The collaborative online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, has revolutionized the way many people gather, record, and research—changing the way we share, examine, and look at information—both on and off-line. At its surface, Wikipedia may look like an online version of World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica. Upon a closer examination, you will find that Wikipedia has no authors on staff. Instead, entries in this encyclopedia are written by Wikipedia’s readers. By clicking the “edit this page” link, anyone with an Internet connection can add to the entry – experts, enthusiasts, and even novices. The beauty of this system is that everyone can help the information grow – and articles benefit from the experiences, knowledge, and perspectives of millions of people worldwide. Of course, with this possibility does come a downside. Without formal authors or validation processes, it’s sometimes difficult to ensure the information contained within the articles is correct. Because of this, author biases and Wikipedia “vandalism” can be found in some entries.
Still, Wikipedia has an impressive store of information – most of it carefully cited and verified by its authors and editors. The English language version of Wikipedia has over two million topics, making it one of the most comprehensive encyclopedias on the planet, and the opinions represented show more than just the views of one editor or writer but rather, a compilation of many. This has tremendous implications for the way factual information is gathered but also the way we think about controversial issues, as readers gain from varied voices and opinions expressed. While Wikipedia may not make for official scholarly research, it’s an amazing example of the power created by a global community of researchers, writers, and knowledge workers.
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