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Online encyclopedia

Natalie Hanman

AT THE start of this month, Wikipedia announced the creation of the millionth article in its English language edition (http://en. wikipedia.org). So far, so impressive.

But remember that Wikipedia, which launched in January 2001, isn't just the trusted Encyclopedia Britannica recycled on the Internet. It is created entirely by online volunteers who contribute, update and revise articles in an ongoing collaborative process.

This editorial method is innovative and controversial — praised by some for harnessing the community nature of the Internet; condemned by others for allowing false facts to be posted as true.

As U.K.-based Wikipedia editor David Gerard admits, no one claims it is devoid of errors. "Wikipedia is not perfect. Don't expect it to be perfect. Treat it like anything else on the web."

If you want to get the hang of something in 60 seconds, Wikipedia is perfect. If you want a quick introduction to some historical, technical or scientific jargon in the minutes before a business meeting, the site should meet your needs.

But to make your online search for knowledge as error-free as possible, the website has also recently changed its editing policy: Wikipedia now prevents unregistered users from creating entries and bars newly registered users from editing high-profile material.

Mr. Gerard also recommends navigating the site as a dynamic tool, rather than a static web page. For example, check the history of an article's revisions (click "history" at the top of the page) and see if the edits are as up-to-date as you would like.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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