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Wikipedia has changed the way we research

January 12, 2011 - Art Smith

Wikipedia, the online, free encyclopedia, turns 10 this week. For better or worse, the website has changed the way people do research.

To learn more about the site, I turned to — you guessed it — Wikipedia and the article contained on it about the site.

The site was launched in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sangers and is, according to the site, the largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet. The site contains 3.5 million articles in English. The site has numbers that every web manager in the world would envy. Extremely content rich, the site shows up very high on most search engines. Sites like Google help drive traffic to Wikipedia and help to make it the sixth most popular-site in the world. An astounding 431,000 sites also provide links to it. The article itself, which is very forthcoming about both the strength and weakness of the site, can be found here.

The site contains articles on literally millions of topics. Most of the topics can be edited by anyone using the site. This fact has brought the site under fire many times. The fact is, the site has benefited by so many people being able to correct and add things to the site.

There have been cases of people posting things that were untrue on the site. Others normally quickly correct the errors. The general public cannot edit some articles on the site, including biography pages on living people.

There have been several studies done on the accuracy of information on the site. Many of the studies have indicated articles on the site are just as accurate as more traditional sources, such as printed encyclopedias.

Teacher at all level tend to discourage students from using the source. Most articles on the site contain the sources used, a great start for any research. The articles themselves provide a great way to get an overview of the subject.

Instead of discouraging students to use it, I think a better exercise would be to get them to not only use it, but to add to it. Give extra credit for instance, for fixing an error of fact, get more extra credit for writing and posting an article to the site.

I’ve added to the site several times; posting links to newspapers our company operates on the pages for communities where the papers are located.

The site has leveled out a bit in terms of the number of articles that are on the site. Anyone with knowledge about their little corner of the world can add to one of the world’s largest collaborative effort simply by writing what they know about the park, school, monument, river, street, neighborhood, organization or company that is part of their life.

Adding to the site will not only make the resource better for everyone, it will also help promote causes that you believe in.


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