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How Does Wikipedia Work?

This week, Tech Talker explains how the website Wikipedia.org works—and why it might be a more accurate source of information than you once realized.

By
Eric Escobar,
June 4, 2015
Episode #175

I’m guessing that you’ve heard of Wikipedia before. In case you’re not familiar with Wikipedia, it's the world’s largest encyclopedia and not just that, but it has an unlimited number of authors because anyone can contribute to the entries. Before I go into the details of that, let me show you a little of how the website compares with the other top dogs of the internet.>

Wikipedia is the world’s 7th most viewed website on the Internet with 470 million views a month. And that statistic was from 2012, so by now it’s probably closer to half a billion views per month!

OK, so Wikipedia is a huge website. What makes it so incredible? Well, for starters there are less than 300 employees at the foundation that runs Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit that runs the Wikipedia.org website. Compare that to Amazon, which is the 6th most popular visited site and has over 150,000 employees!

Throughout high school and college, I was told over and over again that I wasn’t allowed to cite Wikipedia as a source. Although I am pretty certain most of my teachers and professors didn’t want us students to just take the easy way out and instead made us actually walk through library doors and find an old dusty book to cite some article from the 1960s, we were told that Wikipedia was an unreliable source because of the mere fact that anyone could contribute to it. But when you think about it, it’s really one of the most reliable sources.

There are subjects about everything from the Civil War to Taylor Swift. So, say there are 100 experts on the Civil War and they all contribute to a very long article; you are bound to get one of the most accurate pieces … better than any textbook in fact!

You may ask, “Well, what if I decide to add to the article? Me, who knows nothing about the Civil War, and I declare there is a general named SpongeBob SquarePants who lost in the battle of cotton candy paradise." What would prevent me from doing something like that?

Well, for every one person out there that likes to pull a General SpongeBob SquarePants stunt, there are about 100 experts that will contest your statement, and it will not be included in the article. Therefore, most articles are extremely accurate.

Yes, I realize just because a group of individuals decide what is truth doesn’t mean it is truth, but that could be said about any form of communication and information in this digital age. When someone does make a change, they are required to back it up with an article and/or link to a website that verifies the change, which gives them more credibility than just declaring the fact true, “because I said so."

Something that’s really nice about Wikipedia is that it operates on donations and volunteers, so there are no advertisements on its site. Unlike pretty much every other website out there, it gives your brain a break from all the sales pushers and lets your mind open up to a different kind of information push—focusing on the information you are there to see.

Another awesome thing about Wikipedia is that if you are somewhere without service and want to look something up, you can actually download all of Wikipedia for FREE as long you have 10 GB space on your hard drive.

That’s pretty cool when you think about it. I can look up Taylor Swift's birthday, her cats' names, and even their birthdays even when I’m out of WiFi and cell service … or if the world ends and there are only zombies around me. OK, I’ll stop now.

The foundation that created Wikipedia also created a free wiki software so you can make your own wiki. What does this mean? Say you want to make a “wiki” for your work at an architect firm. Anyone you give permission can contributem, such as other architects on the project. You can collaborate on projects by reviewing schedules, adding documents like blue prints, uploading timelines and calendars, and creating a full-functioning wiki that can be private or public depending on how you set it up.

This can be especially useful if you are on a limited budget and are working across the globe with different people or are on a separate time schedule. For more information check out www.mediawiki.org.

With all the information that is coming and going all the time on Wikipedia, it would be almost impossible to know what new information there was in an article. There is a link on each wiki site that you can click to show your recent changes to that specific article. So, if I wanted to look up Mark Wahlberg on Wikipedia, I could click the “Recent changes” button and see all that has been changed as of late. And let me tell you, all his facts are a “funky bunch”! Sorry, bad joke.

Ok, let’s go over our Quick and Dirty Tips for this week:

1.      Although Wikipedia has a bad reputation in the past for being an unreliable source, it is actually a really accurate source for information as long as the links are cross-referenced correctly.

2.      Wikipedia articles are easily accessed to be edited and pretty much anyone can edit them.

3.      Wikipedia is an advertisement-free zone, freeing up your mind to explore other information.

4.      You can download all of Wikipedia for free and it will only take of 10 GB of compressed space.

5.      You can make your own wiki and basically rule the world.

Well, that’s it for today! Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post them on Facebook.com/QDTtechtalker.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple! 

Wikipedia image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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