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Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has rapidly grown into the largest reference Web site on the Internet. The content of Wikipedia is free, and is written collaboratively by people from all around the world. This Web site is a wiki, which means that anyone with access to an Internet-connected computer can edit, correct, or improve information throughout the encyclopedia, simply by clicking the edit this page link (with a few minor exceptions, such as protected articles and the main page).
Wikipedia is a registered trademark of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which has created an entire family of wiki projects. On Wikipedia, and its sister projects, you are welcome to be bold and edit articles yourself, contributing knowledge as you see fit in a collaborative way. So, go ahead!
In every article, links will guide you to associated articles, often with additional information. You are welcome to add further information, cross-references, or citations, so long as you do so within Wikipedia's editing policies and to an appropriate standard. You do not need to fear accidentally damaging Wikipedia when you add or improve information, as other Wikipedians are always around to advise or correct obvious errors, if needed, and the Wikipedia encyclopedia software, known as MediaWiki, is carefully designed to allow easy reversal of editorial mistakes.
Because Wikipedia is an on-going work to which in principle anybody can contribute, it differs from a paper-based reference source in some very important ways. In particular, older articles tend to be more comprehensive and balanced, while newer articles may still contain significant misinformation, unencyclopedic content, or vandalism. Users need to be aware of this in order to obtain valid information and avoid misinformation which has been recently added and not yet removed. (See Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia for more details). However, unlike a paper reference source, Wikipedia is completely up-to-date, with articles on topical events being created or updated within minutes or hours, rather than months or years for printed encyclopedias.
If you have not done so, we invite you to take a few moments to read What Wikipedia is (and is not) and Researching with Wikipedia, so that you have an understanding of how to use, rely upon, or contribute to Wikipedia as you continue. Further information on key topics can be found below.
- See also: Wikipedia:Introduction.
- For help topics, questions and contact information, see Help:Contents.
- For news about the site, see Wikipedia:News.
Making the best use of Wikipedia
Many visitors come to this site to acquire knowledge, others to share knowledge. In fact, at this very instant, dozens of articles are being improved. You can view the changes at the Recent changes page. New articles are also being recorded. Many different kinds of people help to write Wikipedia articles.
Wikipedia also has many on-going projects. The hope of any contributor is to provide useful and accurate information to others, and the projects help coordinate efforts. Most articles start as stubs, but after many contributions, they can become featured articles.
If you can't find what you are looking for, see Where to ask questions for a list of departments where our volunteers answer questions, any question you can possibly imagine.
Once you have determined that there is no article on Wikipedia on a topic you are interested in, you may want to request that the article be written (or you could even research the issue and write it yourself).
You also can view random articles.
You also might enjoy reading Wikipedia in other languages. Wikipedia has more than two hundred different languages (see other language versions), including a Simple English version, and related projects include a dictionary, quotations, books, manuals, and scientific reference sources, and a news service (see sister projects). All of these are maintained, updated, and managed by separate communities, and often include thought-provoking information and articles which can be hard to find through other common sources.
Basic navigation in Wikipedia
Wikipedia articles are all linked, or cross-referenced. Wherever you see highlighted text like this, it means there is a link to some relevant article or Wikipedia page with further in-depth information elsewhere if you need it. Holding your mouse over the link will often show you where a link will take you. You are always one click away from more information on any point that has a link attached.
There are other links towards the ends of most articles, for other articles of interest, relevant external web sites and pages, reference material, and organized categories of knowledge which you can search and traverse in a loose hierarchy for more information.
Some articles may also have links to dictionary definitions, audio-book readings, quotations, or the same article in other languages.
You can add further links if a relevant link is missing, and this is one way to contribute.
Using Wikipedia as a research tool
As a wiki, articles are never complete. They are continually edited and improved over time, and in general this results in an upward trend of quality, and a growing consensus over a fair and balanced representation of information.
