I know, there are a ton of things you don’t know about Wikipedia. For most people, especially those who only view Wikipedia on the app, you miss a ton of features designed to help organize, manage, and make entries discoverable. I am going to do a short series of entries focusing on those features you might not know about. Today I am going to focus on 2 features that help categorize Wikipedia entries, but for different reason: categories and project.
Categories: Helping the Reader
One of my favorite elements of Wikipedia is how it has figured out how to return serendipity to users. What do I mean? One of the things professors, especially of certain generations, often complain about is that students no longer have the inclination to browser the library selves, looking for the right book, and then finding 10 more. Librarians recognize that the process of searching online has lost that feature that allows you to fall down the rabbit hole of information and come out with much more than you expected. Part of the problem, in my opinion at least, is that newspapers and blogs rarely link beyond their pages. Even I don’t often link out to other sources. When we do link, it’s primarily to sell something (like ads).
What Wikipedia does is bring us back to that experience of the rabbit hole. It links out to entries within the text, each entry had links to outside sources, cited sources are included and linked to when available online, and all entries are sorted into categories. The categories serve two purposes. First, it makes that entry more discoverable through it’s connections to other entries. Second, it helps the reader find other entries on the same topic. Categories are often numerous and specific. They are a great way to get lost down the rabbit hole of research. They are located at the bottom of every entry, bellow all the links.
Projects: Helping the Editor
Projects are for those developing and improving Wikipedia, the editors. They are typically far broader than the categories and completely disconnected. The projects are typically subject based: medicine, biology, religion, or geography. The goal is to help editors focus on entries related to their broader interest. That’s not to say that readers can’t use projects to find entries, it’s just not as easy as using the categories. Also, editors can use categories to find entries to edit, but projects help organize the editing process.
How so? They set priorities and they rank entries (we will discuss that in another entry). This dictates what their priorities are done, when evaluations to re-rank entries might happen, and what actually needs to be improved. For an editor, you want to make sure you are working on an entry that needs work. Focusing on the projects helps to identify what needs to be done. You can find out what the category is on the entries talk page, typically right at the top. You will see their priority for the entry and its current ranking.
So, check them out! Tell me if you find a fun, very specific category. In the comments, tell me about a research rabbit hole you have gone down on Wikipedia!