Happy Birthday Wikipedia!

I love Wikipedia. It’s one of those sites – along with YouTube and AskMen – that I could spend hours on. And often do. So thank you, Wikipedia, and happy 10th birthday! But birthdays can be times for reflection and questions. Is it too complicated for many to use? How much can you really learn from it in one hour?

My view is that you have to evaluate something in terms of what it is rather than what it is not. You don’t blame a pot noodle because it can’t blow up a tank. That is not its purpose; it was designed for another task, namely, to give you the illusion of imbibing nutrition while still leaving you starving.

And so it is with Wikipedia. Many people blame it for things that it is not supposed to achieve. It is not made to provide academic-quality articles with deep-level analysis.

OK, so sometimes the odd blooper gets in. This makes me laugh with Wikipedia and laugh at the pretensions of those encyclopedias who imagine that it doesn’t happen to them. OK, so sometimes the information is a little shallow. Hey folks, its a website we’re talking about here! This is the nature of everything on the Internet. Suck it up.

So what is Wikipedia good for? Well, here are the multiple uses I get out of it.

Launch-padding: By this I mean, starting out on a journey to research a topic of interest. Wikipedia is great for giving you the lay of the land. Then its helpful “references” give you some idea as to where to go next, as well as sections with “further reading”, “external links”, and complete topic overviews.

Dot-connecting: With a standard, paper-bound encyclopedia, the end of each article might contain a “see also” section. So does Wikipedia. But it also contains hyperlinks throughout the article itself. This not only highlights special points for attention, but also provides with you the opportunity to explore a little wider before returning.

Peer-viewing: Wikipedia is not exclusively written or peer-reviewed by ‘experts’ i.e. professional academics. That’s fine by me. It means that the articles are written by people like me – informed, interested, and involved. Therefore, through reading the articles, I’m able to get a sense of the word on the street about the topic. While I wouldn’t claim that this is scientific trend-analysis, it’s certainly a part of it, and useful even for smart market-research.

Hole-spotting: Sometimes what is excluded is as interesting to me as what is included. People or things that don’t have an article, or much of an article, suggest to me either: (a) I’ve gotten their importance totally wrong, or; (b) I’m on the cutting-edge to the extent that other’s haven’t noticed it yet. Usually its (a)…

Total-learning: Sure, I can read some words in the Wikipedia article. But I can also gaze at – and expand! – pictures, diagrams and other images. I can ask questions or get involved in discussions. I can listen to word pronunciations, music and sounds from nature. I can watch videos. I can do everything except smell Jimmy Wales‘ cologne.

Are you addicted to Wikipedia? Apparently some are. They are called wikiholics. They have their own Facebook page. Are you one of them? Take a test here.

I would take the test but I’m too busy reading an article that links German nihilism with Lex Luthor.

Information just doesn’t come sweeter than that…

Image credit: jimbo_wales.