It's the most famous and most open encyclopedia in the world, so obviously there's more to Wikipedia than just checking episode summaries for Breaking Bad. Find out how you can make the most of the free encyclopedia.
1. Create ebooks and PDFs for offline reading
Wikipedia has a built-in Book Creator tool that you can take advantage of to export content to use on other devices or when you're offline. What better way to while away the time on a six-hour flight than with the Wikipedia entry for Dutch inventions (one of the longest articles in the database)? Or the one for your favorite sports team, television show or unsolved murder—take your pick. The Book Creator lets you combine multiple pages into one document as well.
You'll need to head over to the Book Creator page on Wikipedia to activate the feature. Once this is done, a new option appears at the top of each page, enabling you to append articles to your book. Choose to view your book and you can give it a title and description, as well as export it in various formats—there's even the option to order a printed copy. You can also export individual pages via the Download as PDF option on the left.
2. Study an article's Talk page before contributing
Wikipedia encourages contributors to simply dive in and get editing, and that's to be applauded—the more people who get involved, the better the encyclopedia becomes. However, it's sometimes worth checking the Talk page first (via the link at the top) to see some of the ongoing debates about the article's content. Is it actually Smashing Pumpkins or The Smashing Pumpkins, for example?
Particularly on pages where there's some controversy or debate about the topic at hand, reading through these discussions gives you a much better idea about edits that have been made in the past. If you're going to jump in and make a change that has been rejected many times before, then you're just wasting your time—it'll get altered straight back. And besides all that, it can just be fascinating to get a peek behind the scenes.
3. Use Wikipedia as a neutral news source
Wikipedia is built around its neutral tone, and if you bookmark the Portal:Current events page then you can keep up with major news stories across the globe as they happen. Not only can you view breaking stories from today, but older stories and further background information can be found by scrolling down the page.
Details of most major news stories are updated very quickly as they are reported by the mainstream media, and because there are so many people collaborating on each article, unverified and false information gets weeded out almost instantly. You could even set up the Current events portal to be your browser's new home page and check up on the latest stories each morning.
4. See edits made in real-time
There are plenty of Wikipedia data mash-ups to pick from, but one of our favorites is WikipediaVision. It plots recent changes to the encyclopedia on a world map, so you can see who is changing what and from where. Not every edit is included for logistical reasons but it's still a mesmerizing look at how the portal is built. Click on any link to view the article in question.
WikipediaVision is built around the list of recent edits to Wikipedia. You can sort through this list based on date, type, and IP address, as well as look up a list of new pages that have just been created and alterations made from mobile devices. If you want a glimpse of the inner workings of Wikipedia in your Web browser, then this is the place to find it.
5. Register a user account
Fully-qualified Wikipedia masters really need a user account: It lets you create new pages, edit semi-protected pages, interact with other users, create a personal watchlist of articles you're interested in, upload images and rename existing pages. It also gives you the opportunity to eventually become an administrator for the site.
Signing up for free account and logging in every time you make changes also gives you your own personal user page. Here you can view a list of all the edits you've made, add some autobiographical information and proudly display the achievements you've earned as a Wikipedian. A link to page that shows off your diligence and community spirit is perhaps more valuable than a link to your Twitter feed on your résumé.
6. Get tips for pages to edit
If you're stuck on the front page of Wikipedia and at a loss about what to edit next, give the official SuggestBot a try. The setup takes a minute or two—you'll need to have a user account and then leave a request for SuggestBot to visit your page—but once it's done you'll be given regular recommendations of pages to edit based on your previous contributions.
If you don't want to receive regular suggestions then you can use the tool on a one-off basis as well. For those of you who have a specific area of expertise that's shown in your Wikipedia editing history, SuggestBot can prove a very useful method of working out where to turn next.
7. Beta test new features
Another advantage of registering your own user account is to access the features currently being beta tested on Wikipedia—when you've signed in, click the Beta link at the top of any page to find it. Any of the new tools can be enabled and disabled at the click of a button, so you don't have to stick with a particular feature if you don't like it.
The list of features currently available cover a more fluid search tool, pop-up hovercards for article links, a visual article editor and an improved personal bar (containing your watchlist, notifications and so on). In each case you can see how many other people are using the feature. You're encouraged to provide feedback during the beta tests, and there is the option to enable all experimental tools together, should you wish to.
8. Improve Wikipedia with extensions
Browser extensions for Wikipedia—and there are plenty of them around—cover everything from the site's look to the way you can search for information. Of the ones we've seen, WikiWand from the Chrome Web Store is well worth your consideration: it lets you tweak the look of the encyclopedia, provides a simple table of contents for each page and improves the way you can share articles and switch languages.
Spend a few minutes browsing through the Wikipedia site using WikiWand to see if it suits your tastes (you can easily switch back again if you decide you aren't a fan). We like the stylish skin and larger font of WikiWand, but your mileage may vary.
9. Find nearby pages when you're traveling
One of Wikipedia's special pages is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:N…, which brings up articles relating to the geographical area that you're currently in (based on your laptop or mobile's location). How can this be helpful? You can use it to explore an unfamiliar area or get some sightseeing ideas for your holiday. If you're completely lost, it might even tell you where you are (although your phone's map app could probably do a better job).
Matching pages include articles on actual locations (towns and cities) as well as nearby points of interest (everything from historical churches to theme parks). Keep it handy the next time you're exploring a particular place and need some inspiration or some background information.
10. See the best that Wikipedia has to offer
Featured articles are picked out by Wikipedia editors as the articles that are the most well written and complete in the encyclopaedia. You can sort through them by date or subject, and they cover most of the categories in the database, from art and architecture to video gaming. Articles are reviewed for "accuracy, neutrality, completeness, and style" before they are allowed a place on the prestigious list.
At the moment there are over 4,000 featured articles on the English version of Wikipedia (out of a total of 4.5m). If you're reading a featured article on the desktop website, you'll see a small bronze star icon displayed in the top right corner. The idea of featured content goes beyond articles, too—you can also check out featured sounds, lists and pictures.
[Header image: Gil C / Shutterstock.com]