Posted on January 15, 2014
I can just imagine someone hatching this idea:
“I know! Instead of having an expert in birds' eggs write an encyclopedia article about birds' eggs, and an expert on dinosaur fossils write about that, and so on, and then having an expert in editing correct the spelling and grammar of all the articles—instead of all those experts, who will want to be paid, let's let anyone at all write and edit articles! And we'll save money, because we won't pay the writers or editors! So all of these articles can be online, and people can read them for free! Great idea, huh? What could possible go wrong?”
I bet a lot of people thought that the idea behind Wikipedia was nuts. I bet some people thought that nobody would bother to write or edit articles. I mean, why would they go through that effort, if they weren't being paid? I bet that some people thought that the articles would be written badly, with tons of misspellings, and that they would be full of misinformation and bias and bad language and silliness.
But the naysayers were wrong. It turns out that Wikipedia, which was started on this date in 2001, works really well!
Volunteers worldwide have written 30 million articles in 287 languages. There are more than 4.4 million articles in the English Wikipedia alone! Wikipedia is now the Internet's largest and most popular reference work, and it is the sixth most popular website of any kind. It can even be considered a news source, because articles are so rapidly updated when there is breaking news.
One time I was watching the CBS crime show The Mentalist, and a show ended with someone whispering a few words. But my husband and I couldn't understand the words he said! My husband rewound a few seconds to listen to the words again and again, but he still couldn't understand them. In the meantime, I had jumped online, found the Wikipedia article about The Mentalist, and was able to report, “He said 'Tyger, tyger'!”
My husband was astonished that the Wikipedia article already reflected the end of an episode that had just finished airing a few minutes ago! But several times since then I have found articles on Wikipedia about earthquakes and other just-now-happened events. These articles have been, in my experience, easier to find and more accurate than articles from other online news sources.
Another thing I like about Wikipedia is that, because there are SOOO many articles, I can find out about obscure things such as Celtic mythology, popular culture and geek culture such as the pro tour of Magic: the Gathering, and even local things such as a popular shopping center.
But...is Wikipedia accurate?
Several studies have found that Wikipedia is as reliable or, in some cases, more reliable than print encyclopedias—even the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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