What is Wikipedia? Here’s what you should know about the crowd-sourced and openly edited online encyclopedia

  • Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia featuring openly editable content created and sourced by users from around the world. 
  • Wikipedia is a volunteer service, powered and maintained by a full-time staff and thousands of contributors who work for free.  
  • Many facts on Wikipedia are supported by cited sources; however, Wikipedia is not considered reliable for research or other academic use. 
  • Wikipedia offers a community hub where users can communicate and collaborate about shared interests, projects, and pages.  
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If you’ve spent any time online, chances are you’ve read a few (or a few hundred) articles on Wikipedia. Launched in 2001, the free encyclopedia reportedly played host to upwards of 50 million articles in more than 300 languages in 2018, which are currently visited by more than 1.5 billion devices a month in 2020. While Wikipedia isn’t the only site of its kind, it’s undoubtedly the most prominent — a powerhouse of information on everything from celebrities to science. 

Anyone can sign up for a Wikipedia account and create a page about anything, even themselves. Here’s everything else you should know before you start using the online encyclopedia. 

What you should know about Wikipedia

In short, Wikipedia is a multilingual, openly collaborative online information platform. Like the “wikis” that came before it, the online encyclopedia’s content is editable by volunteers from across the globe. Wikipedia has tens of thousands of editors, from issue experts to the casual fans, who can expand, delete, or change information at will. This allows for a wide array of information to be supplied and verified about a particular person, place, or thing. 

As a result, Wikipedia can function as a great starting point for research, providing users with general information that can be followed up with more legitimate and reliable sources outside of the site. For instance, a Wikipedia article may introduce a reader to a particular concept or idea, leading to further exploration of the finer details and the veracity of the claims made. 

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Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that is crowd-sourced and openly edited.
Jennifer Still/Business Insider

Like its information, funding for the platform is crowd-sourced. Being a user-funded effort means Wikipedia operates entirely on user donations and grants with the ultimate aim of bringing free knowledge to everyone.

Wikipedia’s reliability 

While it’s somewhat reassuring to know that there are seemingly no corporate interests funding Wikipedia and its articles, it doesn’t mean that all pages escape personal bias and misinformation. 

Anyone with internet access can change a Wikipedia page, which means that the information on pages isn’t always reliable. On some occasions, it may even be entirely false, as the company itself has said. While administrators try to ensure facts are appropriately cited and sourced, it’s impossible to catch all inaccuracies, which is why using Wikipedia as a legitimate source of information is frowned upon in academia and other professional settings. 

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Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information and should not be attributed as one.
Jennifer Still/Business Insider

Wikipedia features and tools 

When users go to Wikipedia.org, they’ll get access to the millions of pages of information it has to offer. You can then view it through a table of contents or a current events filter. You can even try its “Random Article” tool if you’re feeling adventurous. The site also has a community portal where you can find FAQs about editing Wikipedia, meet new editors, ask research questions, and get help solving disputes. 

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Wikipedia’s community portal connects readers and editors from around the world.
Abbey White/Business Insider

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