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Wikipedia is one of the most famous sites on the Internet. The world’s favorite encyclopedia The Origins of Wikipedia: How It Came To Be [Geek History Lesson] The Origins of Wikipedia: How It Came To Be [Geek History Lesson] Read More  made a humble beginning in 2001. Today, it’s informative, as well as controversial, and having a page there is highly sought after. It’s quite simply the Encyclopedia Britannica on steroids, covering every conceivable subject.

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia in which anybody can start a page, or edit one, on any subject. The page is then examined by an editor who decides whether or not the page stays.

The site is currently available in many languages, so you don’t have to speak English to use the site. It is one of the most frequently accessed sites — normally when you search for something on Google, the Wikipedia page is quite often the first page in the search results.

With that, let’s dive into the crowdsourced wonder of Wikipedia and start exploring many of its wondrous facets…

Wikipedia

The Pros And Cons Of Crowd-Sourced Content

The Wikipedia model has a lot going for it, but at the same time, as with anything in life, there are also negatives.

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So what are the advantages of using crowd-sourced content for a site?

  • A lot of information gets added in a short space of time
  • You get a wide variety of subjects on the site, some of which are eclectic.
  • If someone spots an error, they can quickly change it.
  • You get a lot of different angles to a subject.

And the disadvantages of using crowd-sourced content for a site?

  • If a lot of information gets added in a short space of time, it is easy to slip in misinformation and slander. It may be some time before it is noticed.
  • It is easy to start fights over new articles. Especially if a Wikipedia editor decides it has to go, and the contributor feels slighted.
  • Anyone, especially people who are not eligible for a Wikipedia page, make one anyway, in the hopes it won’t be noticed.
  • A person who has a page — a politician, a celebrity, etc. — quite often makes an anonymous account, to remove anything unfavourable; rewrite parts to make them look good; make their qualifications look better, and so forth. Quite a few politicians have been caught doing this. @CongressEdits is a Twitter bot that tweets anonymous edits made to Wikipedia from IP addresses in the US Congress.
  • It is a good thing if an error is spotted and fixed immediately. But not if someone disputes the change and begin arguing about it.
  • Finally, pages get vandalised. Some sites consider this amusing, and Wikipedia actually has a page on the most vandalised pages.

The Wiki Software That Powers Wikipedia

MediaWiki

So you may be wondering by now what fearsome monster can handle such a site as Wikipedia.  The answer is MediaWiki, which is a free open-source software. This means that you can also have your own Wikipedia if you want. Just don’t call it “Wikipedia”! The “download” button is on the MediaWiki page.

Browsing Wikipedia From The Front Page

Wikipedia-Front Page

At first glance, Wikipedia can be a bit overwhelming. The front page gives you a lot to look at, LOTS of links, and if it’s your first time, you may be wondering where to go, and how to maximise the features they offer. That’s where we come in to help you.

The good thing is that the site hasn’t varied its design. It’s the same as it’s always been. It always has a featured article, which highlights a particular page. It could concern something well-known, or it could be something obscure that nobody had any idea about.

Wikipedia Did You Know

The Did You Know section will appeal to trivia lovers. Now you can look at the section every day and next time you’re at a party, you can enthrall them with the fact that lettuce soup is usually served poured atop thin slices of lightly toasted French bread.

Wikipedia-News

The In The News section tells you what’s been happening in the world, and at the same time, setting up pages for notable people and events, connected with the news reporting.

It has been suggested that the Current Events page on Wikipedia is probably the best news source to refer to on a daily basis. Most news websites have their own agenda and bias, whether it’s liberal or conservative, therefore most people live in a “goldfish bowl” when it comes to news. On the other hand, Wikipedia is meant to be neutral, therefore you are more likely to get an unbiased view of news events.

Wikipedia-Current Events

As you read, articles have links to people, places, and events in connection with what you are reading. This is invaluable for gaining background knowledge so you can get the “bigger picture”.

What’s even better about Wikipedia as your daily news source is that breaking news is constantly updated by contributors and checked by editors. Unlike Twitter which is full of unverified “facts”, anything clearly false on Wikipedia is quickly removed. If you move further down the page, you will find older news, which is good if a news event is stretching over several days.

Wikipedia-Trending-News

The On This Day section is fairly self-explanatory. It tells you what happened today in the past. This is good if it’s your birthday and you want to know if something notable happened on the day you were born (apart from you being born of course).

