Here's hope for unbiased information

Can you believe anything anymore? I'm starting to wonder this myself. I open

the paper and see accusations flung about everyone from Michael Jackson, the

king of pop, to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the kindergarten cop. Are they innocent?

Are they guilty? Are they both aliens from a different planet anyway?

Amazingly enough, there is a place on the Web that you are GUARANTEED to find

actual facts about many different items. And when I say guarantee, I don't

mean it like, "I guarantee you will enjoy this lifetime supply of shark

cartilage because it is sure to cure all diseases and add 39 years to your

life ... or your money back!"

The Wikipedia, as listed on its homepage, is "a multilingual project

to create a complete and accurate free content encyclopedia." Started

in January 2001, the Wikipedia is closing in on 200,000 articles in the English

version, with 154 other translations in the works as well. The pages contain

information that any encyclopedia would contain: facts about important events,

people, places, etc. Users gather the information and add, edit and delete

to the material that already exists on the site.

Users are not simply people who work for Wikimedia Foundation, which is the

non-profit organization of Wikipedia and similar projects. Users are any visitor

to the site. That's right, you can create your own page or edit any existing

page. For instance, you could mention on the Michael

Jackson page that you were one of the extras in "Thriller" video,

or you could write that Arnold

Schwarzenegger is actually your twin and not Danny DeVito's. Unfortunately,

your information will not stay on the site long because there are many other

users who monitor the site hourly, watching their favorite pages to make sure

factual items stay intact and fiction is removed. Each page even has a page

history link, so an individual can view all changes made, and the system has

the ability to email users when their favorite pages are edited.

From this setup, bias is relatively non-existent within the Wikipedia. People

cannot praise one side and scorn the other, which leaves us with the facts

and well-documented opinions by large groups, not by individuals. For instance,

compare the entries for President

George W. Bush and former president Bill

Clinton. Both have plenty of bad and good things listed. Actually,

Bush has far more written about his tenure, largely due to the fact that the

site wasn't even around for most of the Clinton years, and also because the

current president is usually more noteworthy than the previous. This would

change only if Clinton, George Bush Sr., Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter started

a boy band called the WH Boyz, which obviously would perform on tour with Michael.

While most of the information within the Wikipedia is extremely useful --

the main segments are broken out into the categories of Mathematical and Natural

Sciences, Applied Arts and Sciences, Social Sciences and Philosophy, Culture

and Fine Arts and Other Category Schemes -- some of it isn't. When users find

material not necessarily suited for inclusion, they have the ability to post

the page for cleanup, vote

for deletion or even list a user within the vandalism

section. It's easy to find the newest pages and most recently edited ones,

so with all the people on the site, they can keep it intact fairly well. It

appears the users are in the process of voting whether or not to keep the entry

for aglet, so if you have any strong feelings about it, voice your opinion!

If the Wikipedia continues to grow at its current rate, it's feasible that

it could replace those encyclopedias that exist on the shelves on all university

libraries. There's also a mention on the site that a CD-ROM of the Wikipedia

could be available in the near future. I'm not sure if there will be a printed

version, but if there is, you might want to clear off a couple of bookshelves

for it. To make matters worse, the WH Boyz are planning on selling them door-to-door,

so you may want check first before opening your the door.