Wikipedia is one of the most comprehensive sources on the internet. However, there’s a reason your teachers won’t let you use it as a citation. Although Wikipedia is a fantastic resource, specific characteristics should make you question the information you get there.
The popular platform functions much differently than other academic resources you may refer to when fact-checking your essay. Learning more about what Wikipedia is and how it works can help you understand how to make the most out of your experiences on it.
What is Wikipedia?
Wikipedia was created by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger all the way back in January 2001. The creators of the platform initially intended Wikipedia be used as a complementary project for an already existing English encyclopedia project known as Nupedia.
The Wikipedia of 2001 is a far cry from what we know today. Now, Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia available in over 320 languages. It is the most significant reference work in history and one of the most popular websites of all time.
You can learn about anything from complex cell biology and local historical events, to celebrities and geographic data. The site is notorious for guiding people through internet rabbit holes with oddly specific topics or urban legends. There’s even an enjoyable option to jump to a “random article” to read.
By far, one of the most notable characteristics of the platform is that it is entirely free. While there is a very subtle option to donate to the site, all content is available for any user without any membership or subscription. Even more surprising is that, even two decades later, you won’t even find ads on their page at all.
Who Writes Wikipedia?
If the site doesn’t really make money, you may wonder how they hire writers. But that’s just it–they don’t. Wikipedia doesn’t hire any writers and instead leaves the site open for volunteers to edit and add different articles for any topic. It’s a crowdsourcing effort to make a comprehensive encyclopedia for anyone to use.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that nobody makes money from writing on Wikipedia. For example, when someone wants a page added (specifically for commercial brands), they may hire a professional Wikipedia writer. But for the most part, though, writers edit the platform for free.
Most notably, Steven Pruitt is an incredibly influential Wikipedia contributor responsible for more than 34,000 articles and over 4 million edits. He did this entirely for free as to this community and considered it a hobby.
Does this mean that anyone can edit Wikipedia? To simply put it, yes. The site is open to anyone to edit pages, and it used to be much easier to change a page completely.
There are tons of viral legends where people claim to have added themselves to Wikipedia to get into concerts or trick people into thinking they were rich. While it is difficult to confirm these rumors, it is entirely possible to do.
Back in the day, you could do it for just about any page. It would not be uncommon for people to purposely edit pages to make jokes or try to “prove themselves” right in an argument.
How to Edit a Wikipedia Page
Editing a Wikipedia page is easy. Anyone is free to edit most pages, even without even registering with the site. Keep in mind. However, this doesn’t mean you can completely edit anonymously. The platform will note the IP address of unnamed editors.
Once you find the page, you simply scroll to the section you want to edit and click the “Edit” button.
Clicking this directs you to a text box. By default, it shows you the editing with source code; however, by clicking the small pencil in the upper-right corner, you can select the “visual editing” option, which may be more accessible.
Once your edits are complete, you can publish the edits. However, it is a good idea to note down what changes you made and add any sources. Otherwise, your edits won’t stay up long.
Is Wikipedia Quality-Checked?
Anyone is free to edit Wikipedia pages, for the most part. However, the edits don’t have to remain on the site. Wikipedia’s administrators meticulously scour the platform to double-check information.
The free platform wants to help a community, and they try to protect the site from people trying to vandalize pages or abuse editing privileges. Countless volunteers make sure to keep the information as accurate as possible.
Obvious false changes won’t last long, as people worldwide keep an eye out for any suspicious. But, of course, this is easier said than done, and there are a few things that occasionally go under the radar.
There are also some hilarious moments where editors genuinely disagree with each other and engage in “editing battles”, where nobody is necessarily wrong. Wikipedia takes a few measures to prevent malicious editors from destroying pages for the rest of the community.
While anyone may continue to access Wikipedia pages to view, problematic users may face the consequences for continued abuse. Even if you don’t use a registered account when making problematic edits, admins may ban an IP address from accessing editing features.
Some well-written, popular pages remain locked from random editors from destroying them. Examples of such locked topics range from non-fiction topics such as “sharks” and “The United States of America”, to popular fiction searches like “Batman” or “Star Wars.”
Wikipedia backs everything up. If someone decides they want to go in and delete all the text of a page, it is not permanently lost. Restoring old content is relatively easy. Additionally, while anyone can edit most pages, not everyone can delete them entirely.
So, Is Wikipedia a Reliable Source?
Wikipedia is an excellent resource that offers this generation the most comprehensive encyclopedia in history. While you can certainly learn a lot from the website, it’s still a good idea to take information with a grain of salt.
Even with dedicated and talented contributors, the nature of Wikipedia allows anyone to make content. Wikipedia offers a wealth of information, but consider double-checking content with another credible source before including it in your thesis or essay.
Every popular online service had to start somewhere. You might be surprised at what your favorite site used to look like.
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