And of course the other notable feature is the search engine, to help you find what you are looking for.

Changing Skins

As previously stated, the Wikipedia design has barely changed in the 13 years it’s been operational. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any other possible views available. Wikipedia has a list of designs, both operational and non-operational. Two of them are QuickiWiki and WikiWand (available as a top-rated Chrome extension).

Wikiwand

There is also a mobile version of the page, which renders the page beautifully for phone screens. And if you want to get really minimalist, you can have pages without links, or links only. It seems that Wikipedia has thought of every conceivable possibility.

Smartphone & Tablet Apps

Wikipedia-iOS App

Due to the portable nature of smartphones and tablets, having optimized versions of Wikipedia on those devices is extremely useful. The iOS app is quite fast; you can read pages offline; and the entire app is 100% open-source. The app is also available for Android phones, which is completely the same as its iOS counterpart.

If you want to view Wikipedia in another format – and you are an iOS owner – Das Referenz is a recommended free app.

Searching Wikipedia

As with any good search engine, there are tips and tricks to finding what you want, and also being presented with gems that you didn’t even know existed. You just need to know the correct “wildcards”.

Two of the most basic ones (if you use Google frequently, you’ll be familiar with them) are the double quotes. Star Wars movie 2015 searches for that exact phrase. Using hyphens: Star Wars movie -2015 will give you Star Wars results but not about the 2015 movie.

Place an asterisk in front of the search query * Star Wars 2015 and it will give you EVERYTHING it finds about the upcoming movie.  The asterisk is another way of saying “give me everything Wikipedia!”. Unless you have a lot of time to sift through the results, the asterisk wildcard may not be desirable always.

Now what if you are unsure of the spelling of the term you are looking for? This is where a tilde comes into play ( ~ ). Place that symbol in front of what you think is the correct spelling and Wikipedia will bring back results of what it thinks you are talking about.

Improve your search mastery with this list of Wikipedia search tips and tricks.

Spoken Wikipedia

And in a nod to those who are hard of hearing, or who just like to listen to material in an audio format, we have Spoken Wikipedia. This is an ongoing project where anyone can speak an article, and have it uploaded to the site.

Wikipedia-Spoken-Project

The problem though is that Wikipedia, by its very nature, is constantly changing. Edits here, huge deletions there, new information added everywhere. Therefore, if you are going to dictate a big article, it is best to do it in one sitting. And keep hitting the refresh key to see if the article has been changed during your stirring oratory.

Plus, it goes without saying that you can’t follow links in an audio version. So you lose some part of the hyperlinked “Wikipedia Experience”.

But as this list shows you, there are many advantages to using Spoken Wikipedia.

Go to the official Spoken Wikipedia page before starting. There are a list of rules you must follow at all times.

Wikipedia In Other Languages

One feature which you may not be aware of, is where a page has an equivalent page in a different language. These come from that language’s own Wikipedia site.

Why is it useful to study the foreign language version of the page you’re reading? Well, think of it this way. Just as the English Wikipedia has contributors donating their time and knowledge, so has all the other Wikipedia sites. And all of those contributors will have written the article differently, with varying viewpoints. In other words, you may get a lot more information on the subject studying a foreign version of a page.

You will find all of these languages on the left of the article page.

Wikipedia Languages

But unless you are a superior polyglot, you are going to need help reading those foreign pages. That’s where Google Translate comes in. Open the page in the Google Chrome browser, and you will be asked at the top of the page if you would like the page translated. Say “translate” and you’re in business.

Some Wikipedia Controversies To Be Aware Of

When you have a collaborative project like Wikipedia, the advantages can be numerous. However, collaboration can be a double-edged sword. It can also have its bad side. Give everyone editing privileges on one of the largest sites on the Internet and you are inviting trouble. Luckily there are well-tested mechanisms in place to quickly deal with it, along with some very useful anti-vandalism tools.

Who Owns Wikipedia Content?

All text on Wikipedia is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License (CC-BY-SA), and in most cases, also the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). According to its Wikipedia page (where else?!), the license means :

…giving readers the rights to copy, redistribute, and modify a work and requires all copies and derivatives to be available under the same license. Copies may also be sold commercially, but, if produced in larger quantities (greater than 100), the original document or source code must be made available to the work’s recipient.

Copyleft

Everything is copyrighted by default, even if it does not say that explicitly. However, Wikipedia’s content are co-licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA) and the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). That obviously creates a conflict – Wikipedia calls it copyleft.

