Thursday, July 16, 2009


The collaborative user-edited Web site gets its name from blending the words "wiki" and "encyclopedia." "Wiki" is a recent edition to the English lexicon, and made its way into the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary in 2007. "Wiki-wiki" is actually a Hawaiian word, meaning "quick" or "fast." A wiki is a Web site that uses a certain type of software (the software is also called "wiki" software) that enables users to quickly and easily edit the Web site, create content, and interlink various Web pages. A wiki is easy to edit because it uses a standard mark-up language, which is a series of notes and tags that describe the layout format of the Web site. Often the mark-up language is HTML, which stands for "hypertext markup language."

In the mid-1990s, a computer programmer was developing this type of software to make Internet Web site collaboration fast and easy. He went on a vacation to Hawaii, and at the Honolulu airport, he needed to get quickly from one terminal to another. He asked an airport employee about the best way, and she told him to take the "Wiki Wiki Shuttle" — it's the shuttle that links the airport terminals there, the quickest and easiest way to get between terminals. The computer programmer, Ward Cunningham, adopted the name of the Honolulu airport terminal bus to describe his software, which was meant to be quick, straightforward, easy to use, and to interlink things, because he liked the alliterative sound of "wiki" when used with the word "Web."

Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales launched Wikipedia, the collaborative user-edited encyclopedia, in January 2001; it's now the largest wiki on the Web. To publicize their new creation, they simply sent out an announcement to an e-mail listserve. The new collaborative encyclopedia was to have no process of formal peer-review, which made it very different from any other encyclopedia, including online encyclopedias. At first, Wikipedia was only in English, and there were almost no rules except that articles were to present information in a neutral, non-biased point of view.

By the end of its first year, Wikipedia had grown to about 20,000 articles in 18 languages. Today, less than a decade from its inception, there are more than 13 million articles in more than 260 languages on Wikipedia. It's the largest encyclopedia in the history of mankind; in 2007, it surpassed the encyclopedia that had held that distinction for 600 years, the Yongle Encyclopedia, commissioned by the emperor of China's Ming Dynasty and completed in the early 1400s.

Nearly 3 million of Wikipedia's articles are in English. There are about 75,000 people who actively contribute to Wikipedia, creating articles or making edits to existing articles. It's the most popular reference work on the Internet and one of the 10 most visited Web sites in the world.

The slogan of Wikipedia is "The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." Because there aren't any requirements for expertise, the reliability of Wikipedia's articles are often called into question. Wikipedia is constantly coming up with new rules for user-editors, to try to ensure the encyclopedia's reliability and credibility. These rules are often explained under such subheadings as: "Wikipedia is not a soapbox," "Wikipedia is not a crystal ball," and "Wikipedia is not a democracy" nor "a bureaucracy" nor "a battleground" nor "an anarchy" nor "your Web host."

But there's also an overriding rule, known as "Ignore All Rules," which is, "If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it." In addition to a committee of watchful editors, there are also a bunch of automated software programs to detect and delete problematic edits and correct misspellings and formatting errors. Articles that are prone to "vandalism" are sometimes locked, including the profiles of political candidates during elections.

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