A Wonderful World of Wikis
by Thomas Pack
You’re familiar with Wikipedia, of course, and you may have searched for a quotation in Wikiquote, checked out the free textbook collection at Wikibooks, or looked up a definition or a synonym in the Wiktionary. But did you know those are just a few of the user-edited wikis underneath the Wikimedia Foundation umbrella?
Formed as a nonprofit in 2003 to give Wikipedia a home, the foundation now hosts more than a dozen wikis and related websites. Calling them “free knowledge projects,” the organization develops the software and maintains the servers that keep these projects running. The following is an overview of some of the foundation’s other wikis. For more information on the organization itself and links to the wikis, visit wikimediafoundation.org.
Want to tour Mumbai, Greenland, or all of the locations featured in the Seinfeld television series? Wikivoyage provides guides to those places and thousands more. With the goal of creating the largest free, up-to-date travel resource, Wikivoyage offers details on sightseeing, transportation, accommodations, and cuisine worldwide.
Wikisource is a library of freely licensed source texts in multiple languages. You can find historical material, poetry, literature, and government documents, including the constitutions of many countries.
Wikiversity doesn’t include source texts or encyclopedia-type articles. Instead, it offers such learning resources as educational exercises, research, and collaborative projects as well as illustrations, diagrams, photos, and audio and video files. In all, more than 26,500 resources are available in English, and you’ll find something for every level of study, from preschool to college to adult education.
Wikispecies is not a resource for all ages. There are no easy-to-find, kid-friendly articles about puppies or bunnies. Wikispecies is an open forum for taxonomic and biological information that’s more suitable for scientists and others who are seeking scientific information. The database covers animalia, plantae, fungi, bacteria, archaea, Protista, and other forms of life. Still, teachers and older students may find valuable information among the site’s 680,000-plus entries, and fans of creatures great and small will appreciate the many high-quality photos.
Want a copyright-free photo of Albert Einstein for a presentation, a pretty sunset image for a retirement party invitation, or some fireworks sounds for your website? Wikimedia Commons offers nearly 55 million freely usable photographs and illustrations as well as videos and music files. Much of the media is in the public domain. Some of it has been posted under a license that lets you use it for free, but there are a few requirements or restrictions on how you do so. For instance, some licenses require you to attribute the work to the original creator when you post it.
Wikinews was created as an unbiased, free alternative to commercial news websites. Coverage is worldwide, and the pieces are fact-checked and peer-reviewed. The site offers two types of articles. The most common is the synthesis article. It draws on media reports from other sources, which are always fully cited. “It is rare for other media stories to contain all the available facts,” according to en.wikinews.org/wiki/Wikinews:Introduction, “so we provide a more rounded and detailed report.” The other type of article is original reporting—firsthand news written by a Wikinews contributor. You won’t find editorials or other opinion pieces on the site. “Our policy is to omit opinion and commentary in our articles,” the site notes. “If you want to tell the world what you think, try blogging.”
Other Wikimedia Foundation projects include Meta-Wiki, a central hub for various coordination and organization tasks (meta.wikimedia.org); Wikidata, a central storage area of structured data for Wikimedia projects; and MediaWiki, which provides free and open source wiki software that anyone can use and develop. (It’s the platform on which the Wikimedia projects are built.)