What is copyleft?  According to the Wikipedia page :

Wikipedia articles can be copied and modified by anyone, but there’s a catch: All modifications have to be made available under the same conditions, and credit has to be given to the original authors. However, when editing Wikipedia, please only add content which you have created, or which you have been permitted to use under the terms of the licenses mentioned above. Otherwise, it will be removed.

There are some simple guidelines to using Wikipedia content elsewhere. Do get familiar with them.

Wikipedia Vandalism

Wikipedia vandalism

Being a crowd-sourced operation, it is only natural for some people to want to vandalise the site, for reasons only known to themselves. This is an ongoing serious problem with thousands of vandalisms every day. However, Wikipedia has had the foresight to set up an army of volunteers called the Counter-Vandalism Unit, which corrects a lot of the vandalisms very quickly.

However, there could be a dispute over whether an edit is actually a vandalism. Someone could make a first-time edit and accidentally mess it up. An edit could be disputed and described as a vandalism when it isn’t. So it isn’t always clear-cut.

Wikipedia Hoaxes — “Facts” That Got Spread Around The Internet

Wikipedia Hoaxes

Hoaxes on Wikipedia are regular occurrences. Something false is deliberately inserted on the page, which is not considered libelous, vandalism or a factual error. Some of these hoaxes become high profile and make it into the media.

Wikipedia has compiled, and is continuing to compile, a list of hoaxes which have been discovered on Wikipedia. The page however points out that there could be other hoaxes on the site which have not been discovered yet.

Some of the hoaxes include non-existent murders, murdered Soviet defectors, the supposed assassin of Julius Caesar, fictitious machine guns, and a fictitious organization of Nazi trombonists.

Contributing To Wikipedia

There are two types of Wikipedia users – the lurkers (the readers who don’t contribute), and the people who do contribute. Now, being a lurker is not a bad thing at all (I am mostly like that myself), but if you have expert knowledge in any subjects, then it would be a tragedy if you did not share that knowledge with others.

To Register Or Not?

If you do not plan to contribute and just want to continue as a lurker, then registering an account is probably not worth it. And you can rest assured that the full resources of Wikipedia will still be there for you.

But if you plan to be a contributor, then an account is necessary. It is the way in which your changes are tracked and how the editors communicate with you if necessary.

One very big advantage of registering and using your own account is that you can make a considerable number of customizations to how you see and use Wikipedia. You can also participate in any beta trials for the experimental features currently being tried out.

Wikipedia register
Registration is a straight-forward affair. Go to the top of the Wikipedia page and you will see a link for registering and logging in. Fill out the form and when Wikipedia is satisfied with your responses, and your email has been confirmed, then you’re in. Nothing to it.

The Five Pillars

Wikipedia 5 Pillars

Before you begin to consider editing or starting a page, you need to bear in mind Wikipedia’s “Five Pillars“. These are five objectives that “defines Wikipedia’s character”. I think the first one sums up Wikipedia perfectly.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia: It combines many features of general and specialized encyclopedias, almanacs, and gazetteers. Wikipedia is not a soapbox, an advertising platform, a vanity press, an experiment in anarchy or democracy, an indiscriminate collection of information, or a web directory. It is not a dictionary, a newspaper, or a collection of source documents.

How To Edit A Page

Once you have your user account all set up and logged in, then making your first Wikipedia page is very easy. Here are the steps you need to take. Please bear in mind before you start, that acceptance of your page by Wikipedia editors is not guaranteed. So always keep a backup of all your work and be prepared for your page to either be deleted or edited.

With that out of the way, let’s start our new page about the beautiful fictitious country of Bakabakastan.

How To Start Your Own Page

First of all, use the search engine on the front page to see if the exact subject that you want to write about has already been covered. Obviously duplicate pages on the same subject is not allowed. If your chosen subject either has its own page or is a sub-section of another page, then you will be invited to write / edit those instead.

Search Wikipedia

As a first time user, it is probably a good idea if you write the article in your sandbox. You can find the link to your sandbox at the top of the page.

The official Wikipedia video explains what a sandbox is:

Look at the bottom where it says that you can create the page. Click on the link and it opens up a brand new page.

Wikipedia-FirstPage

This is your new page. Start typing! And before saving and submitting anything, make sure that you have remembered everything you need to do.

If you really want to edit something, but you’re not sure about which subject to write about, Wikipedia has a tool that can help when you are logged into your Wikipedia user account. It’s called SuggestBot. SuggestBot looks at your previous Wikipedia contributions and then recommends similar subjects that you might be knowledgeable about.

