Wikipedia is a free, online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It was founded in 2001 and, as of midnight, had 3,745,073 articles published in English.
How do I know this, you ask?
Wikipedia told me. Bam! Wikipedia knows everything about anything, including itself.
Seriously, remember when encyclopedias were printed on actual paper and sold on television or by college kids going to door to door? Lame. In fact, I’m not sure my family ever owned a set. Pretty sure we had to go to the library to find something like that. It all seemed sort of complicated and taxing.
Not so with Wikipedia. Want to know about the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen that took place earlier this week? There’s an entry for that. Meanwhile, check out the featured article as of Tuesday night:
Hubert Walter (c. 1160 – 1205) was an influential royal adviser in the late 12th and early 13th centuries in the positions of chief justiciar of England, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Lord Chancellor. As chancellor, Walter began the keeping of the Charter Roll, a record of all charters issued by the chancery. Walter was not noted for his holiness in life or learning, but historians have judged him one of the most outstanding government ministers in English history. Walter served King Henry II of England in many ways, including diplomatic and judicial efforts. After an unsuccessful candidacy to the see of York, Walter was elected Bishop of Salisbury shortly after the accession of King Henry’s son Richard I to the throne of England. Walter accompanied King Richard on the Third Crusade, and was one of the principals involved in raising Richard’s ransom after the king was captured in Germany on his return from the Holy Land. As a reward for his faithful service, Walter was selected to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1193. Walter set up a system which was the precursor for the modern justices of the peace. Following Richard’s death in 1199, Walter helped assure the elevation of Richard’s brother John to the throne. (more…)
Did you know any of that stuff? Me, neither. But I do now. Plus, I’m able to click on one of the 12 incorporated links to find out more about, say, justices of the peace. (Be glad I’m too lazy to link every single word in this piece – pretty sure it would be possible.)
The information chasing could go on forever – like a labyrinth of knowledge. In fact, you can’t help but wonder if anyone has died while on Wikipedia either by being sucked into some sort of vortex that’s hidden in one of the entries or by wasting away, unable to pull themselves away from learning long enough to eat a sandwich.
Of course, the only downside about the all-encompassing nature of Wikipedia is that those of us who don’t merit mention might feel dispensable. (OK, we DO feel dispensable. Sigh.)
Wikipedia is an incredible – and irreverent – tool that I use on an almost daily basis. Is all of the information true? I have no idea. I’ve never tried it, but supposedly anybody can edit pretty much any entry. This seems plenty sketchy, harkening back to the days when people weren’t allowed to use Internet sources in research papers.
I proceed as if it’s trustworthy. For some reason, I feel better about Wikipedia than I do other reference-style Web sites that seem more out-for-profit – WebMD, for example. I’d probably double check their information against a competing site. Not so with information gained at Wikipedia.
Why? It’s just too much fun to doubt. If Wikipedia is wrong, I don’t want to be right. OK, maybe I do, I’m just not sure where else to go – it’s a one-stop shop of wunderbar in the Internet era.