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Wikipedia: Countdown to chaos

Even at the best of times, relying on the information available on Wikipedia is a risky business. The vast majority of the articles on there are legit, and it’s certainly fine for a 30-second answer to a non-vital question. But you wouldn’t want to use it as the sole source of research for a PhD, for example.

But if there’s one day you should treat Wikipedia entries with added cynicism it’s 1 April. People are sceptical enough of the editorial teams of newspapers, magazines and websites that publish content on 1 April - fearing they might try to pull a funny April Fools' Day prank. But Wikipedia’s editorial team – anyone with an internet connection – potentially runs into the hundreds of millions, and mischief makers have used the excuse of April Fools' Day before to target the site.

There’s an entire page on Wikipedia dedicated to ‘Bad jokes and other deleted nonsense/April Fools' Day 2006’. Most of it was innocent fun, but one prankster went so far as to swap the Protect and Delete buttons on each Wikipedia page, meaning those trying to lock an entry instead deleted it.

Of course, Wikipedia hosts so many articles (1.7 million in English alone) that the chances of you stumbling across a prank post are slim. But if you’re online on 1 April and counting on a legitimate answer, it might be a good excuse to try Citizendium for the first time. The online encyclopedia was set up Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger, and promises to stamp out the abuse occasionally witnessed on Wikipedia by adding "gentle expert oversight" and requiring contributors to use their real names. See our interview with Larry Sanger.

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