Have you ever gone to an encyclopedia to look up some obscure bit of information only to find that the entry lacks any more information than what you already know?
Or worse, contains no information on what you are looking up at all?
Have you ever wanted to contribute some of your own "expert knowledge" to some encyclopedia entry to bring the article up to the level you think would be most helpful to other people? Well, thanks to Wikipedia, now you can.
Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) is an online encyclopedia boasting more than four million articles, all editable by its readers.
For a size comparison, the Encyclopedia Britannica has approximately 85,000 entries and Encarta has approximately 63,000 entries. And none of them are changeable.
So, what does "Wikipedia" mean anyway?
Well, it's kind of a funny word. It's a combination of the word "wiki" (which is an editable form of website) and the last part of the word encyclopedia. In essence it's an editable encyclopedia.
The project has grown since its inception in 2001, with more articles posted every day. The beauty of it is the ability to contribute to any article by any reader, so the content of the project grows by leaps and bounds.
When I first stumbled upon the site, I didn't give it much thought; it was interesting and had some good information on what I was looking for (I found the site during a regular Google search on some topic) but the power of what I was looking at didn't appear to me at the time.
Then, over time, I started to realize that more and more of the searches I would do on Google (or other search engines) were returning results from Wikipedia.
Overall, I found the information returned to be relevant, until one day I found an article that I thought needed a little clarification. After looking at the page for a bit, I found the edit button and read the FAQs (frequently asked questions) on editing a page. Within minutes I was adding my thoughts to that particular entry. Now the article contained the information that it was lacking. For the first time, I had actually contributed to an encyclopedia entry!
OK, I know what you are thinking, "How could an encyclopedia that is edited and modified by any reader possibly be accurate?"
Well, there are some basic rules that appear to be broken here; so what's stopping pranksters or just plain ignorant people from posting information on this site that is completely bogus?
Just because you read something on the Internet doesn't necessarily make it true. That's always important to keep in mind when surfing the Web.
Well, if you browse the site's FAQs, you will find that they have indeed addressed much of the criticism people have posed regarding the site's validity, and it seems that the checks and balances they have in place to prevent such inaccurate entries again relies on the users themselves. Each edit or new entry gets immediately posted to the "recent changes" page where thousands of Wikipedia devotees proofread and verify all new entries. So, if someone posts a bogus entry, it's corrected rapidly, usually the same day.
How does one go about using Wikipedia? Well, you can go in through the front door by typing www.wikipedia.org into your Web browser and then clicking the English link (or whatever language you are most comfortable with). This will bring you to the main page, which changes daily, where you will find some trivia, some random subjects and some news articles from various sources.
On the left-and side of the page, you will see a series of links, and at the top left of the page there is a search dialogue box. Type in whatever you are looking for, click search and that instantly brings you to the most relevant match.
If the results are not what you are looking for, look for a link labeled "other uses." This will bring you to a page that lists all the matched results, rather than the one match that it thinks is most relevant.
After reading up on whatever you are looking for, if you feel you have something to contribute, click the "edit this page" link and have at it. If you have trouble figuring out how to edit the page, click the "editing help" link and learn how.
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (888) 752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).