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Web tool puts new face on Wikipedia

Gollum, a free, open-source "browser," provides a streamlined interface for the popular online encyclopedia.

The popularity of Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute, is spawning a host of complementary tools and offshoots.

One of them is called Gollum, a free Web application that creator Harald Hanek describes as a Wikipedia "browser." The tool provides an alternate, streamlined user interface for Wikipedia that puts the search feature front and center and allows for some customization.

"In my opinion the interface of Wikipedia is too overloaded and confusing," Hanek says on the Gollum site. "So let's get an easy to use interface."

Hanek, who lives in Nuremberg, Germany, originally built the program for his daughter, as a faster, less complex way to interact with Wikipedia. He later released it to the public over the Web as an open-source project and recently introduced an English version of his site.

Despite its description, Gollum is not actually a Web browser, as it takes visitors only to Wikipedia pages. It also requires a standard Web browser, such as Internet Explorer or Firefox, to work.

Wikipedia is a popular destination on the Web, and a big part of its appeal is that any visitor can edit and contribute to the encyclopedia's entries. The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates the site, says 13,000 people actively contribute to the virtual tome, creating thousands of new articles and tens of thousands of edits every day.

The foundation is aware of the Gollum project but was not involved in any way with its development, a representative for the group said.

Hanek created Gollum using a programming technology known as AJAX, which helps coders build sophisticated interfaces for Web applications. Another Wikipedia-related application that taps AJAX is Placeopedia, which combines Wikipedia articles with Google Maps.