| || courtesy, Wikimedia/ UNESCO|
company: The Wikimedia Foundation
product: free web encyclopaedia
distribution: worldwide, via internet
what: established in January 2001, Wikipédia is a free online encyclopaedia that anyone can contribute to and anyone can edit. There is no editor, no team of proofreaders and fact checkers, in fact, no full-time staff at all. It is, in other words, about as far from the traditional idea of an encyclopaedia as you can get. It could have been a recipe for failure, but instead Wikipédia has become one of the internet's success stories. Its English version already includes more than 450,000 articles.
concept: Wikipédia is both an encyclopaedia and a wiki community (that’s why it is called wikipédia!). A Wiki - from the Hawaiian term for ‘quick’ - is a website (or other hypertext documents collection) that allows users to add content, such as an Internet forum, but also allows anyone to edit the content. Wiki also refers to the collaborative software used to create such a website. The roots of Wikipédia lie in the open source software movement, which took off in the early 90s with the development of Linux, a free version of the Unix computer operating system which has become the only real challenge to Microsoft’s dominance of the market.
communicating diversity: the Wikipédia already exists in an incredibly rich number of linguistic versions. As of November 2004, according to the project's own count, nearly 30,000 contributors had written about 1.1 million articles in 109 different languages, though some of the versions have remained quite small. The Manx Gaelic version, for example, only has 3 articles, the Guarani 10, and the Klingon (yes, from the Star Trek series!) 48.
reliability: Wikipedians (Wikipédia’s users) are responsible for the articles on Wikipédia. Thousands of people have contributed to different parts of the project, and anyone can do so, including you. But if you spot an error, you are highly encouraged to correct it. This practice is one of the basic review mechanisms that maintain the reliability of the encyclopaedia. It helps eliminate errors, inaccuracies or misleading wording, but for many detractors the premise of Wikipédia that continuous improvement will lead to perfection is completely unproven...
reactions: in fact, the Wikipédia project has produced different, sometimes extreme, reactions. To its fans, it is a fantastic research resource - albeit one that you should use with caution; and an incredible example of what can be achieved by collaboration and co-operation over the internet. To its detractors, mostly from the traditional world of encyclopaedias and librarians, it is barely worth the label ‘encyclopaedia’ as it is full of errors and inaccuracies. To address these critics, the founder is looking at new techniques to improve the quality. His current plan is to create a "stable version" of some entries: in other words, ones that have been fact-checked by an approved editor.
use your head: Wikipédia cannot be perfect. There is almost certainly inaccurate information in it, which has not yet been discovered to be wrong. If you are using Wikipédia for important research or a school project, you should always verify the information somewhere else - as you would with any source…
Even if you don’t share Mr Wales’ view that an encyclopaedia is “like a sausage: you might like the taste of it, but you don't necessarily want to see how it's made”, you can still use the Wikipédia without fear… just employ a little common sense.
getting involved: you can post your own comments, edit and create articles right now. Wikipédia is an opportunity to participate in an open community that relies primarily on mutual respect and co-operation. Moreover, editing in Wikipédia is an opportunity to learn to participate in collective editorial processes and an opportunity for youths to research, compile and publish articles for their peers. And remember: networking is fundamental to more sustainable forms of culture and society.