I don't always like admitting to people that I often start out my research on Wiki-freakin'-pedia. I once had a professor throw up his hands into the air all dictator-like and say, "Anyone who cites Wikipedia in their paper will fail my entire class, and also I will hate you until my dying day, cursing your name in the eternal fiery pits of hell." Okay, I'm over stating this. But yes, sometimes I read a bit on the Wikipedia page before finding links to actual legit sites, with actual legit experts, and real-life actual legit information, like in published books and stuff I can peruse at my local tiny-ass library.
But why do I bother with Wikipedia? I mean, Stephen Colbert has the elephant page locked down by administrators of Wiki because he told his audience to change it to state "the population of elephants had tripled." (Oh, and I think Stephen Colbert has several Wikipedia pages on the impact of his show on Wikipedia--TOO META! Gahhh!)
I really do understand that Wikipedia is a place where the general populace can essentially make shit up. And general knowledge isn't always correct knowledge. Also, see aforementioned making shit up.
However, I use it to read about something that I essentially only need an overview for. It's my Cliff's Notes, if you will. Not that I've ever used Cliff and his Notes, even when younger. I thought it was cheating. For me Wikipedia is a little like cheating too, only I do think it leads to a basic knowledge with which I can then do tighter, more focused research and hope that whatever I'm looking up doesn't lead to my name on some NSA or FBI or CIA watchlist. Or you know, flagged by PRISM or something. Anyway, I do believe that there are merits for starting out on Wikipedia in order to get a broad idea of what it is you actually want to look up. Especially if you're like "that sounds cool to write about but I don't know a damned thing about it!"
Then there's the evil, voracious Stygian whirlpool that sucks you down, down, down the Rabbit hole, the Hawking's Theories of Black Holes hole, and Useless Knowledge holes.
The WIKIPEDIA HOLE OF DOOM.
The problem with Wikipedia is that it is so link-happy. You read about one thing, and it has that happy-blue-little-linky-underlined bit to click on something related to what you're looking up. Hey, you might've started out on something like The Meiji Restoration Era in Japan and somehow wind up reading about ancient torture techniques (that actually happened to me once, and I have the mental scars to prove it). You just keep link-clicking and before you know it you're in the 9th Circle of Hell. Or at least you're reading about it as per the Wiki page.
What are some research problems you've encountered?
This topic brought to you by the Merry-Go-Round-Blog Tour, where you can read the thoughts of over a dozen authors, writers, bloggers who have swirled in the Wikipedia Charibdis hole or the six-headed monster Scylla (both of which I had to look up how to spell, on what else--Wikipedia). Up next is the wiki-webstar Gilroy Cullens over as Swords vs. Pens.