The Web’s Encyclopedia – Wikipedia

I’m going to write a little about the Wikipedia. If you would have told me about this idea, I would have said (without hesitation) it would never work! Wikipedia is the free-content encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

It’s just too strange. Anyone, without even signing in or giving their name, can add or edit any article of the over 500,000 articles. I know because I just added something to an article about Grover Cleveland.

Wikipedia currently has 517864 articles.

That number excludes discussion pages, image description pages, user profile pages, templates, help pages, articles without links to other articles, and pages about Wikipedia. Including these, we have 1465956 pages.

Users have made 13331279 edits since July 2002; an average of 9.09 edits per page.

In my last blog entry I cited Wikipedia’s article on Cleveland. After re-reading the Wikipedia entry, I realized there was one fact that was deficient.

Grover Cleveland lost an election with a majority of the popular vote. Wikipedia said that also happened to Al Gore. That’s true, but it also happened to Samuel Tilden in 1876 – one of the dirtiest, most questionable elections in U.S. history.

I went to Wikipedia, found the article, hit edit and -bing- it’s corrected.

The Cleveland article has been expanded and edited dozens of times since its original 13 word submission in 2001. I know because every change is documented and it’s possible to easily compare two versions of the same entry.

Here’s the weird part. The more I look at Wikipedia, the better its ‘research’ seems. Certainly there’s an inherent bias whenever any person writes. I would venture to guess the Al Gore comment came from a disgruntled Democrat.

Over the long run, with Wikipedia It makes little difference, as bias and errors seem to be quickly corrected. After all, I fixed the Cleveland article (which wasn’t wrong, just incomplete).

The Wikipedia community exhorts users to be bold in updating articles. Wikis develop faster when people fix problems, correct grammar, add facts, make sure the language is precise, and so on. It’s okay. It’s what everyone expects. Instead of asking, “Why aren’t these pages copyedited?”, you should fix the problems you see yourself. It does require some amount of politeness, but it works. You’ll see.

If someone writes an inferior, merely humorous article, article stub, or outright patent nonsense, don’t worry about their feelings. Correct it, add to it, and, if it’s a total waste of time, replace it with brilliant prose (and relegate the deletions to bad jokes and other deleted nonsense or the corresponding talk page). That’s the nature of a Wiki.

Try it yourself. Pick a subject you know and see how Wikipedia does. If it’s a good article, you’ll be hooked, as I am. If it’s bad, you can go away or fix it. I’m guessing you’ll be hooked.

All of this would be so much easier to explain if the name wasn’t so… well, if it wasn’t so ridiculous sounding. Wikipedia! Come on. Who thought of that?

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