Wikipedia is currently the largest collaborative source of knowledge about different things and subjects. This paper provides a brief review of Wikipedia’s structure and purpose, its overall “look and feels”, its target audience, and the most useful technical and information features. The value and implications of Wikipedia for information management and the development of collaborative information projects are discussed.
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Wikipedia has already become one of the most popular sources of knowledge and information on various subjects. Volkel et al (2006) call Wikipedia “the world’s largest collaboratively edited source of encyclopedic knowledge” (p.1). Wikipedia is, actually, a multilingual encyclopedia that is based on an openly editable model and relies on the principles of collaboration and sharedness of knowledge (Wikipedia, 2011a). Simply stated, anonymous Internet users, write Wikipedia articles for free.
Description of Structure and Purpose
The purpose of Wikipedia is to make information and knowledge available to millions of Internet users. Wikipedia does not follow any strict rules. It provides users with free, relevant content that does not advocate for any particular viewpoint (Wikipedia, 2011a). It would be fair to say that Wikipedia is designed to meet the long-term goal of preserving past and present knowledge for future generations.
In many instances, Wikipedia resembles the famous library of Alexandria, which was created to provide coverage of everything that had been ever written by humans (O’Sullivan, 2008). Wikipedia is unique in the sense that it relies on a complex networking structure: Wikipedia authors use links to promote the free-degree distribution of information between users (Vos, 2005). Networking is so important for Wikipedia, that articles with less than 5 links are deleted; simultaneously, links to non-existing pages motivate people to contribute to and fill in the missing spaces (Vos, 2005).
Some Wikipedia articles resemble a complex cluster of information and links, which facilitate understanding and create a vision of information interdependency. Wikipedia exemplifies a new type of IT project, which helps users to access information quickly and does not require extensive technical skills.
Wikipedia’s Overall Look, “Feel”, and Apparent Target Audience
The article about distance education helps to understand how most Wikipedia articles usually look and “feel”. First, every article has a brief introduction and contents. Second, related links, articles, and a list of references are provided. These features create a feeling of completeness and reliability: the fact that Wikipedia provides a list of references implies that the information is relevant and non-plagiarized. From what I see in Wikipedia articles, college and university students are the target audience for Wikipedia (Wikipedia, 2001b). Students demonstrate high levels of technology adoption and seek easy ways to access and use relevant information. However, Wikipedia is hardly the best source of information for research papers, articles, and projects.
What I Find Useful about the Website: Links to Follow and Bottom-Line Evaluation
Wikipedia can be an effective research guideline. Put simply, Wikipedia provides information and ideas on various subjects that can be verified and later used for various purposes, e.g., writing a research paper. Links and references can be used to test the validity and reliability of the information in Wikipedia articles. However, the results of the bottom-line evaluation suggest that Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information.
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The quality of Wikipedia content is a frequent object of online and professional discussions. Vos (2005) writes that any open-source system of knowledge delivery is necessarily associated with numerous errors and demonstrates low validity. Wikipedia is based on the open-source principles that allow its users to edit and eliminate errors, but one can never know how many errors are checked and how many errors remain (Vos, 2005).
Wikipedia does not follow any strict criteria of information quality; as a result, whether or not Wikipedia is a quality source of information everyone decides for themselves. I do not accept the use of Wikipedia in learning and education. I believe that Wikipedia is a remarkable attempt to bring knowledge to the masses, but the project is in the state of its infancy. Therefore, years will pass, before Wikipedia is recognized as a reliable source of scientific truth about the world.
O’Sullivan, D. (2009). Wikipedia: A new community practice. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
Volkel, M., Krotzsch, M., Vrandecic, D., Haller, H. & Studer, R. (2006). Semantic Wikipedia. The 3rd European Semantic Web Conference.
Vos, J. (2005). Measuring Wikipedia. Accepted paper for Proceedings of the ISSI 2005 conference. Web.
Wikipedia. (2011a). Wikipedia: Five pillars. Wikipedia. Web.
Wikipedia. (2011b). Distance education. Wikipedia. Web.