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Wikipedia - the “free encyclopedia” on the Web

By Pam Novotny and Uwe Kils

Wikipedia is a “free encyclopedia” that is being written collaboratively by the readers / users of the web site. The site is a WikiWiki, meaning that anyone can edit any article right now by clicking on the “edit this page” link that appears in every article in the encyclopedia. Participants in the project are called Wikipedians. Numbers of participants have dramatically increased since its inception, and the number of highly educated participants is growing as well.

It is a multilingual project to create a complete and accurate open content encyclopedia. It started on January 15, 2001 and serves currently over 130 000 articles in the English version (nearly 20 000 in the German version). There is a “help page” and an experimental site the “sandbox” to learn how “you can edit any article right now”. Every user can try out the new formatting there, where no one will get angry if things go bad.

On all pages is a little search box, the English server is at ()

The project is sponsored by the private Californian media company Bomis, the CEO is Jimbo Wales. There are currently no advertisements on the pages.

All articles are covered by the GNU Free Documentation License, to ensure that they can remain freely available forever. Users can upload images and other files, there are drawing, photos and short videos. Because of its openness it can contain at times content that may be considered offensive, vulgar, profane, or inappropriate for some users. It should therefore at the moment not be used without supervision of an adult, it is not (like all large enzyclopedias) suited for toddlers. Because it is copy edited by administrators it is however a much safer playground than the direct web browsing. Some editors work on flagging certain content and set a warning before adult material is opened. Future versions of Wikipedia might include a key, like answering a question, like “what is the cube of 25”, or “what was the reason for the Clinton impeachment case” to prevent toddlers from entering stark information and shocking images.

The “Reference Desk” serves much the same function as a library reference desk. Beginners can visit the “Help Page”. If this still gives an answer, users can visit the “Village Pump” and ask your question there; other Wikipedians will do their best to give you an answer.

The “Village Pump” is a common meeting and discussion place.

“Administrators” are Wikipedians who have "sysop rights". Current Wikipedia policy is to grant this access liberally to anyone who has been an active Wikipedia contributor for a while and is generally a known and trusted member of the community.

"Sysop" and "administrator" are just Wikipedia users who have had performance- and security-based restrictions on a couple of features lifted because they seemed trustworthy. Sysops are not imbued with any special authority, and are equal to everybody else in terms of editorial responsibility.

The Wiki software has these features: Sysops can edit the “Main Page”. Everybody can suggest changes there or at the “Talk:Main Page”. Sysops can edit other “protected pages”. They can also protect and unprotect pages. Sysops can delete pages and their history.. Sysops can block rude or vandalizing IP addresses.

There are currently 72 “administrators” and two “seniors” on the editing board. It is easy to add content, but to permanently erase it it needs the approval of some administrators. Due to this simple “Darvinism” the project has evolved into an impressive knowledge base in this short a time. The two authors of this little article invite everybody to take a look at Wikipedia and add/edit to it.

An example of an image is the Antarctic krill, probably the most successful animal of the planet, not covered well in traditional enzyclopediae.


and a page with many details and links to publications and other websites can be found at

/wiki/Krill (/wiki/Krill)

This text was compiled using some of the text from the project

Pam Novotny & Uwe Kils

(Professor @ Rutgers University – for questions and suggestions email kils@imcs.rutgers.edu)


All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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