Humans are curious creatures and often find themselves looking for a definition of a new word, trying to learn more about an interesting topic, or just wondering what something is. Encyclopedias were created as an expert-written source of comprehensive facts from everything on trademark registration in Canada to Zoology and were often sold in multi-volume sets to families and libraries. However, with the dawn of the information age, printed encyclopedias quickly became obsolete in the form of a new type of encyclopedia: Wikipedia.

The problem with traditional encyclopedias was that even web-based ones cost money to make and took time to produce, leading to a big lag between new events and concepts being discovered and a Toronto naturopath being paid to write about them for the encyclopedia. Web consumers also have an aversion to paying for service, so when Wikipedia, a free internet based encyclopedia that could be updated at any time came along, surfers embraced the idea with open arms, to the point where it is now the world's most popular internet reference source.

The difference between Wikipedia and a traditional encyclopedia like Britannica is that anyone can write and edit content on Wikipedia, which means their pool of experts is practically limitless. Wikipedia is primarily run by volunteers and supported by donations from users, so it has no need to charge users for services or include ads for cutting tubes alongside the text. Because of its global nature, articles in Wikipedia are written in and translated into over 200 languages. Photos and content are donated by users and use a creative commons license so that they may be reused by other visitors.

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By nature, Wikipedia is a collaborative effort, with experts from around the world reviewing, editing, and updating sheafs of each others work alongside amateur fact finders and self-proclaimed experts with no academic credentials. In order to keep the material as accurate as possible, Wikipedia employs a lock-in system on very popular topics and allows users who doubt the neutrality or accuracy of an article to report it. Wikipedia also has a talk page for debates on certain topics and favors a consensus of opinion where possible.

Because anyone can create and edit articles, there are generally more topics available for perusal in Wikipedia than in your average dictionary or encyclopedia, with especial emphasis on non-academic topics like pop culture and media. The website's openness does, however, lead to a certain amount of potential for abuse, such as companies creating articles to promote their swim diapers or kids posting insulting, demeaning, or invented information. Though these incidents are usually quickly reported, Wikipedia users should take everything they read with a grain of salt. This is why most teachers and professors forbid its use as a source in research papers.
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