Wikipedia: Our Encyclopedia!
Niaz Morshed Chowdhury
Wikipedia (WP) is a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. Starting from the foundation President to a general Wikipedian, everyone works there as a volunteer. Its articles can be created and edited by anyone having internet access from any part of the world, at the same time anybody can access its full contents without paying a single penny. WP aims to make people contribute whatever they know and it believes through an evolutionary process one day its articles will become encyclopedic. Unfortunately, people on few occasions misunderstand WP because of its openness and do not trust its contents. This article hopes to illuminate all those mystifications and tries to draw an epigrammatic picture on WP and its articles.
A bit of history
WP was founded as an offshoot of Nupedia, an abandoned project to produce a free encyclopedia. Nupedia had an elaborate system of peer review and required highly qualified contributors, but preparing articles was very slow. During 2000, Jimmy Wales, founder of Nupedia, and Larry Sanger, an employee of the Nupedia project, first started finding different ways to supplement Nupedia with a more open and complementary project.
On the evening of January 2, 2001, Sanger had a conversation over dinner with Ben Kovitz, a computer programmer, in San Diego, California. Kovitz explained the wiki concept to Sanger in detail. Sanger saw that a wiki would be an excellent format whereby a more open, less formal encyclopedia project could be pursued. He easily persuaded Wales, who had already been introduced to the wiki concept, to set up a wiki for Nupedia, and Nupedia's first wiki went online on January 10.
There was considerable resistance on the part of Nupedia's editors and reviewers to the idea of associating Nupedia with a website in the wiki format, so the new project was given the name "Wikipedia" and launched on its own domain, wikipedia.com, on January 15 (now called " Wikipedia Day"). Wales donated required bandwidth and server for WP project. The domain was eventually changed to the present wikipedia.org when the non-profitable Wikimedia Foundation was launched as its new parent organization, prompting the use of a .org domain to denote its noncommercial nature.
In May 2001, a wave of non-English WP was launched - in Catalan, Chinese, Dutch, Esperanto, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish; these were soon joined by Arabic and Hungarian. In September, Polish was added and further commitment to the multilingual provision of WP was made. At the end of the year, Afrikaans, Norwegian, and Serbocroatian versions were announced. Soon after, Bangle Wikipedia was also lunched. Bangle Wikipedia can be visit from the following link: bn.wikipedia.org. In order to see Bangle text properly, user must have Unicode supported Bangle font installed on their operating system.
WP is a free encyclopedia written and managed by people like us. It is run under non-profitable Wikimedia Foundation located in the United States. Board members of this foundation are practiced Wikipedians elected by other Wikipedians having voting right from all over the world. Though these posts are open to all but experienced persons are likely to win. People from all around the world can join WP as a Wikipedian and contribute whatever they are acquainted with. WP keeps track of each contribution made by Wikipedians and provides them different amenities based on their exertions and seniority. Wikipedians having four hundred contributions on the main-space get the voting right to vote in the board election. Furthermore, who have one year seniority at WP can edit recent event pages which are usually restricted for new or non Wikipedians.
General Wikipedians do not have the admittance to edit and manage main page contents. These contents along with few other management issues are controlled by a set of people called WP Administrator. Administrators are special type of Wikipedians having some supplementary management power such as access to different restricted pages,
authority to block/unblock users, managing different WP issues and so on. Administrators are also people like us. In addition, they have another identity, they are trusted entity. When a Wikipedian establishes himself as a reliable person and contributes significantly at different WP articles, he gains the right to apply for Wiki admin-ship. After having a discussion with other Administrators and Wikipedians, WP promotes his status to Administrator. In addition, there are also some other types of trusted user such as Ssteward, Bureaucrat etc.
WP maintains few steps to prepare an encyclopedia article. When an article is created for the first time, it is referred as stub class on quality scale. Gradually people keep contributing there and this stub class article reaches start class, B class, Good Article nominee and Good Article (GA) after a peer review by other Wikipedians. But, even a Good Article is not good enough to be considered as an encyclopedia article. Very next class is A class that can be obtained by further enhancement on quality scale. Final stage is named Featured Article (FA) and requires peer review by expert Wikipedians. During the peer review period articles are called Featured Article Nominee. This period is very crucial for any article as once an article reaches FA class, WP archives it on CD and releases as an Encyclopedia article. FA article can be identified with a star symbol on its top right corner while GA holds a circle at the same place.
It's a common practice at WP that Wikipedians use to argue on different issues related to an article at its discussion page and gradually organize that article for encyclopedia. WP articles are written based on different primary and third party references. Usually information having no or poor reference can not survive for long as other Wikipedians use to re-edit or completely delete them. If any Wikipedian updates an article with a set of new information, in most of the cases other Wikipedians ask for references or some time strongly challenge that new contribution. In such situation, Wikipedian who added new information needs to defend himself with proper citation and reference. If he fails, his edit will be removed by the challengers.
WP articles are managed under different Wiki Projects where Wikipedians use to congregate, discuss and plan to improve articles quality. One single article can be prepared under multiple projects also. Such as, Notre Dame College article is covered by two different projects, Wiki Project Bangladesh and Wiki Project Bangladeshi Universities.
Protection from fake edit, vandalism and advertisement
As WP is an open encyclopedia, daily a large number of vandalism affects its articles. Sometime people try to advertise their institution or products or use WP for self-promotion. In order to protect WP articles from vandalism or fake edit, Wikipedians have a strong option called Watch List that shows them latest changes made in their selected articles. Usually all the WP articles are some how watched by one or more Wikipedians. Any bizarre, self-promoting or fake change can not stay for long and is revered as soon as it is made by the watcher Wikipedians.
Some time people try to vandalize articles by deleting their contents partially or completely which is also reverted by the watchers. If such activity continues from a particular user again and again, WP administrator blocks his id (if registered) or IP (if not registered) for a limited number of days and during this particular period he cannot access WP anymore. There are also some open source softwares for WP that detect vandalized article very quickly. It does not allow any type of vandalism staying for a long time on the main-space and helps Wikipedians and Administrators to monitor WP articles more carefully.
Tips for Wikipedia user
WP's main problem is its trustworthiness. As people can edit its article anytime, it is hard to believe any information provided at WP. It is preferable to take serious notes from FA and GA only. In addition, user can also take direct notes from the references used in respective articles. In case of taking serious notes from a B class article, user should have a glance at the history section first. If last edit is made by any anonymous person using an IP address, user can compare last and second last edit just clicking on the compare button and decide whether he wants to take that information or not. It's a good practice to read discussion page associated with each article. As this page contains all the debates and challenges, it gives a concise idea about the authentication of different information provided in the main article.
Friendly Collaboration between Star Campus and Wikipedia
Star Campus (SC) on its 1st anniversary again ascertains its promise to nurture university level talents in different fields. Recently Star Campus Team and Wiki Project Bangladeshi Universities had meetings on few occasions where SC willingly decided to encourage people, particularly Bangladeshi university and college students to work at WP. SC agreed to provide a small but regular section for WP related tips and tutorials. Through this section, each week or fortnight SC will organize Bangladesh and Bangaldeshi University related articles on WP. Detail about this initiative will be published soon.
(Author: Lecturer, Uttara University and alumni of East West University and Notre Dame College)