Creating Links To Wikipedia Articles

You may want to link to Wikipedia articles, especially your own. If so, it would be best to link to the current snapshot of the page and not the main article. You can find the permanent link to the page snapshot in the left sidebar as “Permanent Link.”

Wikipedia Page Link

Rules On What Sort Of Pages Are Acceptable

There are strict rules on what is and what is not acceptable on Wikipedia. The plain and simple Wikipedia rules are summarized below :

  • Subjects require significant coverage in independent reliable sources.
  • Your role is to inform and reference.
  • Write without bias, as if you neither like nor dislike the subject.
  • State facts and statistics; don’t be vague or general.
  • Take time to get sources and policy right and your content will last.

The subject you are writing about should be “notable”. In other words, they have to deserve their own page because of their position, their achievements, their utterances, and so forth. The local school band doesn’t get a page. However, U2 gets one.

The Footnotes

Every Wikipedia article has footnotes which are links to references in the text. Whenever a claim is made in an article, it has to be backed up by a credible source online, which can be linked to. So throughout an article, you will see numbers which are also links :

Wikipedia Footnote

If you click on these linked numbers, you will see the source material link at the bottom of the page.

Wikipedia References

How To Track Edits

When you have made edits to a page, it would be extremely helpful to be notified when further edits have been made to the page. Perhaps an editor will have edited or deleted some of your work, or another user has added their own contribution, which you would like to see. Wikipedia has a function if you want to track an edit and it is as simple as ticking a box.

Wikipedia Track Pages

You will find this box at the bottom of the page when you are editing something.

Wikiquette

In order to keep the site flowing smoothly, it is preferable that everyone remains nice to everyone else. Once the personal attacks start, that is when productivity plummets. So Wikipedia likes to maintain what is called “Wikiquette”.

Wikiquette is a standard of etiquette where personal attacks are not tolerated, and users are encouraged to calmly discuss their differences with one another.  Some subjects can be a bit controversial (such as the 9/11 conspiracy theories for example), so it is entirely possible for tempers to flare when users divide up into their own camps and begin arguing.

If a user refuses to adhere to Wikiquette, they risk being blocked. These rules are necessary because a hostile working environment will deter new people from wanting to join up.

Wikipedia Personalization Tweaks

While using Wikipedia on a regular basis, you will notice small things that bug you, or things you wish the site had. There are options you can consider for improving the status quo.

For a start, Wikipedia has a substantial list of options to change / improve the site. You need to be logged into your Wikipedia user account to access the preferences. Once you are there in the “Gadgets” section, you will see options for changing the look and functions of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia-Gadgets

Another option (if you use Firefox or Chrome) is to use their Userscripts. The Mozilla Firefox scripts and extensions can be found here and here. The official Mozilla Firefox extension site is obviously safe but use the Userscripts website at your own risk.

Users on Google Chrome can use the browser extensions.

Special Features On Wikipedia

Wikipedia is not all humdrum white pages and blue links. There are quite a few lesser known features that make Wikipedia such a powerful informational warehouse.

Turn Pages Into PDF Books

One of Wikipedia’s most useful features is the ability to turn Wikipedia pages into a PDF, ODF or ePUB file. You can also order a print book. Various Wikipedia pages can be bundled together into one file, instead of many scattered files, making it easy to keep track of all of the information you need. Need a study guide? Doing research for a project? Wanting to read some pages on your tablet? Then the book making facility will prove invaluable to you.

Making these books is very easy. If it is only one page, go to that page, and then go to the “Print / Export” section in the left-hand toolbar. Click on “Download as PDF”, and immediately the page will be converted into a PDF and downloaded to your computer.

If you want to do more than one page, go to the same “Print / Export” section, and select “Create a book” and then the “start book creator” green button. You will be redirected to the front page where you will see this :

Book Creator

Now go to each page you want included, and click “Add This Page To Your Book”. You will then see the page has been added. When all the pages have been added, click on “Show Book”.

There are two sections now to consider. The first section is for formatting your book.

Manage Book

On the right hand side, you can then choose what you want to do — order a print book, download the PDF, or store it in your Wikipedia account.

