Online encyclopedia is a collaborative endeavor

I remember as a kid how impressed I was when my parents invested in our very own set of encyclopedias (I believe it was the Encyclopaedia Britannica). Back then, it was a kind of status symbol to own your own set.

The volumes of books gleaming on the bookshelf were an impressive sight and they were featured in a place that could easily be seen in the home library or den. The rich, glossy pages were crammed full of colorful photographs, illustrations and images. And the printed text held the total knowledge of all mankind.

Well, that’s what I thought when I was a kid. Anything I needed to know for my school projects, homework and whatever else that was deemed important could be found within those glorious tomes.

Ah, how the times have changed. Now the total knowledge of all humankind is all within reach of your personal computer.

Of course you can still buy the encyclopedia in book form, but why bother?

You can get everything they contain on a set of DVDs. Unlike the printed version, these keep themselves current by seamlessly linking to the Internet.

All you need is a Web browser to access a variety of online encyclopedia websites that tap into seemingly limitless sources of information.

Most of these online encyclopedia websites are created and maintained by the publishing companies that own the rights to the different reference brands.

They have sole discretion when it comes to the addition, deletion and modification of their content. And that’s how it should be. It’s the information they contain and the people that contribute to these publications that give them their stature, credibility and value.

But there’s another kind of online encyclopedia out there that you should know about because it’s content is written by not only experts in their fields of endeavor but also by people like you and me.

In fact, I know that some of it was written by me, because I put it in there. And you can contribute to it as easily as I did.

The encyclopedia is called Wikipedia and it truly is the encyclopedia of the people because so many of us have contributed to its virtual pages.

It’s an amazingly dynamic structure as its readers are making literally thousands of changes to it every hour of the day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

That’s one heck of a lot of information being manipulated within a single project.

Anyone can add, delete or change most anything that’s defined on Wikipedia and it can be done anonymously or with your logged-on screen name account, which is all free. Wikipedia makes its money via contributions from donors. It is completely ad-free.

Basically, you look up any item you want to explore. After reading the information that’s there, you are given the option of editing the content in any manner you wish. If you feel you can contribute something pertinent to the material already there, you can do so immediately.

Editing is fairly straightforward and there are plenty of help sections and examples from which you can learn. In only a few minutes, I had created a new topic, which was the name of my radio talk show, “Computer America.” I added a color logo, show description, link to my website, a bio on the show’s host (me), and other relevant information.

I found Wikipedia to go beyond what is traditionally within an ordinary encyclopedia as it covers more specific technology subjects, has links to other sources of information including other online encyclopedias and has the aforementioned collaborative element that lets you tap into all levels of expertise.

As to how accurate the data within Wikipedia actually is, you can be fairly comfortable about that because the content is being constantly scrutinized by experts and participants everywhere.

Wikipedia is available in more than 100 languages so chances are the one you understand will be available.

The only word of caution I have for you is that this website can be addictive. I found myself contributing almost as much as I was learning. It’s a lot of fun. Check it out. You’ll have it bookmarked before you leave.

For more information, go to

Craig Crossman hosts “Computer America,” heard on Business TalkRadio Monday through Friday, 10 p.m. to midnight. For more information, visit his website at

2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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