Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wikipedia* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), v1.0

Here is the first version of the document. I’ll announce updates as posts and the latest version of the document will be here.


I found that a lot of people outside of Wikipedia (and a lot of them inside) don’t know to use Wikipedia. And, of course, I found that they are afraid to ask 🙂 Even the name of the article refers only to Wikipedia, this document will deal with all Wikimedia-related issues. Document is in the FAQ form and I’ll expand it in the future. Ideas, suggestions and contributions are welcome. Document may be used under GPLv3, GFDLv1.2 or CC-BY-SA 3.0 or under any later version of those licenses. (I know, I have to make better copyleft statement…)

version 1.0.1

I want to cite Wikipedia article in my school work. How to do that?

Don’t do that. You shouldn’t cite even Britannica in your school work because it is an Encyclopedia. And encyclopedia should be used for getting general knowledge, not for getting quotes for school nor scientific work.

So, you want to tell me that Wikipedia is useless for me?

If you want to get instant citations all encyclopedias are useless for you. If you want to explore some specific scientific field, Wikipedia (as well as any other encyclopedia) will be very useful for you. You may find there a lot of references which you may cite.

Oh my God, I saw this and this on Wikipedia!

Be cool 🙂 Someone wanted to make a joke and (s)he succeed. Wikipedia is edited by a lot of persons; search engines have their own algorithms. It is quite possible that Google catch 10,000 nonsenses from two millions of articles. Keep in mind that this is 0.5% of articles on English language edition of Wikipedia.

OK. It was almost funny, but much bigger problem are pages like this one How can I trust to this site?

You shouldn’t trust to any site if you saw the information only on that site. But this is not the end. You shouldn’t believe to any newspaper, to your friends, even to your family members if they told to you something which is not possible to check. Even a wide spread informations may be hoaxes. For example, I live in Belgrade and I know the person who made this hoax (no, there were no any cafe “Osama” in Belgrade, even the explanation is completely rational; and, of course, you should check my claim somehow 🙂 ).

So, you are trying to tell to me not to trust to anyone?

Of course, not! You should believe to your friends and family members if they are talking to you about, for example, their emotions, what did they do yesterday and so on. You should believe to your professor when he teaches you.
Maybe they are wrong even if they think they are right. Maybe you will think something wrong because of that. But, what that’s mean: if something is really important to you, then you should check it not only twice. Except emotions, of course. If you don’t trust to someone’s emotions, it is useless to check them because trust is an important part of your emotions.

Let’s back to Wikipedia. Why should I use it when it is reliable as any other site?

Wikipedia becomes more reliable source then any other site, actually. Some time ago Ævar Arnfjörð Bjarmason made a perfect extension, Cite. This extension brought to Wikipedia (but, to other MediaWiki sites, too) an (almost) easy way to add references. Someone else made a template {{fact}} and maybe the most famous feature on Wikipedia became [citation needed]. As I don’t want to say that Wikipedia is now (August 2007) the encyclopedia with the most citations per article, I just say that Wikipedia will be the encyclopedia with the most citations per article in the near future. And citations makes one encyclopedia reliable.

Despite this, a lot of statements doesn’t have citations, still!

Yes, it is one of the Wikipedian problems. It is more easy just to write, then to make an appropriate research. Also, a method for adding relevant sources was not always so easy. And, all in all, Wikipedia didn’t start as a project with intent to become the biggest encyclopedia ever, but as an amateur project which goal was to help Nupedia, an expert project. So, there are at least two answers to this statement: (1) If you wait long enough (maybe a day, maybe a year, but I am sure not longer then a couple of years), at the end you will find appropriate citation at the place where you needed it. (2) If you don’t have a time to wait, find citation on some other place and compare it with text on Wikipedia. If statement on Wikipedia is wrong, please change it and add your source.

I found a lot of articles which cite irrelevant sources. If it is so, Wikipedia is irrelevant, too!

This is one more Wikipedian problem, but this doesn’t mean that Wikipedia is irrelevant. At least because “a lot” may mean “1% of sources”. A lot of people are coming to Wikipedia with an idea to enlight the world with their positions and their ideas. A lot of Wikipedia editors are working a lot with such people. However, the number of articles is so big and editors’ free time is not indefinite. Because of that important articles doesn’t have such problems, but a lot of smaller articles which describes some not well known facts may have such problems. The answer on this claim is not easy. Wikipedians need to find a method how to deal with that. I have some ideas. The first and the most important is that there shouldn’t be added any new sentence without a reliable reference; and to start with fixing present articles. The second is to make a database of non-reliable references and to automatically exclude such claims or to mark them as not so reliable. I am sure that other Wikipedians have good ideas, too. And I am sure that this problem will be solved in the future. Of course, if you have some good idea, please let us know.

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~ by millosh on August 4, 2007.

3 Responses to “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wikipedia* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), v1.0”

  1. A very funny and yet true article. May I translate the summary to Indonesian?

  2. […] Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wikipedia* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), v1.0 « millosh’s… Tanya jawab (FAQ) yang lucu sekaligus mengandung banyak kebenaran mengenai Wikipedia, terutama masalah pemastian isi artikel-artikel Wikipedia (tags: wikipedia) […]

  3. Yes, of course. Sorry for delay… I didn’t see your message. I made the version 1.2 where I explained what do I expect from a person who translates 😉 Please, see the latest version of the document.

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