RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
The rise of the smart phone has made it easy to access the internet anytime, anywhere. And one of the most popular destinations is Wikipedia, which turns 10 years old this week. The free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit has become part of our cultural fabric. We called out to our fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter, and asked them to tell us the most interesting thing they learned through Wikipedia.
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MONTAGNE: I found out that an old boyfriend of mine had been named the minister of the interior in Greece.
MONTAGNE: Switzerland is roughly the size of San Bernardino County in Southern California.
MONTAGNE: The stoic Greek philosopher Chrysippus, I think is how you pronounce it, actually died of laughing.
MONTAGNE: If I'm looking at a squirrel and I wonder, well why's a squirrel doing this or what kind of squirrel is that, I'll go on Wikipedia.
MONTAGNE: Wikipedia plays an integral part in me believing in transubstantiation. Once a person believes in transubstantiation, the Catholic Church really is your only choice. So in a not so roundabout way, Wikipedia really kind of forced me to become Catholic.
MONTAGNE: The legend of the cactus cat, which is a prickly cat-like beast who cuts open cacti and drinks the fermented juice, becomes drunk, and howls through the night.
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MONTAGNE: That was Ashley Sapp of Indiana, along with Devin Kasper of North Dakota, Sharol Gauthier in Utah, Melvin Davis the Third in Georgia, and Josh Winn of California. For more on Wikipedia's first decade, here's NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin.
SELENA SIMMONS: So, in that montage, you heard from Melvin Davis the third.
MONTAGNE: Well, why are these squirrels black on one side of town? Why are they brown on the other side of town?
SIMMONS: Davis is a sophomore at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He says in high school, his teachers told him never to use Wikipedia.
MONTAGNE: But now, professors are saying things like if you can find another reputable source to back up what you find on Wikipedia, that's completely fine.
SIMMONS: Still, teachers and librarians tend to be leery of the site. I walked upstairs to talk to NPR's own reference librarian Kee Malesky.
MONTAGNE: I kind of, as a professional researcher, question the value of using a site like that when you don't have the basic trust that the information is accurate and up to date, and dependable.
SIMMONS: Kee even keeps a running document of the site's flubs. She's not absolutely opposed to the concept of a free encyclopedia, and says it can be a good starting place for reference links or to get the gist of a topic.
MONTAGNE: But I don't know how you deal with the fact that anyone can, and unfortunately often does, insert incorrect material for what appear to be malicious reasons.
SIMMONS: Andrew Lih is a journalism professor at the University of Southern California, and wrote the book, "The Wikipedia Revolution." He says, about five years ago, there was a perfect storm. Wikipedia began saturating Google results, and several high-profile errors forced Wikipedia to pull back from their completely free and open editing policy. That has cut down on some of the problems, but the site is still inherently unreliable. Lih says given that, most people find the site's articles to be more reliable than they expect. And Wikipedia has spawned a new skepticism.
P: People started to look at how reliable Britannica was and start to really fact check their articles. They start to look at should we be trusting the New York Times as much, even NPR, BBC, these kind of folks.
SIMMONS: Lih says the English language Wikipedia has plateaued at 3.5 million articles, and looking forward, the site needs to figure out how to keep expanding. One way to do that is by funding programs that move Wikipedia's content off the net.
MONTAGNE: Whether it's by DVD or CD, by mobiles, by printed matter...
SIMMONS: Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: OK. So our listeners say they use Wikipedia to learn about everything from the Smurfs to the Hell's Angels, and you can join that discussion online at npr.org and also on our Facebook page.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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