This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Electronic Highways

Published: April 7, 2005

Welcome to the Wikipedia concept

Wikipedia (http://en. may well become as familiar as Web smash hits Google, Amazon, Yahoo! and EBay. What is it? A free encyclopedia. A radical concept. A community. A source of consternation to traditional encyclopedia editors, academicians and reference librarians. Or, as stated on the main homepage, "Welcome to Wikipedia, the free-content encyclopedia that anyone can edit." Anyone can edit this encyclopedia? Yes, the Wikipedia is based on open-source, collaborative wiki (meaning "quick" in Hawaiian) software, which allows any of its visitors to either write an article or edit an existing article on the spot.

Although the Wikipedia concept seems almost reckless, it was founded with the admirable goal of creating and distributing "a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language." (See the entry on "Wikipedia" at http://en. Wikipedia, which was launched in 2001, now has 187 independent language editions, including approximately 1.3 million articles with more than 500,000 of these appearing in the English-language edition. While this represents far more articles than the venerable "Encyclopaedia Britannica," even Wikipedians (those who actively work on the project) acknowledge that many articles are mere "stubs," which include bits and pieces of articles waiting to be adopted and nurtured by, well, anyone.

The Wikipedia community is working diligently to minimize the pitfalls of developing an encyclopedia that anyone can contribute to and change. Vandalism, including deleting an article or inserting obscenities, does occur, but the wiki software enables Wikipedians to quickly restore the most recent revision. Vandalism doesn't stick because Wikipedians volunteer to put articles on "watch lists," which enables them to be notified as changes occur. In rare instances, an article has to be locked down. For example, it became simply impossible to keep George Bush's and John Kerry's photographs vandalism-free during last fall's election season.

While, the whole endeavor seems like the "wild west" of encyclopedia compilation, Wikipedians strive to make Wikipedia worth consulting for well-constructed, authoritative coverage on a vast range of topics. Writers willing to go through the Wikipedian "peer review" process can nominate their articles for "featured article" status. Reading a sampling of these "featured articles" is enough to intrigue Wikipedia skeptics:

A full listing of "featured articles" can be found at Less-polished, but fun Wikipedia articles you would not find in a "regular" encyclopedia can be accessed through the "unusual articles" page at Poke around Wikipedia long enough and you might become a Wikipedian yourself.

However, don't forget that the University Libraries Web site ( provides a number of authoritative online encyclopedias written by scholars and edited by "real" reference-book editors for the UB community. You can find these on our handpicked Web Reference Sources homepage at < strong> Just click on "encyclopedias."

—Gemma DeVinney, University Libraries