The English Wikipedia was started in 2001 with the purpose of serving as a free content, web based encyclopedia that is accessible to all who have access to the internet. It primarily serves as a reference to almost anything one can think of. For example, if you happened to be unfamiliar with the Chernobyl Disaster then you would be able to find plentiful information via Wikipedia (among other sources). Wikipedia allows anonymous editing and submission of articles which means that anybody can contribute to the content of this encyclopaedia; information may also be removed.
There are several advantages and disadvantages to such an open system.
As already mentioned, anyone can add and/or edit articles which means that a collective wealth of knowledge can be consolidated and viewed from a central location. This provides the potential to have all knowledge pertaining to a particular subject, topic or otherwise unfamiliar subject to be available to anyone who seeks it. This also provides the ability for global collaboration – people in Australia can just as easily contribute to the work of someone that originated in the United Kingdom. Such editing is instantaneous and thus there is no need to wait for these edits to be approved or published by an administrator or publisher. Finally, using Wikipedia is a simple task and can be learned quickly therefore providing wide access to publishing for non-technical web users.
That said, certain advantages may prove disadvantageous from an alternative perspective. In particular, the potential for disinformation, spam and vandalism is present due to the simplicity of being able to edit documents. Vandalism can include inaccurate information, spam posts or simply the removal of information but due to the fact that Wikipedia records every change made, the ability to revert to an article’s pre-vandalised state is usually a viable solution.
Wikipedia is generally reviewed as a reliable source of information but because of the open nature of creating content, inaccuracies and misleading (malicious or otherwise) content can sometimes be presented. Being maintained by the public, these erroneous scenarios are usually corrected quite quickly and the majority of users will never come across such a situation. There are some controversial issues surrounding the use of Wikipedia in the past which can be viewed here. This link details concerns such as the quality of writing within articles, vandalism and the accuracy of information within articles.
Overall, the concept of Wikipedia is brilliant and, for the best part, works very well but as with any open technologies there will always be issues. It is reasonable to assume that generally, Wikipedia will provide you with accurate and relevant information and corroborating such information with other online sources is a task not too difficult for anybody with the computer literacy to make it to Wikipedia. Despite what Wikipedia has to offer, it is always wise to cross reference information with several sources.