Wikipedia has moved past its controversial beginnings to become an established, even respected, free source of information for everyone. It's pretty easy to use, but as with all things, we'd like it to be even easier. Here are a few tricks and extensions that can help make you the best informed person in your network:
- It's no secret that I love the Chrome browser, and the Wikipedia Companion extension is a great example of why it's earned its place in my heart. It's dead-simple--just install it here and then click it whenever you feel the urge to open Wikipedia in a mini-browser and search away. You don't need to open a new tab or navigate away from your current window, though if you want to explore further or save for later, it's easy to open in a new tab. It's not quite seamless, but it's a definite step forward.
- I also love keyboard shortcuts despite my sausage fingers. If you don't feel right having to mouse around to get anything done, or you're using an unfamiliar trackpad, this list of hotkeys is for you. Unfortunately, different browser/OS combos require different setups (some like Ctrl, some like Alt, and so on), so I can't just list them here, but you can quickly edit a page, open the discussion page, hit the main page, or even open a random page (don't head down that rabbit hole unless you've got an hour to kill).
- If you are following an issue closely--maybe a hot news item or a subject you want to know more about--you can follow changes to any Wikipedia article using a feed reader like Google Reader. This is for the truly dedicated, as some articles are changed every few minutes or even more often, especially as news is happening. Still, it's handy when it's handy, and it's also a snap: Just click on "View history" up near the top right, then right-click "Atom" under "Tools" on the left bar, then select "Copy shortcut." Paste that shortcut into your feed reader, and you should start getting notifications right away.
- There are times when you can't just share a link, but that's no problem. If you need a printout or you're nervous about connectivity, you can export any Wikipedia article to PDF format. Just select "Print/export" on the left sidebar and then "Download as PDF." You can also select an easily printable HTML page if you prefer.
- Let's get back to Chrome for a minute. The WikiPreview extension helps keep you focused by bringing up a small, informative popup as you mouse over any link on a Wikipedia page. This is great for getting the gist of whatever the link connects to without having to open a zillion tabs or remember how far back your original page was.