Wikipedia Print Book

Celebrity Voice Recordings

Wikipedia Voice Recordings

Recently, Wikipedia has been experimenting with celebrity voice recordings, so people can hear what the person sounds like. One celebrity who has a voice recording on their Wikipedia page is the UK actor, comedian, writer, activist, and presenter Stephen Fry. In the recording, Fry merely states his name, where he was born, and how many years he has been in the entertainment business. A simple straight-forward short recording in very high quality. Down the years, these audio samples can have historical significance.

The Random Tool

Wikipedia-Random

You can enter a URL which will take you to a random Wikipedia page. It’s quite fun, not knowing where you will end up, and what interesting fact you will learn that day. It’s based around the StumbleUpon concept and it is a nice way to kill a few minutes.

The URL is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random . However, to avoid having to type that URL out countless times, you can create a button. Just right-click on your browser’s bookmarks bar and select “create a new folder”.  Enter the URL above with the title, maybe “Wikipedia Random”? Then save. You now have your own Wikipedia random button.

Wikipedia Games

If you get bored reading Wikipedia, and you’ve edited enough articles for the day, then maybe you want to play some Wikipedia games? Back in 2012, we profiled 5 Wikipedia games worth playing 5 Wikipedia Games You Can Try Your Hand On 5 Wikipedia Games You Can Try Your Hand On Wikipedia will continue to get knocked down for credibility and accuracy but it is the best open source project we know of. And one we still depend on for a quick reference. Wikipedia is the... Read More , but since then, another one has appeared on the scene — The Wiki Game.

Wikipedia Game

The concept behind the games are simple. You are given a beginner Wikipedia article and an end Wikipedia article, and you have to get from one to the other in as few clicks as possible. Or in the fastest time possible. It is actually quite difficult but if you like to test your knowledge, this will keep you occupied for quite some time.

You can also play this on your smartphone and tablet.

Wikipedia Nearby

Wikipedia Nearby

Are you out on a nice day trip but you have no idea what is in the area to visit? Or maybe you are planning a holiday and would like to know what is in the local vicinity? If so, then a Wikipedia feature called “Nearby” could help. This feature only works on a laptop or mobile phone, and you need to enable the location settings on your browser, so Wikipedia knows where you are (you can always reverse this later if you are nervous about the privacy implications).

Wikipedia Nearby

Wikipedia brings up all of the local features which have their own Wikipedia pages. You can then view the relevant pages to get more information.

Public Domain Images On Wikipedia

If you are looking for public domain images 6 Free Websites For Public Domain Images & Free Stock Photos 6 Free Websites For Public Domain Images & Free Stock Photos Public Domain refers to material that is 'publicly available' and not covered by intellectual property or copyrights. In today's media, where visual art is abundant, there is a high demand for images, for example for... Read More , you will find that Wikipedia is the best place to go. Wikipedia describes the whole concept of public domain images on the site, along with providing a huge list of other public domain image sources. Definitely well worth bookmarking.

Wikipedia-Public Domain Images

You will normally find the image license at the bottom of each image, but mostly it’s just common sense. If it is a 1,000 year old etching, then obviously it’s public domain. If on the other hand, it’s a picture of President Obama, you’d better check the photo’s page to be sure.

Featured Sections

You may or may not know that every day, Wikipedia showcases featured articles, pictures, and sounds. The articles and pictures sections hold just over 4,000 items, whereas the sound section is only just over 200. The sounds page is currently inactive but is being kept for “historical reference”.

Wikipedia-Sounds

The Featured Sounds section contains what was considered to be “the best sounds on Wikipedia” (up to November 2011). You can stream all the tracks; there is also one video on a violin. If you see anything you really like, you can download it to your computer.

Wikipedia-pictures

The Featured Pictures section “highlights the finest images on Wikipedia”. Everything is categorized and each category has sub-pages. Subject matter ranges from animals to culture to engineering to food and drink. Again, if you see something you like, you can download it. Many of the images are very big in size, and of very high quality.

The Featured Articles section however is just a big page of links (albeit categorized links, but still….). Here’s hoping that Wikipedia makes the Featured Articles section user-friendly in the near future.

Wikipedia Tools

Third Party Tools

Every popular web service has third party tools, invented by talented programmers, which are designed to make that particular service even more useful. And Wikipedia is no exception. They maintain a big list of Wikipedia tools you should try. Some require expert knowledge in things like Python, but there are other things such as user scripts, and a HTML to Wiki Converter.

Browser Plugins

One set of third party tools belongs to browser plugins. But don’t install too many, otherwise your browser is going to experience some speed problems!!

