Your one-stop source for information about, well, almost anything!
The Register, an online IT news Web site reported on 7 September, “For most Web surfers, Wikipedia is simply an occasionally useful online resource that needs to be taken with a huge sackful of salt. For others, it’s a poor excuse for a real encyclopaedia. But for its proponents, it’s nothing short of revolutionary.”
A poor excuse for an encyclopaedia or something that will revolutionise the way we look at information? Either way, there’s no denying that Wikipedia is useful and fun. From definitions to full-length articles, from informative snippets to views on genres of music, Wikipedia has it all. And you can add to Wikipedia—just as to any Wiki. (For more on Wiki, read the article “Everyone’s Invited” in Digit’s Februrary 2004 issue).
Since there are people out there who will read what you add, be responsible while editing a Wikipedia page. Our suggestion is to only write about what you know really well.
Wikipedia can be confusing when you first visit it. Once you get used to it, however, you will see an order to the confusion. Basically, you need to remember that:
- Every page, including the main page itself, can be changed by anyone—including you!
- You will always find a huge number of linked words on a page. Most of these link to other Wikipedia articles.
- The Help section—which can be reached from every page—is comprehensive, and will tell you about almost anything you need to know.
The Main Page
The Main Page gives you a flavour for Wikipedia as a whole. You will see the Navigation section on the left, which includes links to the Community portal; recent changes to Wikipedia; “Random page”—which takes you to a random article page, of course; and the Help page. Beneath the Navigation section is the search tool; “Go” takes you to an article related to what you searched for, and “search” takes you on a search for all pages that mention your search term. And beneath that is the toolbox, which includes the immensely useful “What links here.” By clicking on “What links here,” you can see all the pages that link to the article you’re currently viewing.
The tabs on the top of any page help you navigate within Wikipedia. “Discussion” takes you to a page that contains everything people have said about the page in question—and you can add to the discussion, of course. “Edit this page” takes you to a place that seems like magic at first—you will find that you can actually edit the page you’re viewing, and your changes show up instantly. “History” is a list of changes that were made to the page. “Move” allows you to move the current page to a different location, that is, under a different classification. And the “Watch” tab adds the current page to your “Watchlist,” the list of pages changes to which you are monitoring (yes, you can do that as well).
Why Log In?
You don’t have to log in in order to be able to do most things on Wikipedia. But if you do, there are a few advantages. First, the editing that you do while at Wikipedia will be logged under your username instead of just under your IP address; you can view all your contributions at any time by clicking an icon; you can have a “user page” where you talk a little bit about yourself; and so on.
Wikipedia is all about the free dissemination of knowledge. Articles are very strongly networked to each other, which makes it a breeze to research a topic: just choose a starting point, and you never know where you might end up—with all those hyperlinks all over the place.
True, Wikipedia does have a somewhat disorganised look and feel, but that’s the price to pay for so much free knowledge with no real centralised command. You can get involved simply by navigating to the subjects you know a lot about—and either adding articles or editing some.
Remember, you are never lost at Wikipedia—help is always at hand. Do some basic browsing and experimenting in the “Sandbox”—which you’ll find under “Help”—and you’ll be all set to go!