Touting itself as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”, it’s no wonder that Wikipedia has garnered so much bad press lately. After all, it is hard to imagine that millions of anonymous users could accurately maintain a factual and unbiased living encyclopedia. Wikipedia is a non-profit site that is policed by hundreds of volunteers, yet very few of these volunteers have the experience and knowledge of a professional writer/editor. A cultural bias has seemed to have washed over many entries on the site, as general consensus replaces cold, hard facts. There is also a matter of vandalism, which the site is susceptible to. These problems, coupled with the almost obsessive behavior of many of the volunteers (try placing an external link on the site without having it removed), have led people to other sources for information. If you are looking for a different kind of online encyclopedia, try the seven alternatives to Wikipedia listed below.
Scholarpedia is a site made from the same MediaWiki software as Wikipedia. It almost appears like a mirror site, but there are some significant differences. Scholarpedia is written by, you guessed it, scholars. Experts must be either invited or elected before they are assigned certain topics and, although the site is still editable by anyone like a wiki, updates must first be approved before they are made final. This not only ensures that all information added to the site is accurate and attributed to an author, vandalism never becomes an issue.
Citizendium is a wiki that seems to be a compromise between the free-for-all that is Wikipedia and the strict supervision that accompanies Scholarpedia. One of Wikipedia’s founders, Larry Sanger, created Citizendium in the hopes of improving on Wikipedia’s model. With what the site refers to as “gentle oversight”, all articles are subject to approval by the site’s editorial team. Articles that haven’t been approved will have an accompanying disclaimer, which helps to prevent people from taking potentially false information to heart. Also, you must register under your real name to become a contributor, unlike Wikipedia. Although the site is still in beta form, it is quickly becoming a popular alternative to Wikipedia, one that Sanger feels will “probably succeed“.
- Encyclopedia Britannica Online
When it comes to trusted and unbiased facts, this site is your best option. Here, every volume of the Encyclopedia Brittanica has been transferred to Web format, in addition to multimedia features and an easy search tool. Updates to the site’s entries are made by professionals, as this isn’t a wiki community. The only drawback to this site is that it isn’t free. To have full access to Encyclopedia Britannica Online, one must pay a subscription fee of $69.95 a year. This is a sound investment for students, however, as the yearly fee is substantially cheaper than buying the encyclopedic set in book form. Also, major universities will accept the site as a reliable source when citing information in a research paper, something Wikipedia can’t claim.
- MSN Encarta
MSN Encarta is another online encyclopedia that bypasses the problems that plague Wikipedia. All entries have been written and fact-checked by professionals and the site will never be vandalized. However, like Encyclopedia Britannica Online, this site requires a subscription fee. For $29.95 a year, you can access MSN Encarta in its entirety, including the site’s accompanying thesaurus, world atlas and other research tools for students.
Infoplease is a free online encyclopedia that is a part of Pearson Education, the largest educational book distributor in the world. All of the information found on the site is gathered from trusted sources, such as the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia and the Random House Unabridged Dictionary. Although entries may be limited in size when compared to Wikipedia, you can be sure that all the information is accurate and incapable of being influenced by outside users. Also, Infoplease has many multimedia features that assist researchers, particularly students who are attending distance education courses.
Conservapedia is a conservative, Christian-influenced wiki encyclopedia that was created as a response to Wikipedia’s alleged left-wing bias. The information found on this site is free of foul language, sexual topics and anything else deemed offensive by the site’s editorial staff. If you feel that Wikipedia shows a strong bias toward liberal views, then this site may suit your needs. All Conservapedia users are asked to follow the site’s seven Commandments.
Uncyclopedia is an ambitious spoof of Wikipedia. It could be seen as an over-the-top response to Wikipedia users, also known as “Wikipedians”, who seem to take the site much too seriously. From the home page’s logo to the formatting of each entry, the parallels between the two sites are uncanny and well-executed. Make no mistake, however. Nothing on Uncyclopedia should be taken as fact, which may be another dig at Wikipedia’s occasional inaccuracy. If you are fed up with Wikipedia’s many faults and want to have a good laugh, check out this satirical site.
Wikipedia is one of the most popular Web sites in the world, with mirror versions available in 251 languages. However, due to faults in its open-content structure, Wikipedia’s influence has been a menacing one at times. For example, on March 10, 2007, comedian/actor Sinbad was falsely reported dead on his Wikipedia entry. This news was taken as fact and spread quickly, even convincing Sinbad’s family and friends. Although the site can be a good starting point for research, there are many other alternatives, including the seven sites listed above. As Wikipedia’s detractors grow in numbers, so will online encyclopedias with better business models and editorial staffs.
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