Mihir discussed some Chrome plugins for Wikipedia 3 Fantastic Free Extensions to Improve Wikipedia on Google Chrome 3 Fantastic Free Extensions to Improve Wikipedia on Google Chrome As an avid Wikipedia user, there are two tools I have found quite helpful in my research, and another one which makes Wikipedia far more beautiful to browse through. Want to know what these are? Read More and I have to say that my favorite one has to be the YouTube video integration with WikiTube. Words can only tell you so much.

RSS Feeds

Each Wikipedia article has an RSS feed, although it is not immediately obvious. To find the Atom feed for an article, go to the “Interaction” section in the left-hand sidebar. There, choose “Related Changes”. You will then see all of the changes which have been made to that article. Now look at the left-hand sidebar again. Under “Tools”, you will see the feed :

Wikipedia-Atom Feed

Wikipedia Keyboard Shortcuts

If you’re the adventurous Indiana Jones-type that likes to live life on the edge, then you’re probably someone who chucks the mouse or trackpad aside. Your fingers never leaving the keyboard, you are poised to navigate Wikipedia with just keyboard shortcuts. We have in the past produced a handy free printable list of Wikipedia shortcuts for you, because we’re nice that way.

Wikipedia MindMap

When you are researching a topic, sometimes it can be hard to think of proper keywords to look up. This is where a mind map comes in handy. The one best suited for Wikipedia is Wiki MindMap. Using this site, you must first specify which language version of Wikipedia you want to use. Then enter the main topic you are interested in. In this case, I chose “Bob Dylan”.

Wikimindmap

Wiki MindMap will then give you a handy list of associated keywords, and what’s even better is that each keyword is directly linked to its Wikipedia page. So everything you need is a click away.

Cool Ways To Use Wikipedia

As we continue to see, there are more than a few ways to use this huge information repository. Scratch the surface, and Wikipedia is very flexible. Some of the uses are also unconventional.

Downloading Wikipedia

Wikipedia Dumps

For those of you who fancy having Wikipedia offline and stored locally in either your computer, a removable hard drive, or other such device, then it is possible to download versions of Wikimedia wikis, as they are updated (usually monthly).

You can also download wikis which are no longer available, such as the September 11th wiki.

You can download wikis from Wikimedia database dumps. Your downloads are limited to 2 IP addresses. With this restriction everyone has an equal chance of getting a reasonable download speed. Downloading wikis is going to take a while!!

To speed things up, you can volunteer to operate a mirror for Wikimedia. This is where you host everything on your computer and people can get the wikis from you. This obviously requires a lot of computer space (the page says 34TB), and a lot of bandwidth. But if you feel you can help, get in touch with the Wikimedia Foundation and make their day.

There are several other tools for downloading Wikipedia for offline reading 4 Free Tools to Download and Take Wikipedia Offline 4 Free Tools to Download and Take Wikipedia Offline Read More . However, the two options also deserve a mention if you want to read Wikipedia offline.

Kiwix is a reader for reading Wikipedia offline. You can search through the Wikipedia download, and export as PDF/HTML. What’s even better, you can use it on “lower powered or old computers”. It’s cross-platform, and also available on Android.

Read Wikipedia Offline

Wikipedia for Schools is an adapted version of Wikipedia for pupils studying the UK National Curriculum. According to its webpage, it consists of “6,000 articles, 26 million words and 50,000 images”. It has been compiled by the charity SOS Children, which helps children in need around the world. Each article is checked and tidied up, and then categorized by school subject.

Wikipedia For Schools

Wikipedia For Research

Wikipedia for Research

Image Credit: Ed Yourdon

Wikipedia, being an encyclopedia, is obviously a reference tool for research and discussion. It has overtaken, and perhaps permanently damaged the prominence and wide use that Encyclopedia Britannica enjoyed. From looking up information in a paper book, everything is now digital and immediate, within the reach of a search engine.

In 2005, a study showed that Wikipedia’s scientific articles “came close to the level of accuracy in Encyclopedia Britannica and had a similar rate of ‘serious errors’.”

But the (false) perception that it is 100% true is misleading. Being a crowdsourced project where anyone can contribute, the potential for libelous and false statements is high. As a safeguard, there are always contributors out there correcting and removing information to make it as accurate as possible.

It is best not to rely on Wikipedia alone. Get a secondary source (not Wikipedia!) which backs up what you are saying.

