What is Wikipedia and How Does It Work?

Last updated: January 19, 2015 - 2:29pm EST

Created in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, Wikipedia's name tells you pretty much all you need to know about it.  It's a combination of the Hawaiian word for "quick" ("wiki") and the word "encyclopedia", so it's a way to find general information on all sorts of topics rapidly and conveniently over the Internet.  Available in over 200 languages and comprising over 34 million articles (with 4.6 million articles on the English version alone), it is the largest general reference website on the Internet.  But there's more to Wikipedia than that!

  • Wikipedia is completely free to use (though the Wikimedia Foundation -- the non-profit organization that runs Wikipedia -- accepts donations to help keep the website running).

  • You don't need an account to access Wikipedia's articles (though you may need one to access some of the editing features).

  • Unlike traditional encyclopedias, being based on the Internet allows Wikipedia to be instantly expanded as the need for new information arises.  New entries are being added all the time, so if you know about something that nobody else does, you can create a new page yourself!  (Note: you may need an account for this.)

  • Wikipedia's web-based format also allows its entries to be changed instantly as new information about something or someone comes to light.  If you see something on Wikipedia that isn't quite right, or could be expanded upon, you can change or add to it, or at least start a discussion on why it should be changed or expanded.  (Again, you may need an account for this.)


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