Last Updated: October 27, 2015 30

Get Started With Wikipedia

Found In: Knowledge Sharing

Wiki What?

If your first response when someone says “Wikipedia” is similar to “Wiki-what?” accompanied by confusion, perhaps I can clear things up a little.  Wikipedia is very similar to an Encyclopedia set, only it exists completely online.

For Baby Boomers, it’s like the Encyclopedia Britannica set they had as a child while Gen Xers may remember using it only for last minute school reports.  Sadly, millennials only experience with encyclopedias, maybe as a set of books collecting dust in their grandparents’ den. Thanks to the progress of technology which has brought us computers and the internet, we now have Wikipedia.

The difference between Encyclopedia Britannica sets and Wikipedia is that due to its online existence, Wikipedia can be constantly edited, changed, and improved. Rather than static printed content that must wait for the next print cycle to be updated or corrected, information throughout Wikipedia is continuously being updated.

Wikipedia then is the collection mechanism for the digital documentation of historical events, places, and things as well as notable people.

Wiki Why?

If you are skeptical about why you need to know about Wikipedia or how to use it, trust me when I say this is your ticket to “cool” status with younger relatives.  Baby Boomers and even Gen Xers are out of the loop when it comes to today’s hottest obsessions.

Wikipedia is a great place to get a list of all the books in your granddaughter’s favorite book series so you can pick ones she loves for her next birthday. Read up on your son’s obsession with Pokémon and challenge him to a dual!  It could be your niece, like my daughter, is immersed in the Minecraft world of miners, creepers, and her obsession spurs your curiosity.  Surprise the distant and surly teenager in the clan with the latest, greatest gaming console for Christmas.   Use your newly discovered knowledge of their favorite topics to connect like never before with your kids at dinner or impress the younger generation at your next family get together.

Wikipedia with its digital format and the fact that it is constantly being edited and updated by its users, more accurately reflects adult interests too, such as details on historical events like Woodstock, the L.A. riots, or the real entertainment legends like B.B. King, Bob Hope, Charlie Pride, Elvis, Aretha Franklin, and Frank Sinatra.

For those who aren’t technology gurus, Wikipedia can give you a heads up about the bugs in that new version of Windows or the changes to the newest IPhone.  As a Gen Xer, books and printed materials are my comfort zone and getting out of that zone was a little scary and intimidating at first.  The drawback to printed materials such as encyclopedias and other printed references is that they become outdated even before they hit the shelves.

But a large amount of information provided by encyclopedias necessitates many volumes—heavy volumes—with paper thin pages that rip easily and are typically printed in a font that let’s face it, can be tough on Gen Xer and Baby Boomer eyes.  Wikipedia is online, accessible from your phone if you have Wi-Fi access, and it fits in your purse or pocket!

Wiki Who?

Created by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, the English version of Wikipedia was launched in early 2001. It exploded and has accumulated more than 4.9 million articles. In the first quarter of 2014, Wikipedia in its entirety (including 288 languages) was recording unique monthly viewers at almost 500 million and it over 18 billion page views.

The Wikimedia Foundation is responsible for hosting and supporting Wikipedia. The website also prominently displays a request for donations to fund its continued operations. Any Wikipedia user with or without a registered account is encouraged to edit its almost 5 million articles. There are some restrictions on controversial articles when it comes to editing to help prevent sabotage and the blatant spread of misinformation or opinions. Due to the fact that Wikipedia is easily edited by users and monitored by volunteer editors, documents containing merely opinion or those that include inaccurate facts are quickly erased or corrected.

Wiki How?

Okay so I heard about Wikipedia and decided to put it to the test myself. I entered Wikipedia in the search bar of my Google Chrome browser. After just a few minutes of searching, I found it so intriguing, I decided to register for a free account.  It was actually quite simple and only took a few minutes.

On the Wikipedia main page, here’s what I did:

  • I selected English as my language and was directed to the main home page.
  • In the upper right corner, I clicked create account and typed in the following info: Username, password (enter same password twice), and email address
  • I then had to type the captcha (letters in the box) to prove I’m not a robot!

I had a bit of trouble with that last step. Operator error—my aging eyes apparently weren’t distinguishing the letters correctly. If this happens to you, just hit refresh in the bottom lower area of the captcha box and it will give you a new one to read.

Once you successfully create your free account, you should see the home page which will look similar to the one below:

Remember Wikipedia is constantly evolving and changing, so your navigation bars to the left and the sections are the same as above, but the actual content of the “Featured article”, “In the news”, “Did you know” and “On this day” sections will be different depending on when you login.

Wiki What Else?

For those of you who want more and want to face your hesitation about new technology, consider writing an article yourself or editing an existing article. Are you a Woodstock guru? Even better, did you attend and keep a printed program or flyer of the music line-up for the event? Is your bookshelf full of print references about the event that you can cite as sources? If so, dive into a tutorial, available on Wikipedia, and learn how to make edits to the existing article about Woodstock and fill in the holes in the knowledge base.

The suggested article format is an introduction, a page summary consisting of several paragraphs, followed by additional information sections such as links to external pages, See also (related articles), and References.

Trust me you cannot break Wikipedia!  Any edits you make can be undone if you make an error or if another editor can verify an inaccuracy in your changes. If you really want to practice first, check out the Wikipedia sandbox!  It is designed specifically for new editors who want to try things out before making changes to actual articles.

Wiki Help!

As a final note, I found numerous places within Wikipedia designed to provide you with help if you need it. For basic questions related to Wikipedia use or editing, head on over to the help desk, post {{help me}} on an article’s talk page, or for questions not Wikipedia related post to the reference desk. Overall my experience with Wikipedia was fun and interesting. Check it out yourself next time you have a few minutes.