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Just the Facts?

Wikipedia puts unique spin on Memphis and everything else.

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If you have lived in Memphis for a long time, you probably know a thing or two about the city. Yet even a Bluff City buff can only know so much. A city like Memphis is full of details, and it's changing every day.

So what if everyone in Memphis could add their opinion to the definition of the city, changing information and updating data in real time? That is the idea behind Wikipedia, the popular Internet encyclopedia where anyone can add or edit an entry.

Founded in 2001 by entrepreneur Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia has grown into the largest English language encyclopedia in existence, with over 900,000 articles. It is the second most popular reference Web site behind Yahoo.

The encyclopedia has a long and fairly comprehensive article on Memphis, covering the textbook categories of history, economy, geography, and government. But where Wikipedia excels over a traditional encyclopedia is in cataloging recent events. For instance, Wikipedia notes the Cooper-Young district "is increasingly considered one of the more artistic and hip areas of the city and evidence of successful urban renewal in Memphis' core."

Wikipedia also knows that Orange Mound was one of the first African-American neighborhoods built by African Americans and that "Tyler Glover, who operates Tyler's Place restaurant ... has been dubbed the 'Mayor of Orange Mound.'"

Wikipedia has certain advantages over a traditional encyclopedia. Its article on the Tennessee Waltz contains a timeline of events, the fallout, and links to all the major players. A single click will give users information on John Ford Sr.'s personal and political history.

The site also includes nontraditional information. On the Memphis rap group Three 6 Mafia, Wikipedia offers a complete biography, discography, and the sage advice that former member Gangsta Blac should not be confused with Crunchy Black, who is still in the group.

There is a danger and an allure to Wikipedia. On the one hand, there is the promise of an egalitarian system of collecting, correcting, and sharing information. On the flip side are the possibilities of misinformation and slander, such as the Wikipedia biography of retired Tennessee media mogul John Seigenthaler Sr.

The entry, posted for several months last year, suggested that Seigenthaler played a role in the John F. Kennedy assassination. Seigenthaler countered with a November 30th USA Today story about the "Internet character assassination."

Kat Walsh, a spokeswoman for Wikipedia and an avid contributor, says Wikipedia decided to focus on the accuracy of its content following the Seigenthaler incident. "We already have a strong base of articles, so accuracy will now become our major focus."

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