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How to use Wikipedia for academia
Kevin Lim • University at Buffalo Cheektowaga Central High School • 13th May 2008

Kevin Lim
Cyberculture Researcher

Where do you go when you’re online?


We [heart] Wikipedia!

• Among top 10 most visited websites • 70% of traffic is from search engines • Cited in over 100 U.S. court rulings

What is a Wiki?
The first Wiki, WikiWikiWeb, was created by Ward Cunningham in 1995 Named after Hawaiian bus service, Wiki Wiki


Allows users to easily create and edit Web pages using any Web browser
Encourages democratic use of Web


Worldwide Participation
• 253 languages • 2 million+ articles in English • 5 million articles in languages other than English, accounting for half of all traffic • Freely -licensed image, video, and sound files on Wikimedia Commons are used across languages

It’s kind of a big deal…
• “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.” – Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales

Source: Chrys at

A Culture of Giving
• Almost no co-ordination of effort
• 2% of users (1400 people) make 73.4% of edits • 0.7% of users (524 people) make 50% of edits • But… people who make very, very few edits write most of Wikipedia’s content

How do we edit pages on Wikipedia?

Anatomy of Wikipedia: Normal View

* key interaction areas

Anatomy of Wikipedia: Editing View

* key interaction areas

Size of English Wikipedia


Contents of English Wikipedia (satire!)


How do we know what’s accurate on Wikipedia?

“Wikipedia is a great place to start, not end, your research”
Dr. Alex Halavais

The Good Idea:
Proper citing of Wikipedia

Wikipedia pages are dynamic. They typically change over time.

“Freeze your reference” by picking your preferred point in history

Cite references using the “permalink” to that point in history

Anatomy of Wikipedia: Revision View

When in doubt, try Wikipedia’s Revision View

The Better Idea:
Going beyond Wikipedia

Wikipedia has numbered citations, linked to references below...

Work from these references. Keep branching outward from there.

Go through references, picking ones you think are great for your paper.

Bates, Marcia J. (1989). “The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the Online Search Interface.” Online Review, 13(5): 407-424. Available here:

Wikipedia is immense.

Take your time to understand the community and culture.

Questions & Answers

Related Wiki Links
References also available at: Wikipedia: Wiki Wikibooks: How to start a Wiki Wikipedia: How to Edit a Page Free Wiki has demos, screenshots, and general info on Wikis. A Comprehensive Wiki Comparison Engine

Using Wiki in Education

Related Blog Readings
Blogs & Wikis: contributing to the e-dialog Recordings of an ETC Discussion Forum held on September 28th, 2005, provided by Professor Alex Halavais Weblogs and collaborative web publishing as learning spaces. Halavais, A. (In press). In J. Weiss, J. Nolan, and P. Trifonas (Eds.), International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments. Springer. Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents Reporters Without Borders. Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press. Wenger, E. (1998).

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