Wikipedia is on the bold frontier of open-source information. Free and available online in its entirety, this virtual encyclopedia relies on readers to create and verify its content. Wikipedia is convenient, constantly updated, and easy to use, offering entries you won't find elsewhere. And if you don't find what you want, you can add an entry yourself. Wikipedia's hands-on nature leaves it vulnerable to vandalism, however, despite the community's efforts at self-policing. The authority of the contributors is also unclear, although the ongoing editing often creates balanced and detailed entries. Wikipedia is a work in progress, and some sections are still under construction. But if you're looking for a different take on information than what an off-the-shelf program offers, and you seek liberation from software-installation headaches, Wikipedia may fit the bill.
As a completely free online reference source, the nonprofit Wikipedia has an enormous advantage over installed software such as Microsoft Encarta 2006 and Encyclopedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2006. No need to devote chunks of computer memory to the program or fret about interference from antivirus software or firewalls--you can access Wikipedia from any computer with Internet access.
Designed by and for the tech savvy, Wikipedia's information-jammed pages and plain-Jane design are easy to navigate but may seem less ho-hum to young users. Once you reach Wikipedia.org, you can run searches or use Wikipedia's sister projects, such as the Wiktionary dictionary and thesaurus, the Wikibooks collection of editable online manuals and textbooks, the Wikispecies directory of animal and plant species, the Wikisource online source-document site, and the user-created Wikinews. A Wikiquote quotation collection and a Wikijunior children's encyclopedia are under construction.
Wikipedia grew out of the open-source movement, which advocates free, community-constructed software. Thus, volunteers--even you--can write the articles after first testing your skills in the self-guided Sandbox section. Each hyperlink-laden article includes a discussion tab for comments and queries, a tab to edit the page, and a tab that displays the history of page edits. You can click to sister sites via icons at the bottom of the page. Thanks to its ease of use, detailed entries, and community spirit, Wikipedia is a favorite resource for bloggers.
Launched in January 2001, Wikipedia boasts a huge content warehouse: more than 1 million articles in English; more than 300,000 articles each in French, Polish, Swedish, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and German; and over 1,000 articles in 62 other languages. Wikimedia Commons also offers a bank of more than more than 800,000 audio, music, image, and video files, to which readers can upload their relevant media.