As a college student, I’ve experienced many of my class professors, upon touching on the need to evaluate sources, quickly disallowing the use of Wikipedia as a source for citation in research projects and essays, since, as an encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone (well, apart from locked pages), not all of its content is reliable. As such, I have come to fall out of the habit of even looking at Wikipedia. Until recently.
Wikipedia’s blackout in protest of SOPA got me thinking about how important the resource has been to me and about my love of wikis in general. Before high school, I found out about Wikipedia from my teacher (!) who found it to be a great starting point for research and learning. One should of course look upon articles with a skeptical eye, particularly those peppered with “citation needed”, but the content of a Wikipedia article may be enough to get the wheels turning on, say, refining a topic you had in mind for a project. What you can (often) cite are the references and external links provided, which can be a goldmine of resources to explore and potentially cite, depending on how well-developed an article’s section of these links and books is. Wikipedia has a host of hidden gems as well, one of which I found out about recently thanks to Mindhacker: the Unusual Articles section.
As TV Tropes (another fine wiki) puts it, a Wiki Walk is often the result of what may have begun as casual exploration or to follow some leads for research ideas. Maybe you’ll learn a new word or learn about a concept you never heard of before, find a new author, a new video game to play, a new way of looking at things, even. Now that I know how to evaluate sources, I appreciate what Wikipedia does offer more than ever.
Wikis apart from Wikipedia are also fabulous ways to collaborate with others on a specific topic that is broad enough to allow for many sub-topics within it, but includes certain areas of narrow specificity, or lack of “authoritative” citations, necessity of personal opinion being part of the content, or an abundance of trivia, for example, that Wikipedia would not be able to house. I’ve enjoyed the following in particular:
William A. Percy: This historian has decided to make his official site a wiki! Percy’s page is filled with info relevant to queer and sexological studies.
Megami Tensei Wiki: I have only since last year gotten into this video game series (Persona 3 and 4) – avoid if you don’t want spoilers, but if you don’t mind or already enjoy the series and want to learn more, dive in!
Nonbinary.org: This newly created wiki will serve as an information portal for nonbinary identities and practical resources – I have begun contributing here regularly and I’m quite excited to see this in development.
Wiki technology has changed our internet for the better and allowed the general user to become a participant in shaping encyclopedia-style content – how empowering is that for information access and development?
I’d love to hear wiki recommendations! Interested in starting your own? Check out MediaWiki.