.
Wikipedia currently stands as the 5th most popular site on the Internet, worldwide. Originally content/articles could be provided by any reader that wanted to contribute, and any other reader could edit those articles. Problems with such an open forum resulted in modifications to this policy, and now only readers with a Wikipedia account can write and modify articles. Administrators now monitor articles that are prone to vandalization (apparently some people just have to be comedians!) and those articles that are highly contentious.
Wikipedia has a standard called “notability” as a pre-requisite for an article to be included. This standard means the subject must have enough common interest to the public to merit a place in the encyclopedia, and generally must have been covered in mainstream media or other public sources. Original research is not allowed and articles must have “reliable” sources. This standard is often a matter of disagreement, as “deletionists” attempt to get rid of articles they personally find not interesting or relevant, sometimes ignoring the interests of the greater public at large or specific groups of people. A frequent subject of this divisive opinion are articles about persons, and whether or not those persons that are the subject of the articles are noteworthy “enough” to merit an article. Obviously a matter of opinion, this controversy results in acrimonious debate among editors and contributors. Ultimately, an arbitration committee resolves such conflicts.
Although the academic world discourages students and researchers from using Wikipedia as a source, it is a wonderful resource for casual research of a personal nature. In fact, surveys find that physicians frequently look up medical conditions and questions on Wikipedia! Another controversy regarding Wikipedia is the inclusion of graphic images and topics including nudity and sex. The idea that children can easily access such information and imagery on Wikipedia fails to acknowledge that if the child is on the Internet in the first place, he or she would have easy access to such material anyway!
Question for students (and subscribers): Personally, the author of this article finds Wikipedia to be a wonderful and convenient source of information and a place to find of links to other sources. Do you use Wikipedia? What do you like and dislike about the premier online encyclopedia? Please share your thought with our readers in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
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The featured image in this article is used in an article intended for educational purposes per fair use.