Before the World Wide Web existed, there were encyclopedias for kids, students, teachers, parents and pretty much anyone looking for information, to go to find that information. But the Internet and the Web have changed almost everything about most of our lives – and finding information is no different. Today, Wikipedia is one of the most visited Websites in the World and will it turn 20 years old on January 15, 2021.
For millions of people, Wikipedia has changed how they learn, how they teach, how they parent, and, for some – how they “borrow” content for a school paper.
At its core, Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia, free to users, and supported by a non-profit foundation since its founding by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Wikipedia covers almost any topic you can imagine from Advarks and Abba, to the Zodiac and Zip Codes.
The content in Wikipedia is created in a collaborative manner, with the leadership of a large cadre of volunteer editors, who rely on an iterative process of posts and corrections, which is the simplest way to describe the nature of a “wiki” editing system. In the nomenclature of the Internet Industry, this is a “crowd-sourced” platform. Perhaps the best way to understand Wikipedia is to read about it…in Wikipedia!
Many teachers and professors have discouraged the use of Wikipedia, both due to plagiarism concerns as well as the questionable quality of some of the “facts” in Wikipedia. But other respected instructors think Wikipedia can be a good jumping off point for a student exploring a subject. For many people Wikipedia is the first stop when trying to learn something or settle an argument about a certain topic or fact. The coverage of Wikipedia is immense and is presented in over 300 languages
For frequently researched and discussed topics, Wikipedia is able to be highly reliable and accurate, because large numbers of readers and editors are constantly watching changes on Wikipedia articles and using the “wisdom of the crowd” to keep articles factual. As we have found with social media and other information outlets, the “truth” is often challenged, but it can also usually be verified. Wikipedia at 20 years old is an important information source for most people who are digitally connected.