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Wikipedia is a multilingual "copyleft" encyclopedia designed to be read and edited by anyone. It is collaboratively edited and maintained by thousands of users via wiki software, and is hosted and supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. In addition to typical encyclopedia entries, Wikipedia includes information more often associated with almanacs, gazetteers, and specialist magazines, as well as coverage of current events.

Book Review:

Wikipedia's utility as a reference work has been questioned. The lack of authority and accountability are considered disqualifying factors by some people. For example, librarian Philip Bradley acknowledged in an interview with The Guardian that the concept behind the site was in theory a "lovely idea", but that he would not use it in practice and is "not aware of a single librarian who would. The main problem is the lack of authority. With printed publications, the publishers have to ensure that their data is reliable, as their livelihood depends on it. But with something like this, all that goes out the window." People supporting the idea of Wikipedia counter these arguments by saying that Wikipedia is a more independent source than most traditional encyclopedias and that the reliability is potentially greater than that of a traditional source, since errors can be corrected immediately.

The systemic bias in Wikipedia is also considered significant, something that even the site's proponents admit. In an interview with The Guardian, the executive team of Encyclopaedia Britannica noted that "people write of things they're interested in, and so many subjects don't get covered; and news events get covered in great detail. The entry on Hurricane Frances is five times the length of that on Chinese art, and the entry on Coronation Street is twice as long as the article on Tony Blair." On the Wikipedia discussion board, known as "The Village Pump", a user noted that the Wikipedia entry on Tony Blair still was several times longer than the corresponding entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica. Wikipedia also tends to cover topics that might not be included at all in a print encyclopedia, for example there are articles for individual science fiction characters.

A common Wikipedia maxim is "Out of mediocrity, excellence." The site founder admits that the variation in quality between different articles and topics is significant, but considers the average quality "pretty good", and getting better by the day. The "competing" Encyclopaedia Britannica claims it does not feel threatened; "The premise of Wikipedia is that continuous improvement will lead to perfection; that premise is completely unproven," said the reference work's executive editor, Ted Pappas, to The Guardian.

It should be noted, however, that Wikipedia articles have been referenced in enhanced perspectives provided on-line in the journal Science, one of the most prestigious (and unmercifully selective) scientific publications in the world. The first of these perspectives to provide a hyperlink to Wikipedia was "A White Collar Protein Senses Blue Light", by Hartmut Linden, in the 2 August 2002 issue. Since then, dozens of enhanced perspectives have provided hyperlinks to Wikipedia. A search on "Wikipedia" in Science's web site ([16] (http://www.sciencemag.org)) turns up 32 instances as of October 29, 2004, with the perspective "The Maser at 50", by Ronald L. Walsworth, as the latest in that date range.

For more information go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia#Reviews.2C_endorsements.2C_criticisms_and_discussion_of_Wikipedia

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