Wondering what the buzz is about Wikipedia, both good and bad? Here's a short list of high and low points to keep in mind when you're using the website.
No need to give, unless you feel like it -- Wikipedia is absolutely free-of-charge to use. You don't need to pay any money to browse, edit, or create articles, or to sign up for an account (though you can make a donation, if you're feeling generous)!
A wide array of topics -- Wikipedia has over 34 million articles, including over 4.6 million articles on the English version alone, so you're bound to find at least some information about anything that you're looking for.
A truly global encyclopedia -- Wikipedia is available in over 200 different languages, so even if English isn't your native tongue, you'll still be able to find the information you need in a dialect that you can understand.
This just in -- New information is being added to Wikipedia all the time, so you can stay up-to-date with the latest developments on a certain subject. There's always more to learn!
Available almost anywhere you go -- As an Internet-based service, you can access Wikipedia from almost any modern computer, including mobile devices such as smart phones and tablet computers. Get the information you need to know, when you need to know it.
Created by the community... but how diverse is it? -- While Wikipedia is still mostly open in terms of who can create or edit articles (i.e. basically anyone who signs up for an account), the group of users who do so on a regular basis is relatively small. This means that there might be certain biases in the tone of how articles are written, and some articles may have much more information than others.
"Post now, fix later" can cause misinformation -- While Wikipedia has taken steps to increase the accuracy of its content and prevent misinformation and vandalism (as outlined above), it is still relatively open in terms of who can contribute. This means that there is certain information on the website that has not been properly verified or is outright biased or incorrect, and it can stay that way for a long time until someone notices it and fixes it. If you read something on Wikipedia that seems a little off, consider fixing it yourself (if you know the correct information), or if you can't, then consider checking it against another trusted source of information.
It's kind of hard to go wrong with Wikipedia. It's a completely free service available in over 200 languages that has at least some information on pretty much anything you can think of. Plus, it's constantly being updated, and its interface is extremely user-friendly even on mobile devices, so the information is there for you when and where you need it.
However, Wikipedia's greatest strength is also its largest drawback. Since it relies on the consensus of a more-or-less anonymous user community -- as opposed to accredited experts -- to quickly create and verify its articles, not all of its information is reliable or without bias, and this misinformation isn't always detected and fixed before it can spread. In addition, the amount of information on certain topics is partially determined by what the user community wants to know about and write about. Some people just find "lightsabers" more interesting than the printing press, for example.
In short, when using Wikipedia, follow the old journalist's adage: "trust, but verify".
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