Referencing Wikipedia Itself

Unlike stories published on news websites and blogs that generally remain static throughout their life, Wikipedia articles change with time. Editors and contributors make Wikipedia very dynamic, making additions, alterations, and removing erroneous information.

Therefore when you refer to a Wikipedia page in a blog, you really need to link to the current snapshot, not the primary article. Otherwise, your readers may miss the context when they visit Wikipedia because the page may have completely changed!

Wikipedia-Reference

The URL of the latest snapshot is in the sidebar, listed as a “Permanent Link”. Link to that and all will be well.

More Wikis To Make Use Of  — Wikipedia’s Sister Projects

Wikimedia Foundation
If you are not familiar with the organisation that runs Wikipedia, then you won’t know about the Wikimedia Foundation. If you click on the link I just gave you, you will see that Wikipedia is not the only project they have going. They also have dozens of other projects on the go, some of which you may not be acquainted with.

For example, Wikibooks (open-content textbooks), Wikiquote, Wikinews (a crowd-sourced news reporting page), Wiktionary (a collaborative project to produce a free-content multilingual dictionary), and Wikimedia Commons (open-source pictures).

Wikipedia Sister Sites

The best one though is MediaWiki, which gives you the open-source software to make your own wiki website. You can download it from MediaWiki, or a lot of Internet Service Providers give you automatic installers for software such as MediaWiki. Just ask them.

Wikipedia provides a list of what they describe as “notable websites that use a wiki model“. You may be inspired by some of them to create your own.

More For Wikipedia Lovers

Wikipedia Tip Of The Day

Wikipedia Tip of The Day

Wikipedia can be a tough site to understand and navigate, if you are a new user. That is why the site has set up “Tip of The Day”. In a nutshell, each day brings a new “tip” on how to use Wikipedia…whether it is setting up a new article, editing an existing one, outlines of features, or more. The habit of reading Tip of The Day will have you covered.

You can also contribute to Tip of the Day if any of the information on the tips is inaccurate or obsolete.

Wikipedia’s Tip Library

Wikipedia Tip Library

This page is the Wikipedia tip library, which was used to set up Tip of The Day. The page says everything listed there is “listed by title and organized by subject area for your convenience”. If you plan to contribute to Wikipedia and its community, then this is a page you should definitely bookmark and come back to, time and again.

Wikipedia Viewer Stats

Wikipedia Stats

This is not something officially connected to Wikipedia, but it is still an enormously useful and interesting resource nonetheless. If you are someone who lives and breathes stats and information, then you will love this data-powered page.

Just enter any search term to find out how many people searched for that exact same term during a particular time period and in a particular language.

Wikipedia-Stats-Chart

Deletionpedia

Deletionpedia

A lot of good and bad articles get deleted from Wikipedia all the time, for a variety of different reasons. Deletionpedia is a project which keeps track of these deleted pages so you can read them, and some archival information can be kept on them.

WikipediaVision

A lot of edits on Wikipedia are anonymous and WikipediaVision is a site (a bit of a useless site actually), which shows the anonymous edits going on in the world right now in real time.

Wikipedia Edits in Real Time

User Contribution Search

Do you want to know how many edits a particular user did on a particular page? Then User Contribution Search will help. Simply enter the username and the page URL to get your results.

Top Wikipedia Contributors

Wikipedia - Max Edits

Are you interested in seeing who is in the top 10,000 Wikipedia contributors list (by number of edits)? Maybe you want to be in this leaderboard yourself? Or maybe you are already in it and you want to check your rankings? This Wikipedian list shows the info.

Or check this list for the top Wikipedians, based on the number of articles submitted.

WikiChecker

Wikichecker

WikiChecker gives you a list of all the users who edited a particular article, the number of edits made to that article, and the other articles that the users also edited.

Wikistream

Wikistream

This provides a real-time stream of all the edits made to articles. You can filter by different Wikipedias and different sections of Wikipedia.

Donate To Wikipedia

Donate to Wikipedia

Being a charity and voluntary organisation, the Wikimedia Foundation relies on donations to keep going. If the money were to dry up, then we might see the end of Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. This would be a devastating blow to the freedom of information on the Internet (and to all lazy students worldwide, who like to just copy and paste from the site). So if you can afford it, try to send a donation. Every cent/penny counts.

Wikimedia has given us 5 reasons to donate to Wikipedia, but some sites advise us to exercise caution before breaking out the credit card or the Bitcoins. You be your own judge.

