Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wikipedia* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

Introduction

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.

The name of the document is given after Woody Allen’s movie Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), of course. This is because of parallels between the movie and my ideas how to make this document:

  1. Wikipedia is like sex.
    • (Almost) all of us know what Wikipedia and sex are, but a lot of us don’t know how to use them.
    • When you learn how to use them, you will/did find that it is very easy. And you think that you were stupid because you didn’t learn it before.
    • Like with sex, you have to do a lot of things before you have Wikipedia (cf. petting vs. research).
    • You have to do a lot of things to keep your Wikipedia, too.
    • There are a lot of irritant people who want to take your Wikipedia from you.
    • (this is the place for your contribution: send to me your metaphors 🙂 )
  2. General FAQs without humor are boring. So, I want to try to be a little bit funny 😉
  3. I like grotesque humor.
  4. (there is a number of other parallels and I’ll add them here in the future)

Note that this FAQ represents my opinions, not opinions of Wikipedian community or Wikimedia Foundation or anyone else, even I am sure that there are a lot of people who agree with me. Because of that I didn’t decide to contribute it directly to Wikipedia FAQ (even all of this document may be adopted into Wikipedia).

Contributions, forks and translations

I would be happy to see any of them. Here are some notes for people who are interested in working on document like this one:

Contributions

If you have some question and answer, send me an email and say there that you agree to give your contribution under GPLv3 or any later, GFDLv1.2 or any later or CC-BY-SAv3.0 or any later (for details, see the section “Copyleft”).

This section is the place where I will put all people who contributed. Every non-trivial contribution means that I’ll put you as authors of the document.

Forks

Feel free to fork this document. I would ask you to do two things: (1) send me a link to your document and I’ll put it here; (2) please, use all three licenses because it allows the highest level of usefulness of the document; keep in mind that I may want to adopt some of your Q&As 🙂

Translations

Feel free to translate this document. However, I encourage you not to make simple translation, but to make your own document. Thinking about this matter is a creative process and it is not so clever to waste your creative time on trivial translation.

Of course, as for forks, please: (1) send me a link to your document and (2) please, use all three licenses.

Versions and formats

The latest version of this document is available on my blog. From version 1.2 all of the documents are available in html and wiki.txt format on SourceForge (the full list of available documents with some explanations is available on my site).

  1. version 1.0 — 2007-08-04 — initial version
  2. version 1.0.1 — 2007-08-04 — spelling errors
  3. version 1.0.2 — 2007-08-04 — minor edits
  4. version 1.1 — 2007-08-04 — (1) link to Geoff’s page added; (2) four new Q&As added.
  5. version 1.2 — 2007-08-05
    • Better organization of the document.
    • Copyright statements and licenses added.
    • Links added into previous text.
    • A number of smaller changes.
    • A number of new Q&As.
  6. version 1.2.1 — 2007-08-05
    • Spelling errors and similar.

TODO

  • Add more content:
    • usage of article history in research
    • partisans on Wikipedia
    • more q&as at “Questions about life and meaning”

Copyleft

Document may be used under GPLv3, GFDLv1.2 or CC-BY-SA 3.0 or under any later version of those licenses provided by Free software foundation (for GPL and GFDL) and Creative Commons (for CC-BY-SA).

GPL

FAQ about WikipediaCopyright (C) 2007 Milos Rancic

This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or at your option) any later version.

This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.

You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License along with this program. If not, see <http://www.gnu.org/licenses/&gt;.

GFDL

Copyright (c) 2007 Milos Rancic.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this documentunder the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNUFree Documentation License”.

CC-BY-SA

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Before you start to read

Note that there is an extensive FAQ on English Wikipedia which covers the most basic things. From time to time I’ll tell you to read this FAQ instead to write the same explanation here. But, when I think that some answers are appropriate for this document, I’ll cite them here.

In comparison to the FAQ from Wikipedia, intentions of this document are:

  1. To be a little bit more interesting then strictly functional FAQ.
  2. To cover almost the whole field of WP:FAQ, but not necessarily.
  3. To cover a number of issues which are not covered by Wikipedia FAQ. Some of them will/should be added into the official FAQ, but some of them is not possible to add because not all Wikipedia editors agree with my positions.
  4. To give an alternative opinion to official suggestions.
  5. As this is not a document which passed through process of consensus-making decisions, my intention is to make it clearly progressive.