Users should be aware that not all articles are of encyclopedic quality from the start. Indeed, many articles commence their lives as partisan, and it is after a long process of discussion, debate and argument, that they gradually take on a consensus form. Others may for a while become caught up in a heavily unbalanced viewpoint which can take some time - months perhaps - to extricate themselves and regain a better balanced consensus.
In part, this is because Wikipedia operates an internal resolution process when editors cannot agree on content and approach, and such issues take time to come to the attention of more experienced editors.
The ideal Wikipedia article is balanced, neutral and encyclopedic, containing notable verifiable knowledge. An increasing number of articles reach this standard over time, and many already have. However this is a process and can take months or years to be achieved, as each user adds their contribution in turn. Some articles contain statements and claims which have not yet been fully cited. Others will later have entire new sections added. Some information will be considered by later contributors to be insufficiently founded, and may be removed or expounded.
While the overall trend is generally upward, it is important to use Wikipedia carefully if it is intended to be used as a research source, since individual articles will, by their nature, vary in standard and maturity. There are guidelines and information pages designed to help users and researchers do this effectively, and an article that summarizes third party studies and assessments of the reliability of Wikipedia.
Summary of strengths, weaknesses and article quality in Wikipedia
Wikipedia's greatest strengths, weaknesses and differences arise because it is open to anyone, has a large contributor base, and articles are written by consensus according to editorial guidelines and policies.
- Wikipedia is open to a large contributor base - so it is less susceptible to retaining bias, is very hard for any group to censor, and is far more responsive to new information, especially information not widely known in the West, and it is more easily vandalized or susceptible to unchecked information later needing removal.
- Wikipedia is written by consensus - so eventually for most articles, all notable views become fairly described and a very neutral stance can be achieved even on emotive subjects, and the reaching of consensus takes considerably longer than a simple drafting, and is occasionally made harder by extreme-viewpoint contributors. (Articles also tend to be more fluid or changeable for a long time compared to other reference sources until they find their "neutral approach" that all sides can agree on.)
Key strengths: (Wikipedia:Why Wikipedia is so great)
- Having a very large number of active writers and editors in many languages, Wikipedia often provides access and breadth on subject matter that is otherwise inaccessible or little documented.
- Wikipedia often produces excellent encyclopedic articles and resources covering newsworthy events within hours or days of their occurrence.
- Wikipedia is one of few sites even attempting neutral, objective, encyclopedic coverage of popular culture.
- Regional and cultural bias found in many publications is significantly reduced on Wikipedia.
- In comparison with most web-based resources, Wikipedia's open approach tremendously increases the chances that any particular factual error or misleading statement will be relatively promptly corrected.
- There is no one central point where censorship can be imposed, and therefore censorship by any given group, restriction to "officially reported" sources, or "pushing" of any particular viewpoint, whether official or unofficial, is difficult to achieve and almost always fails after a time.
- In contrast with many web resources, information added to Wikipedia never "vanishes", and is never "lost" or deleted.
Key weaknesses: (Wikipedia:Why Wikipedia is not so great)
- Wikipedia's radical openness means that any given article may be, at any given moment, in a bad state, such as in the middle of a large edit, a controversial rewrite, or recently vandalized.
- Wikipedia operates a full editorial dispute resolution process, that allows time for discussion and resolution in depth, but also permits months-long disagreements before poor quality or biased edits will be removed forcibly.
- While blatant vandalism is usually easily spotted and rapidly corrected, Wikipedia is more subject to subtle vandalism and viewpoint promotion than a typical reference work.
- There is no systematic process to make sure that "obviously important" topics are written about, so Wikipedia may contain unexpected oversights and omissions.
- Articles may be incomplete in ways that would be less usual in a more tightly controlled reference work, for example some aspects may be well covered but others briefly or not at all.
- Wikipedia articles may have a tendency to reflect the point-of-view (POV) of the author and by implication the author's cultural and socio-economic background. While most articles may be altered by anyone, in practice editing will be performed by a certain demographic (younger rather than older, male rather than female, rich enough to afford a computer rather than poor, Christian or Jewish rather than Muslim or Bantu etc.) and will thus necessarily reflect a certain degree of implicit bias.
