The world's largest encyclopedia available on the Web at www.wikipedia.com. Wikipedia is user generated, and anyone can create or edit an article (see wiki). Founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales, as of 2010, there were more than three million articles in more than 250 languages on every conceivable subject. Wikipedia is written and edited by hundreds of thousands of contributors from all walks of life.|
Admired and Criticized
Wikipedia is widely praised for its incredible breadth, covering subjects, sometimes in great depth, that would never appear in any encyclopedia, online or print. There are so many "eyes" looking at an entry that erroneous information is often caught rather quickly. However, Wikipedia is also disparaged because people can make edits without divulging their credentials or experience in the subject. Of course, this is true with any information on the Web. In addition, if vendors see comments about their products, nothing stops them from editing the definition in their favor.
Since anyone can contribute, every caliber of writing quality is exhibited from the ridiculous to the sublime. Technical writing is a skill that takes time to master. When one is subjected to numerous styles of prose in the same article, as well as different terminology describing the same subject, digesting the material can be arduous. See Wikipedian, RTFM and Uncyclopedia.
There Is a Hierarchy
Although anybody can contribute, there is still a hierarchy. Many contributors are identified only by IP address, while others use screen names. Several hundred administrators have the power to delete entries and block IP addresses to keep vandals from changing meaningful descriptions to obscene language as well as others who continuously add strong opinions or political commentary. Jimmy Wales has the ultimate authority. See Wikia and knol.
A Note from the Author
Wikipedia is our greatest competition, yet it is also our greatest benefactor. Millions of people go to Wikipedia because of its wealth of facts and figures. However, that's also one of its detriments, especially for technical subjects. I use Wikipedia all the time, and very often I'll distill 10 pages into a half dozen paragraphs. Truly, if you want to know the author and date of Version 1.25a of your application, Wikipedia may be an invaluable source for that data. But, if you want to quickly understand a technical concept, Wikipedia often disappoints. The reason is simple. It takes years to become a good technical writer. I've been writing this encyclopedia for more than 30 years, and, today, I'm doing my best work. Why not. It takes decades to master any trade... to quote: "genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." It takes experience.
Contributing writers on technical subjects are often brilliant engineers who know their subjects cold, but they don't spend years thinking about how to describe them in simple language that anyone can understand. Inventors invent... they don't write. Instead of one inexperienced writer contributing to a technical definition, Wikipedia may have 20 inexperienced writers, each contributing to the same definition in a different writing style, or often no style, all of which can be extremely confusing.
Because of Wikipedia and the countless other technical articles that are difficult to understand, our readers come to us first, because they know that if the entry is there, it will be succinct and to the point... unless of course it's a definition I wrote 15 years ago and haven't gotten around to revising.
I strive for clarity, which is why I not only write new definitions, I constantly revise old ones, not just to update facts but also to make them easier to understand. In fact, I have edited some definitions a hundred times, and as my writing improves, so does the clarity of the definition. I hope it helps you in your endeavors.