Wikimedia Blog

Wikimedia Blog

For those of you who have the urge to keep up with the exciting goings-on at Wikimedia, we have the official blog! No longer will you wonder what’s going on behind the scenes.

Wikipedia Signpost

Wikipedia Signpost

“The Signpost” is an online Wikipedia community newsletter, which according to Wikipedia, started in January 2005. It is community-written and edited, just like Wikipedia itself, and comes out every week. It claims to be an independent publication, and not connected to the Wikimedia Foundation, who are responsible for the various Wikimedia projects.

“The Signpost” covers Wikipedia-related issues, such as which articles are currently popular, issues affecting the Wikipedia user community, and much more.

You can subscribe via RSS, as well as their Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Wikimedia Shop

Wikipedia Shop

If you want to show that you are a true fan of Wikipedia, and Wikimedia in general, you can show your love by buying clothing or other items with the Wikimedia / Wikipedia logo on it.

Be careful about the shipping costs though as it tried to charge me a lot when I attempted to purchase two stickers!

Best Of Wikipedia

Best of Wikipedia

If you’re looking for a way to find the jewels in Wikipedia, then subscribing to “Best of Wikipedia” is probably a good idea. It finds all of the “best” entries and they are posted on the blog. Entries can also be submitted by readers.

Sometimes entries are eventually deleted on Wikipedia, but quite a lot stays on the site and are well worth a read. For example, did you know that the author HG Wells created a rule book for playing with toy soldiers?

Citation Needed

Wikipedia-Citation-Needed

This is a Tumblr blog which gives you the really weird and unverified trivia (and probably fake facts) on Wikipedia, in between all of the serious articles. For example, “Stephen Hawking travelled extensively to promote his work, and enjoyed partying and dancing into the small hours”.

Er…..I don’t think so. This site is a good example of why you should never totally trust everything you read on Wikipedia. Anyone can write anything until it is discovered and taken down.

MakeUseOf’s Wikipedia Cheat Sheet

MakeUseOf has created a printable cheat sheet for Wikipedia, which includes keyboard combinations, access keys, browser extensions, and useful sites. Keep this close.

A Final Word From The Author

Wikipedia is one of, if not the, among the best websites on the Internet. But it also has its flaws. In the end, the whole concept of crowdsourcing will ensure that the site is kept as accurate as possible and the vandals / trolls blocked.

This manual has only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible with Wikipedia. Let us know on MakeUseOf what we should add in the next edition of this manual. How important is this free online reference to you? What tips and suggestions do you have as a Wikipedia user?

Image Credit: By Lane Hartwell via Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Spoken Project

  1. liam mitchell (mitchell boi)
    December 20, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    WIKIPEDIA SUSTAINS MY ETERNAL HUNGER FOR KNOWLEDGE MHUHAHAHAHA

  2. Saikat
    December 23, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    A really comprehensive piece of work. There were so many little things I didn't know about, that I know now.

    Purely from a readers point of view, do you think this page would have benefited from an index for better readability?

    • Mark O'Neill
      December 24, 2014 at 11:59 am

      It may very well benefit. Is it possible at this late stage to insert one?

  3. Rob
    December 18, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    This is one hell of an article! I never knew spoken wikipedia existed- thanks for the pointer, and thanks for this HUGE amount of information!

  4. Mihir Patkar
    December 18, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Take a bow, Marky Mark. Take a bow.

  5. DonGateley
    December 17, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    Awesomely competent and comprehensive presentation of Wikipedia! Thanks, Mark, for a contribution that's beyond the norm.

    This is one that I will need to set time aside to study and I most certainly will do that.

  6. suzybel
    December 17, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    A very good article. I usually go to Wikipedia first when I'm checking something out. Most of this info I did not know. It's like a lot of things, you think it is just there. I wasn't aware of all the hard work that went into the site.

  7. DJ Habinpapa
    December 17, 2014 at 4:59 am

    There are some dudes on Amazon, selling Wikipedia articles as printed books.

  8. Tony
    December 16, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Nice overview of Wikipedia, but an email address is not required to register an account. Providing your email address and confirming it is optional.

  9. Doug Dieckmann
    December 16, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    I would rather go anywhere else for information that I was sure was accurate than take a chance on a page that may or may not be accurate. I just do not see the attraction or why WIKI should be first in virtually every Google search.

  10. Kai M.
    December 16, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Wow! This is one of the most comprehensive overviews of Wikipedia I have ever read. Thanks for all your hard work on putting this together!

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