Wikipedia is the first of its kind--a massive, online, open-source,
not-for-profit encyclopedia, maintained by a staff of volunteers and
with the help of the Wikimedia Foundation with all content licensed
under the GNU Free Document License. Their stated aim is to create
online the largest complete, most reliable and up-to-date source of
information in the history of the human race, in as many languages as
possible, and freely available to anyone at anytime, anywhere. Much of
the information has now been made available on CD, and has been
mirrored by other databases.
As of this writing, Wikipedia includes more than 1.6 million
articles in virtually every major language on Earth, ranging the gamut
from traditional encyclopedia articles to gazetteer, dictionary,
recipes and even current event topics. By its very nature, Wikipedia is
kept continuously up-to-date--readers are encouraged to write and
revise articles for themselves on any topic that interests them.
Authors retain the copyright for their submitted work, but agree to
make their work freely available under the GFDL. There is no formal
process for review, but a very large staff of volunteers from around
the world works by consensus to ensure that articles are of an
appropriate standard of quality--articles that do not meet their
policies are excluded.
Disputes over content inclusion are fairly
common among the staff, and the open nature of the project, sadly, does
make vandalism, accidental spamming and inaccuracy an ongoing problem,
requiring constant upkeep to clean up and maintain. Its detractors are
also quick to point out that its open, flexible nature ensures that
content deficiencies and unavoidable systemic biases also exist, but
Wikipedia's extreme flexibility also ensures that deficiencies are
eventually closed and biases are caught.
The name "Wikipedia" is a portmanteau, combining the words
"Encyclopedia" and "Wiki," a native Hawaiian word meaning "quick and
informal." The word "wiki" was initially used to describe a small, fast
database software system in which a web browser could be used to
create, edit and display encyclopaedic information using a simple, easy
to learn and use markup language referred to as "Wikitext." Efforts are
now underway to create a standardized, defined wiki markup language.