Could you help improve the coverage of the NHS and UK healthcare issues on Wikipedia? Rod Ward, the Nursing Specialist Group's webspinner, encourages you to have a go.
Wikipedia is an online encyclopaedia which anyone can edit. Currently its coverage of the NHS and UK healthcare issues is generally poor. A group of users have got together to create a 'NHS wikiproject' to try to improve this:
Examples of how you could help include adding information or pictures of a hospital you know or describing (in an encyclopaedic way) an organisation that you are familiar with. The idea is to improve the quality of information available to everyone and, as Google ranks Wikipedia pages very highly, get that information to a wide audience.
Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has rapidly grown into the largest reference website on the internet, currently with over 1 million pages of information in the English version. The content is free, written collaboratively by people from all around the world.
Wikipedia uses a simple page layout to allow editors to concentrate on adding material rather than page design. It has robust version and re-version controls, which means that poor quality edits or vandalism can quickly and easily be reversed or brought up to an appropriate standard by other editors, so inexperienced editors cannot accidentally do permanent harm if they make a mistake in their editing.
As there are many more editors intent upon good quality articles than any other kind, articles that are poorly edited are usually corrected rapidly.
Wikipedia's greatest strengths, weaknesses and differences arise because it is open to anyone, has a large contributor base, and articles are written by consensus according to editorial guidelines and policies.
This means that it is less susceptible to retaining bias, is very hard for any group to censor, and is far more responsive to new information. It is also more easily vandalized or susceptible to unchecked information.
In three years the usage of Wikipedia has grown massively placing it in the top 20 accessed sites on the web, which, along with the number of incoming links from other web pages, means that it is rated highly in Google searches, and is more likely to be found by users looking for information on any given topic. Because the articles are free to all and can be edited by anyone there are a lot of discussions about the quality of the material.
There have been studies which suggest that Wikipedia is broadly as reliable as Encyclopaedia Britannica (Giles, 2005). However, this varies widely amongst the articles and topic areas. As with any source it should be read with caution, but at least on Wikipedia you can do something about poor quality which is often not possible elsewhere.
All Wikipedia articles must be written from a neutral point of view, representing views fairly and without bias. Although this is not easy, you can learn to do it. If you let your biases show someone will fairly soon point it out to you (generally very politely), or edit whatever you have written to present a more balanced picture (Lipczynska, 2005).
It is also recommended practice to cite your sources with a designated referencing format, although this is not essential except in particular areas such as the Medical ‘wikiproject’ – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
It is also considered good practice to link to other sources (books, websites and so on) which provide further reading about the topic, but blatant advertising is banned.
Wikipedia contributions are voluntarily given under the GNU Free Documentation License, which applies the legal principle known as copyleft, a way of using the copyright process to prevent information being controlled by any one person, to ensure it remains freely accessible forever (GNU project, 2006).
It also means that anyone can take anything you contribute to Wikipedia and use it themselves as long as they comply with rules about citing the source and making their work freely available.
If you are a novice user of Wikipedia, it's worth taking a look just to see what other people are writing about topics that are of interest to you, whether it's organisations such as BCS, your professional interests (for example current work), to improve the coverage of UK nursing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nursing_%28United_Kingdom%29, a hospital you know of, or the NPfIT - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NPfIT.
Of course, you may want to visit articles on some other interest, hobby, sport, home town and so on - it is unlikely you will find a topic without an article. If you spot errors or can add other useful and unbiased information click on the edit tab and have a go. The photographers among you can also upload photographs to illustrate the articles.
More experienced Wikipedians may like to get involved in projects to improve the quality of whole groups of pages or help in sorting categories or lists. Some users also dedicate themselves to anti-vandalism, attempting to rapidly revise spurious deleterious edits by others. You will not get any monetary reward for your efforts.
However, you will find a supportive group of people for whom collaboration is a way of working and, occasionally, grateful thanks from readers who have found your contributions useful.
It is also possible that having a good entry on Wikipedia will help organisations improve their profile and public perception.
The process of contributing to Wikipedia will also help individuals learn about the advantages and disadvantages of using wikis, which are increasingly being used in many organisations for collaborative drafting work.
Wikipedia will continue to grow and you can help to influence it. The readers of this newsletter are likely to be amongst the most IT-literate and informed and could make a really useful contribution, particularly in relation to the NHS wikiproject.
The best way to find out more is to go to Wikipedia and then visit the help page. It includes advice on: Getting started; Policies and guidelines; Browsing Wikipedia; Communication methods; Editing Wikipedia; The Wikipedia community; Links; Resources and lists; Images and media; Account settings and maintenance; Keeping track of changes; Technical information.
There is also a helpdesk: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Help_desk where you can ask questions and generally get a useful response fairly quickly.
Giles, J. 2005. Internet encyclopaedias go head to head. Nature. Published online: 14 December 2005; Updated online: 22 December 2005 ; Updated online: 28 March 2006 doi:10.1038/438900a [Online] www.nature.com/news/2005/051212/full/438900a.html
GNU Project, 2006. What is Copyleft? [Online] www.gnu.org/copyleft
Lipczynska, S. 2005. The role of Wikipedia in higher education. SCONUL Focus 35 [Online] www.sconul.ac.uk/publications/newsletter/35/8.rtf