And, in comarison to the official FAQ, intentions of this document are not:

  1. As this is not an official FAQ, I don’t intend to tell you who should be contacted if there is some copyright infringement or similar.
  2. I will not explain wiki editing basics here, but I’ll introduce you where to read it.
  3. My opinions may be different then widely accepted ones.
  4. Intention of this document is not to describe general computer techniques, like, for example, usage of spell checker in web browser is.

FAQ

Wikipedia, Wikimedia, free knowledge, wiki

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a free knowledge project. Here is an approximate quote of the first paragraph of the article Wikipedia from Wikipedia (from August 5th, 2007:
Wikipedia (IPA: /ˌwikiˈpiːdi.ə/, /ˌwikiˈpeːdi.ə/ or /ˌwɪkiˈpiːdi.ə/) is a multilingual, web-based, free encyclopedia project, operated by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization.

What is free knowledge?

According to the article on Wikipedia (2007-08-05), Libre/free knowledge is knowledge which may be acquired, interpreted and applied freely, it can be re-formulated according to one’s needs, and shared with others for community benefit.

It is free, but how much money I have to give for it?

It is free, you don’t need to pay anything! Of course, if you have Internet connection (payed or free) and computer (payed or free).

It looks like communism, I don’t like it!

Yes, it does, but you are mixing up communism with authoritarian people and totalitarian states which misused and misuse human aspirations for sharing.

But, “communism is an ideology that forces people to share”!

Every state does that. If you don’t pay tax, every state wants to put you into a jail.

Are you a Commie?

No, I am not a communist.

Does it have any relation with free software?

Yes. Wikipedia uses GNU Free Documentation License and free knowledge on Internet has roots in free software movement.

So, free knowledge is in relation with pirate software?

Yes, it is, but not as you think. Free software is not pirate software because free software is completely legal and free. However, people who like to share their knowledge legally, often sympathize people who share any kind of data legally or illegally.

You want to tell me that illegal share of software (and music? and movies?) is something good?

Yes, I want to tell you that. Sharing is a good thing. People who prohibit sharing are evil and prohibition of sharing is evil.

All of those things look like something ideal, not real. It may not work!

It works. Sharing knowledge between humans is working for a couple of millions of years.

How reliable Wikipedia is?

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.
(I strictly disagree with citing any encyclopedia. However some people think that it is possible to cite encyclopedia in some cases. You may be interested to read Geoffrey Burling’s article “When to cite from encyclopedia — even though you’re not suppose to“.)

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 nonsense articles 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 MediaWiki extension, Cite. This extension brought to Wikipedia (but, to other MediaWiki sites, too) an (almost) easy way to add references. Ta bu shi da yu 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 enlighten 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 references and to automatically exclude claims with citations of references marked as non-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.

I need that article

I didn’t find an article about first order kinetics on Wikipedia and I need it!

What a good opportunity to make your first contribution to the sum of human knowledge! Please, find some sources and write the article.

You are so customer-unfriendly! I will never use your services again!

Wikipedia is not a company which provides services to it’s customers. Wikipedia is built over voluntary work of it’s users. And you are one of Wikipedia’s users. If you need such article on Wikipedia and you don’t know how to write it, ask someone to help you or to write the article.

So, I asked you to write the article!

Sorry, my knowledge about nuclear chemistry is very poor. I just found a red link on Wikipedia to make an example 😉

And if I ask you to help me to write the article?

Yes, I may help you. However, keep in mind that almost for sure you are know subject much better then then me. I may help you providing to you relevant methods for work on Wikipedia. If it is hard for you to read help pages on Wikipedia, you may contact me via email, via IRC (my nick is “millosh”, of course) or via Jabber (millosh@jabber.org). If you don’t find me, feel free to ask people on the channel. Also, I hope that this FAQ will be enough for the beginning in the future.

Questions about life and meaning

Is it possible that Wikipedia describes everything?

Yes. If Wikipedia makes another, double-density universe.

When Wikipedia would be finished?