- Many contributors do not yet comply fully with key policies, or may add information without citable sources.
- While Wikipedia articles generally attain a good standard after editing, it is important to note that fledgling, or less well monitored, articles may be susceptible to vandalism and insertion of false information, although this usually ceases to be as significant a problem as articles mature. Inappropriate edits are often noticed and corrected within a relatively short time on most articles
- Studies suggest that Wikipedia is broadly as reliable as Encyclopedia Brittanica, with similar error rates on established articles for both major and minor omissions and errors. There is a tentative consensus, backed by a gradual increase in academic citation as a source, that it provides a good starting point for research, and that articles in general have proven to be reasonably sound. That said, articles and subject areas sometimes suffer from significant omissions, and whilst misinformation and vandalism are usually corrected quickly, this does not always happen. (See for example this incident in which a person inserted a fake biography linking a prominent journalist to the Kennedy assassinations and Soviet Russia as a joke on a co-worker which went undetected for 4 months, saying afterwards he "didn’t know [Wikipedia] was used as a serious reference tool.") Therefore, a common conclusion is that it is a valuable resource and provides a good reference point on its subjects, but like any online source, unfamiliar information should be checked before relying upon it.
- A 2005 editorial by a BBC technology writer comments that these debates are probably symptomatic of new cultural learnings which are happening across all sources of information (including search engines and the media), namely "a better sense of how to evaluate information sources." <ref>What is it with Wikipedia? 16 December 2005</ref>
How Wikipedia differs from a paper encyclopedia
- Main article: Wikipedia is not paper
Reports have sometimes cited the Wikipedia disclaimers to support claims that the Wikipedia is unreliable. A selection of similar disclaimers from places which are often regarded as reliable (including sources such as Encyclopædia Britannica, Associated Press, and the Oxford English Dictionary) can be read and compared at Non-Wikipedia disclaimers.
Wikipedia content advisories can also be found here.
Contributing to Wikipedia
Anyone can contribute to Wikipedia by clicking on the Edit this page tab in an article. Before beginning to contribute however, you should check out some handy helping tools such as the tutorial and the policies and guidelines, as well as our welcome page.
It is important to realize that in contributing to Wikipedia, users are expected to be civil and neutral, respecting all points of view, and only add verifiable and factual information rather than personal views and opinions. "The five pillars of Wikipedia" cover this approach and are recommended reading before editing.
Who writes Wikipedia?
- Main article: Wikipedia:Who writes Wikipedia
There are tens of thousands of regular editors - everyone from expert scholars to casual readers. Anyone who visits the site can edit it, and this fact has encouraged contribution of a tremendous amount of content. There are mechanisms that help community members watch for bad edits, a few hundred administrators with special powers to enforce good behavior, and a judicial committee which considers the few situations remaining unresolved, and decides on withdrawal or restriction of editing privileges or other punishments when needed, after all other consensus remedies have been tried. The site is owned by the Wikimedia Foundation, which is largely uninvolved in daily operation and writing.
Editing Wikipedia pages
- Main article, including list of common mark-up shortcuts: Wikipedia:How to edit a page
Wikipedia uses a simple yet powerful page layout to allow editors to concentrate on adding material rather than page design. These include automatic sections and subsections, automatic references and cross-references, image and table inclusion, indented and listed text, links ISBNs and math, as well as usual formatting elements and most world alphabets and common symbols. Most of these have simple formats that are deliberately very easy and intuitive.
Wikipedia has robust version and reversion controls. This means that poor quality edits or vandalism can quickly and easily be reversed or brought up to an appropriate standard by any other editors, so inexperienced editors cannot accidentally do permanent harm if they make a mistake in their editing. As there are many more editors intent upon good quality articles than any other kind, articles that are poorly edited are usually corrected rapidly.
