Regardless of whether or not it’s the most credible source, Wikipedia has become just about everyone’s first stop in their quest for knowledge. Going straight to the Wikipedia in your browser to look up The Who’s Lifehouse rock opera is fine, but there are better ways to access the site if you’re on a Mac.
Whether you want faster access, a quick fact lookup, or offline reading, here are some cool options for you.
One of the Mac’s best tools, Spotlight is becoming more and more useful with every update to OS X. Recent versions can access Wikipedia directly, which can be a big time saver. It only shows a snippet of a recommended article, so you won’t be using it to do any in-depth research or a lot of reading, but it’s good for when you want to get a a very quick overview of a topic.
Just fire up Spotlight — we’d recommend doing so with your keyboard using cmd+spacebar — and type in your search query. If a Wikipedia result isn’t displayed near the top of the results list, you can use the arrow keys or your mouse to scroll down and find it. Spotlight prioritizes matches of files on your computer first, so if you search for your favorite band, it might show a bunch of music before it get to displaying their Wikipedia entry.
To see the full article in your browser, just click See Full Article at the bottom of the snippet, and Spotlight will open the page in your browser. Once you get the hang of this, you can open up Wikipedia pages really quickly without having to open a new tab or switching to your browser.
If you want more Wikipedia functionality than Spotlight provides without going to the full website, Qwiki is a great way to get it. The Qwiki icon lives in the menu bar where you can access it any time. Click on the icon, enter your search term, and you’ll get a list of Wikipedia results, just like if you ran a search on the full site.
Click on a result, and you can read the full article in the Qwiki pane so you don’t have to open up a browser tab. It’s a little small, but it works great if you don’t plan on spending a long time reading (if you tend to get sucked into the black hole of Wikipedia like I do, you’ll want to switch to the browser for mega-find sessions). You can also share the page via the sharing menu or get a quick link that you can copy and paste.
It doesn’t have a whole lot of features, but it lets you look up anything you want on Wikipedia really quickly, and it’s only a couple bucks in the App Store. If you regularly look stuff up, it’s a great tool to speed up the process!
It suffers from not having a default keyboard shortcut, though the Qwiki team has assured me that this feature is coming.
If Wikipedia had an official app, it would probably be Wikibot. By placing Wikipedia within an app on your computer, you always have quick access to it and it doesn’t contribute to tab clutter. The app functions almost exactly like the Wikipedia site, but it packs a few extra features that are really nice.
First, you can download articles for offline access, so you can continue researching and reading when you’re on a plane or out somewhere without Wi-Fi access. The Read Later queue is an in-app version of Pocket or Instapaper, where you can keep a list of things you want to read soon. You can customize the display with different font types and sizes, larger or smaller margins, and night and sepia modes.
You can also maintain a list of bookmarks and folders to keep everything organized. In short, Wikibot takes Wikipedia, adds the features to make it a very powerful research and reading tool, and makes it available outside of your browser and offline. And it syncs with the Wikibot app on your phone.
Unfortunately, Wikibot has some irritating weaknesses, especially when it comes to images; they often don’t load, and when they do, they’re not very high quality, even when you click on them in an attempt to enlarge. Hopefully updates will fix the issues that still plague the app. Until then, though, it’s not bad for offline use or if you just want to concentrate on reading the text of the entry outside of your browser.
Three-Finger Tap for Lookup
The trackpad on a MacBook has a lot of awesome functionality that’s not obvious at first. For example, if you enable Look up & data detectors in System Preferences > Trackpad, you can either Force Click on a word with one finger or tap with three fingers to open the lookup dialog box, which will show you a dictionary definition, a Wikipedia entry, and a potential third item, depending on the word you selected.
This is great if you want to look up the definition of a word or get a little more context from Wikipedia without opening up your browser or another app to find it.
The information you’ll get from this method is limited, but if you don’t need a whole lot, it’s a great way to get what you’re looking for really fast. To find out more, you can read more using the See Full Article link at the bottom of the definition.
Although neither of these apps were created with Wikipedia specifically in mind, both Alfred and Quicksilver are worth mentioning here, as they can both search the web and get you the information you want from Wikipedia very quickly. For example, in Quicksilver, you can just type “wikipedia [your search term]” to search Wikipedia.
You can even speed up the process, as detailed in this blog post. We’ve written about both launchers in the past, so check out our introductions to Alfred and getting started with Quicksilver if you want to find out how to speed up pretty much everything you do on your Mac using your keyboard.
How Do You Use Wikipedia on Your Mac?
These four tools are great ways to access Wikipedia quickly and easily from your Mac, but there are surely other good ones out there. If you use Wikipedia tools, we want to hear about them!
How do you access Wikipedia from your Mac? What are your favorite tricks for speeding up the process? Share your best tips in the comments below!