Wikipedia is a Web-based encyclopedia that's easy to use. Simply typing wikipedia.org into your browser address bar directs you to the Wikipedia home page. Once you have found the page, you simply type a few words into the search box to direct you to the information you are interested in researching. You'll also notice during Web searches in your favorite search engine that Wikipedia pages often come up among the page options; in this case, you just click on the link.
All wikis work in a similar fashion because they are made up of a large number of interconnected Web pages. The idea behind wikis is that a community of users develops and maintains the pages, adding, updating and editing the content. Wikipedia's content is written by volunteers -- writers are not paid to contribute the entries. According to the site, "anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles (except in certain cases where editing is restricted to prevent disruption or vandalism)" [source: About Wikipedia]. Contributors can provide their names or add content anonymously. This open concept represents both what is fresh and good about the site and what can is problematic about it.
First, the good: Sometimes our peers are more trustworthy and it's great to be able to contribute to and control information instead of wondering if there is bias or selection in what's presented. Most of all, Wikipedia is accessible and free. Since it was begun in 2001, the site has grown into one of the most popular reference Web sites. According to Wikipedia, the site attracted 400 million unique visitors each month as of March 2011 [source: About Wikipedia]. The site also is current because of the live collaboration from so many eager contributors.
The site has its detractors and criticisms, however. Accuracy is an ongoing concern, with instances of vandalism in the past. For example, Abraham Lincoln was married to Brayson Kondracki instead of Mary Ann Todd in a past entry [source: Science Daily]. It's just an example of how someone researching a topic could repeat misleading information, opposed to that printed in carefully edited or peer-reviewed publications. The site has developed quality control tools and algorithms, but there is no guarantee that at any given time, a user will access a completely accurate page. Studies have shown, however, that the information is largely accurate, if poorly written. With no consistency of authorship or professional editing, some of the encyclopedia's entries are less clear than information found in other Web sites and print publications [source: Fletcher].
At the top of any Wikipedia page, registered users can find a set of tabs that allow them to perform several different functions. This includes editing information identified as incorrect -- from an informational mistake to a spelling error.
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