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Online Wikipedia is not Britannica - but it's close

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Spam and spyware. Blogs and podcasts. Words that describe things related to the Internet keep entering the vocabulary of ordinary people. Will 2006 be the year that the "wiki" joins them?

A wiki is a website that allows anyone who visits to quickly add, delete, or edit its contents. (According to the Wikipedia.org website, it comes from the Hawaiian word wikiwiki, meaning "quickly." It also could stand for "What I Know Is....")

Last year ended with a burst of publicity - first negative and then positive - for Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that has become by far the most prominent example of a wiki in action.

The lofty goal of Wikipedia, whose contributors and editors are volunteers, is to provide a free encyclopedia to everyone on the planet, written in their native language. The website currently claims about 2.5 million entries (nearly 1 million in English), on almost every subject imaginable in more than 100 languages. Wikipedia ranked as the 26th busiest site on the Internet Jan. 1, and the 34th busiest over the last three months, according to alexa.com, a Web-search subsidiary of Amazon.com. And its page views and site traffic have continued to climb in the month since the controversy began.

In 2005, several individuals, most prominently John Seigenthaler Sr., a former official in the Kennedy administration and a retired journalist, charged that Wikipedia contained inaccurate information about them. In a November article in USA Today, Mr. Seigenthaler complained that from May to October, his biography on Wikipedia stated that "he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven."

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