Wikipedia content criteria
Wikipedia content is intended to be factual, notable, verifiable with external sources, and neutrally presented, with external sources cited.
The appropriate policies and guidelines for these are found at:
- Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not summarizes what Wikipedia is, and what it is not.
- Wikipedia:Neutral point of view Wikipedia's core approach, neutral unbiased article writing.
- Wikipedia:No original research what is, and is not, valid information
- Wikipedia:Verifiability what counts as a verifiable source and how a source can be verified
- Wikipedia:Citing sources sources should be cited, and the manner of doing so.
Handling disputes and abuse
- Main articles: Wikipedia:Vandalism, Wikipedia:Dispute resolution, Wikipedia:Consensus, Wikipedia:Sock puppet, Wikipedia:Conflict of interest
Wikipedia has a rich span of methods to handle most abuses which commonly arise, which are well tested and should be relied upon.
- Intentional vandalism can be reported and corrected by anyone.
- Unresolved disputes between editors, whether based upon behavior, editorial approach or validity of content, can be addressed through the talk page of an article, through requesting comments from other editors or through Wikipedia's comprehensive dispute resolution process.
- Abuse of user accounts, such as the creation of Internet sock puppets or solicitation of friends and other parties to enforce a non-neutral viewpoint or inappropriate consensus within a discussion, or to disrupt other Wikipedia processes in an annoying manner, are addressed through the sock puppet policy.
In addition, brand new users (until they have established themselves a bit) may at the start find that their votes are given less weight by editors in some informal polls, in order to prevent abuse of single purpose accounts.
- For more details on this topic, see History of Wikipedia.
Wikipedia was founded as an offshoot of Nupedia, a now-abandoned project to produce a free encyclopedia. Nupedia had an elaborate system of peer review and required highly qualified contributors, but the writing of articles was seen as very slow. During 2000, Jimmy Wales, founder of Nupedia, and Larry Sanger, whom Wales had employed to work on the project, discussed various ways to supplement Nupedia with a more open, complementary project.
On the evening of January 2, 2001, Sanger had a conversation over dinner with Ben Kovitz, a computer programmer, in San Diego, California. Kovitz, who was a regular on "Ward's Wiki" (the WikiWikiWeb), explained the wiki concept to Sanger. Sanger saw that a wiki would be an excellent format whereby a more open, less formal encyclopedia project could be pursued. Sanger easily persuaded Wales, who had been introduced to the wiki concept previously, to set up a wiki for Nupedia, and Nupedia's first wiki went online on January 10.
There was considerable resistance on the part of Nupedia's editors and reviewers to the idea of associating Nupedia with a website in the wiki format, however, so the new project was given the name "Wikipedia" and launched on its own domain, wikipedia.com, on January 15 (now humorously called "Wikipedia Day" by some users). The bandwidth and server (located in San Diego) were donated by Wales. Other current and past Bomis employees who have done some work on the encyclopedia include Tim Shell, one of the co-founders of Bomis and its current CEO, and programmer Jason Richey.
In May 2001, the first wave of non-English Wikipedias were launched (in Catalan, Chinese, Dutch, German, Esperanto, French, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish, soon joined by Arabic and Hungarian ). In September,  a further commitment to the multilingual provision of Wikipedia was made. At the end of the year, when international statistics first began to be logged, Afrikaans, Norwegian, and Serbocroatian versions were announced.
There are 67,000 active contributors working on more than 4,600,000 articles in more than 100 languages. As of today, there are articles in English; every day hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world make tens of thousands of edits and create thousands of new articles to enhance the amount of knowledge held by the Wikipedia encyclopedia. Visitors do not need any special qualifications to contribute, and people of all ages help to write Wikipedia articles.
All the text in Wikipedia, and most of the images and other content, is covered by the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). Contributions remain the property of their creators, while the GFDL license ensures the content will remain freely distributable and reproducible (see the copyright notice and the content disclaimer for more information).
