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Wikipedia: The know-it-all Web site

From CNN Technology Correspondent Kristie Lu Stout

Even Hong Kong's beaches have their own Wikipedia entry.
Even Hong Kong's beaches have their own Wikipedia entry.

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An expert on any topic can find a home in 'Wikipedia.'
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(CNN) -- Are you well versed in Russian history? Or familiar with the finer points of roller hockey?

An expert on any topic can find a home in "Wikipedia," a know-it-all Web site created by thousands of plugged-in volunteers.

It's described as a free encyclopedia logging over 140,000 articles sent in by people from all over the world.

What is unique is that, not only is it free and easy to use, it also allows users to go in and edit an entry.

Wiki comes from the Hawaiian term for "quick." And like a Web log, it's a fast and easy way to publish online. But unlike a Web log, which typically publishes a single voice, a Wiki is the collective work of many writers.

To counter pranksters, so-called Wikipedians or Wikis may lock a document or delete the user.

Take Abbie Wong and Olivia Yuen for example, two Hong Kong university students who took their love of the local shoreline to Wikipedia.

Wong posted a report on white dolphins, and Yuen offered a primer to Hong Kong's beaches. Just minutes after the articles hit the site, they were tweaked and polished by Wikipedia's cult-like following.

Wong and Yuen's brush with the Wikis was part of a school assignment on new media.

Professor Andrew Lih set them and 78 other students loose on the site.

"I think what happened in the Wikipedia community is they started seeing all these entries about Hong Kong being updated and rapidly edited," Lih told CNN.

"And suddenly everyone used to an edit every few minutes or every hour on Wikipedia started seeing this flurry of activity."

Student Tony Yeung took a digital camera to Hong Kong's Victoria Peak and published a Wiki entry on the popular tourist lookout.

"After that, I found that my careless mistake of my English was corrected!" Yeung says.

While Yeung doesn't mind being corrected by complete strangers, the site's free-for-all editing may not sit well with other egos.

"It would seem like a recipe of disaster, one of the worst ideas ever thought of," Lih says.

But it really does follow the open source model, which is that more eyeballs make all bugs shallow. Meaning: the more people that see it, the more obvious you'll be able to get those bugs or inaccuracies out of it."

Over time, Wikis say, a group view or consensus emerges.

Wikipedia has welcomed the Hong Kong students with a special page to track their progress.

In the Wiki world, the more the merrier.

In the last two years alone, the site has racked up over 132,000 articles offering a single take of the world from a global tribe more likely to surf the web than the waves of Hong Kong's Stanley Beach.


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