Wikipedia for me?
Everyone can find some use in an encyclopedia. Whether one needs to look up a biography, needs to know something about an historical event, wants to know more about some kind of dog or wants to plan a city trip. Encyclopedias contain something for everybody.
Using the encyclopedia
Using wikipedia is very simple. You use your browser, you surf to http://wikipedia.org and you will be taken to the main page of the project. On the left hand side of the site you will see a search box. Wherever you are in the encyclopedia, it will be there. The search box will accept any query and you will be brought to the article of that query. In the case there is no article yet, you will have the search engines Google and Yahoo! at your disposal to look for the text you want to find in the articles of wikipedia.
This could be it, you read the article. If you are working on something, you can use the information you find in the article. You can even take over the text of the article, as long as you respect the licence of wikipedia. The GNU FDL, Free Doc Licence, allows you to redistribute the articles, but you have to keep the same license on those articles and any derivate work must also be released under the GNU FDL licence.
Editing an article is just a matter of pressing the edit button at the top of the article. Wikipedia uses a simple mark-up for editing the basic elements, text can be written like it is, if you want to make a link to a word, you place it between [[brackets]]. If you want to do something special, you can get help by following the link, Editing help, at the bottom of the page.
So I can change anything I want?
Exactly, it is you, the reader, who is in control. This may at first seem to lead to problems; everybody is editing each other's articles. But this is the powerful and fast part of it. You can just go around and edit whatever you find interesting, if you make an error, someone, somewhere will spot it and correct it. If you find an error, just go ahead and correct it. And so on.
This might indeed, from time to time, result in people destroying other people's work, called vandalism. But wikipedia has means to revert an incorrect change, and ban the vandals.
The fun of a dynamic main page
Wikipedia can be more than a way to look up information. I for one have configured my browser so that its start page is the main page of wikipedia. The main page contains a section with featured article, some article that is extremely well written. It also displays current events with some information about world events. Next to that there is also the always funny Did you know.
You don't have to log in to read and edit the encyclopedia. However, it's still a good idea to login. This way, other users will be able to recognise you by your username when you make changes to pages. You also get an user page where you can write a bit about yourself, and a user talk page which you can use to communicate with other users. Next to that you will get the ability to rename an article, set your preferences and so on.
If you wish to log in, you can use the button marked log in at the right top of any page. If you don't have a username, you can create one here. Or else you give your username and password and you're in.
Wikipedia can't become more than an encyclopedia. Yet there are other things that could be built in the same collaborating style. So wikimedia was created, wikimedia is the non-profit organisation that runs wikipedia. Wikimedia also created wiktionary, a multilingual dictionary and thesaurus, wikibooks, a place where free textbooks and manuals are created and wikiquote, a collection of quotations.
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