Wikipedia was finished at July 29th, 2007.
It is possible to analyze this question more serious. Some of the circumstances may be enough to finish Wikipedia:

  • Any kind of global problems may cause a lot of problems to Wikipedia and even closing it. Wikipedia lays on Internet and any problem which may affect Internet, may affect Wikipedia, too: from global economic problems to some bigger cataclysm. Also, some global problems may be enough hard to destroy work on Wikipedia, but not to destroy Internet.
  • Any kind of restrictive legislature which would prohibit free cooperation between people may also close Wikipedia.
  • Some new technology (like very good manipulation and archiving sound and video) may switch contributors’ attention from Wikipedia to some new site/method. However, this kind of advance may bring only switching Wikipedia from text to some other medium.
  • Some radically new technology (like direct interchanging thoughts between humans) may cause that Wikipedia has no sense anymore. Again, even then Wikipedia may become a good starting position.
  • Some other reasons may be also responsible for closing Wikipedia: humans loose interest in knowledge, society comes at the position where knowledge is not important anymore, some pandemic makes incapable to use computers; etc.
  • Wikimedia Foundation stops to function. This event will probably just switch content from WMF to some other, new or existing organization.
  • Wikipedia policy in conjunction with large content makes impossible making new articles and developing existing. This will be the only circumstance which would make Wikipedia really finished.
All in all, if world survives and if world wouldn’t become some really different place from one which we know, it is not so reasonable to suppose that (at least the content and methods of) Wikipedia will be finished in our lives.

If you didn’t read introduction

Is there any connection between Wikipedia and sex?

Yes. Wikipedia is like sex.

I have a good idea to contribute to this document! Would you put it inside?

Yes, if I think that your contribution is at least informative or funny. If I didn’t find it informative or funny, you always may make your own fork of this document and, if you send me a link, I’ll link your document from this one.

May I make a fork of this document?

Yes, please! You may choose any of the licenses (GPL, GFDL, CC-BY-SA, please look at the section “Copyleft” for more details), but I am asking you to use all three licenses because of compatibility and usefulness of your document. Please, send me a link to your fork so I may add it in this document.

May I translate this document?

Yes, please! Note that I would like to see not only your simple translation, but your ideas, too. It is not necessary to make perfect translation of the document into another language; moreover, it is much better to have different documents! Also, please, try to keep all three licenses and send to me a link to your document.

Notes about writing this document

  • Section “I need that article” as it looked like in the version 1.2 of this document is an adaptation of my conversation with one Mac fan.
  • David Gerard sent to wikien-l list a link to UnNews article Wikipedia “reached completition”, site founder says. This email triggered the section “Questions about life and meaning”. I realized that this is an important part of the field which I intend to cover with this document.

Licenses

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8 Responses to “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wikipedia* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)”

  1. […] 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 […]

  2. Don’t cite from Wikipedia at all? While a good rule of thumb because some students will always do it wrong — or for the wrong reasons, I onsider it a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. One of the most popular on my blog is “When
    to cite from an encyclopedia — even though you’re not supposed to”
    , which discusses the problem in far more depth. And before anyone starts to claim that I am undermining the authority of the teacher in the classroom, let me repeat one of the most important points from this essay:

    if you want to use one of these exceptions, … ask your professor first.

    Good teachers will understand the reasons for this exception — okay, I hope they will, because everyone has their blind spots.

    Geoff

  3. Thanks, Geoff! I am preparing v1.1 and I’ll include link to your post in the new version.

  4. […] EYAWKAW, update to 1.1 I made some updates to the FAQ Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wikipedia* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). You may find full text here. […]

  5. […] Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wikipedia* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), v1.2 I made a lot of updates and it doesn’t have a lot of sense to send an update. So, here is the version 1.2.1. Note that the latest version is still there. […]

  6. […] You Always Wanted to Know About Wikipedia, Appendix A This document is a part of the document Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wikipedia* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). Here is the list of interesting documents related to Wikipedia (in alphabetical order). Note that […]

  7. […] First order kinetics which I mentioned as a joke inside of the document Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wikipedia still doesn’t […]

  8. can you tell when a Wikipedia article was (first) written(and not revised)?

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