Wikipedia - A Collaborative, Multilingual Encyclopedia

Wikipedia is an ambitious project to produce a free and complete encyclopedia in every language, written by hundreds of volunteers working collaboratively together.

Wikipedia began in January 2001, and already features nearly 100,000 articles in the English version, with more being added and improved all the time.

Much like the Open Directory Project uses volunteers to build and maintain its catalog of web pages, Wikipedia encourages participation from the web community. Unlike the ODP, however, Wikipedia is a truly open community. Anyone, including you, can edit any article right now, without even having to log in.

Wikipedia's goal is to create the largest encyclopedia in history, both in terms of breadth and depth. Wikipedia's founders also want Wikipedia to become a reliable resource.

These goals may seem contradictory, given the open nature of the project. What's to prevent pranksters or hackers from mucking up the system?

Technically, nothing, though a link to a complete log of recent changes is prominently displayed on every page. And given the quasi-scholarly nature of the project, the Wikipedia community seems to be fairly capable of policing itself and eliminating bogus information over time.

That said, noted searchers Genie Tyburski and Gary Price have issued warnings about the validity (or lack thereof) of information published in Wikipedia. While their admonitions have merit, I can't resist a bit of good-natured chiding of my esteemed colleagues. After all, many of today's "authoritative" reference works started out as essentially volunteer efforts.

For example, the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica was started by Scotsmen Colin Macfarquhar, a printer, and Andrew Bell, an engraver, who decided to "create an encyclopedia that would serve the new era of scholarship and enlightenment." They formed a "Society of Gentlemen" to publish their new reference work.

Other "open source" projects have undisputed merit -- such as the Linux operating system (sold by IBM and HP on their mainframe systems), AOL's Open Directory Project, which is prominently featured as directory results on just about every major search engines, and so on.

While I certainly wouldn't use information from Wikipedia for crucial purposes, my informal, unscientific sampling of its articles found a high level accuracy of information.

Whether Wikipedia achieves its ambitious goals remains to be seen. For now, it's an interesting alternative to traditional encyclopedias, some of which are only available online for a fee.


Wikipedia Overview FAQ

Search Engine Forums Spotlight

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Search Engine Forums Spotlight courtesy Search Engine Guide.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.