Saturday, 21 February 2009

Wicked-Pedia: Volume I


I like Wikipedia, and use it as a point of reference, even here in this blog. Often I'll follow the articles in full, but mostly I pick up points of interest through scanning. For me, Wikipedia fits the need to fill my curiosity that my Hutchinson Encyclopaedia once served - similar to the times that I would spend in the school library looking at Britannica. Later, when we had Encarta, with it's stylised indexing, media files and hyperlinks, I thought that I had the world of knowledge all in one place. It was a good start, but of course slightly inaccurate - there's simply too much information to store and collate on a single CD-ROM. Besides, the fundamental disadvantage with Hutchinson, Britannica and Encarta was that they were pretty much out of date as soon as they went to press. Besides, what about the hidden pockets of information, that never quite made it to a volume of Britannica, or into the final edit of Encarta?

Step forward Wikipedia. I can spend a good deal of time, reading about the Jurassic and find myself clicking on the hyperlinks that carry me off somewhere else, where I'll follow another entry with interest; dinosaurs, air composition, flowering plants, modern farming, economy, gold, the periodic table, alchemy, the Renaissance, modernism, geo-politics and so on. All, advert free, without stepping outside of the Wiki-world.

The People's Encyclopaedia

But is Wikipedia, the fountain of all knowledge? It is, I guess, without boundaries, but there-in is the Achilles' Heel. We live in an Information Age, where the cyber-world is littered with junk, incomplete works, debris, misinformation and malice. This does, quite often, creep into Wikipedia, and therefore the whole process of navigating through Wikipedia, like much of the WWW, is about being able to spot obvious bias, avoiding the vandalism, recognising the variation in quality and taking care to check and validate what is presented as a 'truth'. Wikipedia may be good, but like anything good, it has to be supported to keep it good and we still need to take care where we step when exploring.  

( be continued ...)

The Encyclopaedia of the Brethren of Purity

Of course, no discussion on encyclopaedias would be complete without mentioning the Brethren of Purity, whose 52 volume compendium was completed in Basra, Iraq circa 1000 CE, later to influence post-Renaissance encyclopaedias in the West.


  1. I wouldn't trust wikipedia for research purposes, but it is a very useful dictionary for native speakers of English.

  2. It's only right that sources and references are checked for reliability, but Wikipedia does serve a very useful purpose especially when I come across unfamiliar topics.

  3. I agree, it is the first thing I check when looking for something new. I think it serves as a good lead to sources but not as a reliable source itself.


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