The hardware supporting the various projects is based on almost 100 servers hosted in various hosting centers around the world. Full descriptions of the various servers are available on this meta page.
For technical information about Wikipedia, you can check Technical FAQs.
Theories as to why Wikipedia is popular
Various ideas exist as to why Wikipedia has bewitched so many people:
- Wikipedia offers information for almost any subject in a consistent, easy-to-read style.
- Wikipedia is mapping out group-behaviour in a way that's never been done before.
- People derive pleasure and validation from seeing their edits remain in place.
- The real prospect that mass-editing might be less subjective than the conventional editing process.
- The "herding effect" that inexplicably gathers around certain aspects of pop culture.
- The pleasant surprise that goodwill prevails in Wikipedia, suggesting that humans are basically good, and that evil is overcome by cooperation.
- Never before has the boundary between participant and observer been blurred on such a large scale.
- Any fact can be noted in Wikipedia when found and it should then always be there for later reference.
- If a topic is popular, it will be searched for. If it does not exist it is only a matter of time before someone creates it. From that point all other people searching that popular topic will find the article and many will contribute to it. Therefore finding an article based on one's search criteria is highly likely ever more so with time. It also means the most popular topics are also generally the most heavily edited.
- It is regularly updated so that information is relatively fresh as opposed to normal encyclopedic articles which may take months or years to publish.
Feedback and questions
Wikipedia itself is run as a communal effort. It is a community project whose end result is an encyclopedia. Feedback about content should, in the first instance, be raised on the discussion pages of those articles. You are invited to be bold and edit the pages yourself to add information or correct mistakes if you are knowledgeable and able to do so.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
- FAQ index: Index of all Wikipedia FAQ pages
There is an established escalation and dispute process within Wikipedia, as well as pages designed for raising questions, feedback, suggestions and comments:
- Talk pages - the associated discussion page for discussion of an article or policy's contents. This is usually the first place to go.
- Wikipedia:Vandalism - to report vandalism (you're encouraged to fix vandalism yourself as well as report it)
- Dispute resolution - for disputes which remain unresolved within an article's talk space.
- Village pump - the Wikipedia discussion area, part of the community portal.
- Bug tracker, for reporting issues with the Wikipedia web site or the MediaWiki software that runs it
- Village pump: proposals page for non-policy suggestions
- Wikipedia:Help desk - Wikipedia's general help desk, if other pages haven't answered your query.
Research help and similar questions
Facilities for help for users researching specific topics can be found at:
- Wikipedia:Requested articles - to suggest or request articles for future.
- Wikipedia:Reference desk - help finding specific facts.
Because of the nature of Wikipedia, it's encouraged that people looking for information should try and find it themselves in the first instance. If however you come across valid information missing from Wikipedia, be bold and add it yourself so others can gain from your research too!
For specific discussion not related to article content or editor conduct, see the Village pump, which covers such subjects as news and announcements, policy and technical discussion, and information on other specialized portals such as the help, reference and peer review desks.
For other user discussion of Wikipedia in general, see Wikipedia:Community Portal.whiplash
Contacting individual Wikipedia editors
If you need more information, the first place to go is the Help:Contents. To contact individual contributors, leave a message on their talk page. Standard places to ask policy and project-related questions are the village pump, online, and the Wikipedia mailing lists, over e-mail. You can also reach other Wikipedians via IRC and instant messenger.
There is also a meta-Wikipedia, a site for coordinating the various Wikipedia projects (and abstract discussions of policy and direction), and there are many different places for submitting bug reports and feature requests.
For a full list of contact options, see: Wikipedia:Contact us.
Related versions and projects
Wikipedia versions in other languages
This Wikipedia is written in English. Started in 2001, it currently contains [[Special:Statistics|]] articles. Many other Wikipedias are available; the largest are listed below.
Dictionary and thesaurus
Collection of quotations
Free textbooks and manuals
Directory of species
Free learning materials and activities
Shared media repository
Wikimedia project coordination
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