Wikipedia is an open source encyclopedia, a website where anyone can write and post an article on any topic of their choice. The site has been a remarkable success, with thousands of amateur authorities weighing in on an infinite variety of topics. As of the summer of 2005, Wikipedia was home to nearly 850,000 articles in English alone, with many other entries in dozens of additional languages. They currently have over 1.3 million articles in English, 445,000 in German, 342,000 in French and lesser totals in many other languages, such as Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese. Wikipedia has become an international phenomenon.

For pedestrian research Wikipedia can be a remarkable resource. Search on wheat production in Kansas, and you’ll get seventeen articles that refer you to a commodities trading organization, a couple of agriculture publications, the Kansas Board of Trade and links to other sites that may or may not be related. If you don’t find what you want, chances are that a search on Kansas will get you their annual wheat production in a review of the state and its resources. For general information, Wikipedia has become a repository for an unmatched collection of resources. From quantum physics to cartoons, you’ll find something on virtually any topic.

The information provided there seems factual, precise and for the most part professionally presented. Wikipedia does employ a staff of article checkers, in order to eliminate the most egregious examples of self aggrandizing nonsense. Most articles are posted by registered users, which cuts down on the traffic from flamers. Contributors are also able to edit posted articles and contribute further knowledge they may have.

Wikipedia has suffered some growing pains recently in situations where it has become a resource for current events. For example, the entry on Enron’s Kenneth Lay had several erroneous entries about the circumstances of his death, as well as a few soapbox entries about the death of the Houston rip-off artist, etc. There have been other instances where edits have been made regarding breaking news that have been incorrect. Because Wikipedia has become such a widespread resource, the managers of the site and its founder, Jimmy Wales, have been criticized.

It is a legitimate question as to whether Wikipedia has a role in the business of newsgathering with its open source format. Management’s response has been that henceforth, there will be no more anonymous entries but that only registered users will be allowed to post on the site. But while the operators of Wikipedia wrestle with success, it is nevertheless a unique information resource – an encyclopedia drawn from the population at large.

The front page has featured articles and links to a number of sections. One provides tips to using the site, while another is a reference section designed to function as a library resource. There are a couple of community forums and news about new features on the site.

Sister projects include a Wiktionary – their dictionary and thesaurus service. Wikispecies is a biological database about the species found among flora and fauna. Wikisource is a free content library – a source of links to online content that has been made available at no cost. The family of Wiki services (Wikiwiki means “in a hurry” in Hawaiian) is a unique online service that owes its origin to the open-source, anarchic origins of the World Wide Web. Some intelligent fellow came along and found a way to present information in an organized fashion, provided by participants and at no cost – and to make a personal commercial success of it. That is the internet at its best.

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