Wikipedia launched 19 years ago today, January 15, 2001. What is its greatest contribution?

As someone who is always researching one subject or another, I’m on the site almost daily. Wikipedia has more than 40 million articles, and is the most popular general reference site online.

I know what the Wikipedia movement feels the online encyclopedia has offered. “Now more than ever, the world needs shared human understanding, reliable information, inclusive spaces for public discourse, and advocates for free and open knowledge,” states the Wikimedia 2030 strategy.

In a way, Wikipedia fosters something else (or should): a desire to dig deeper.

This is an open collaboration project. A community of volunteer editors creates the pages. How many? According to Wikipedia’s own page on Wikipedia, the English site has just over 38 million registered editors, and 122,000 active ones (one or more edits in the last 30 days).

Wikipedia is a terrific resource. For the most part, I trust it – as a start. When it comes to research, however, we should probe far and wide.

I didn’t need Wikipedia to teach me that. But the footnotes on each entry at least make it easy to begin.

What Wikipedia has done for me, beyond providing basic information, is link a whole bunch of helpful references. They lead me to other secondary and primary sources in turn. And the burrowing goes on and on.

In an article on Edutopia, a high school teacher writes that he encourages his students to use Wikipedia (not all teachers do), but to be critical thinkers too. That means understanding things like peer reviews and sourcing.

Part of being a smart consumer of information, the teacher says, is wrapping your brain around C.R.A.A.P. A team of librarians at California State University developed the C.R.A.A.P. test. It means looking at:

  • Currency: Is the information up to date?
  • Relevance: How does the information add to a well-rounded research effort? What is its depth? Is it scholarly or popular?
  • Authority: What’s the source’s qualifications, affiliations and reputation?
  • Accuracy: What evidence supports the information presented? Is it verifiable and credible?
  • Purpose: What’s the source’s intent? To inform? Teach? Persuade? Entertain? Sell? Is the source biased? Is the point of view objective?

You can find more on C.R.A.A.P. at, well, Wikipedia’s entry about it. I did. But even more comes from a piece by California State University. Which took only a few seconds extra to unearth.

Wikipedia is a useful tool in its own right. One of the other reasons is that it reminds us to think about the five C.R.A.A.P. principles. So happy birthday Wikipedia. And when it comes to research, here’s to uncovering more C.R.A.A.P.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

January 15, 2020

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