Controversy aside, experts insist that Wikipedia is evolving into a reputable source for information. Says Parr: "Wikipedia is climbing into the same league as respected reference guides. It is gaining greater respect every day."

THE BURNING QUESTION IS: Why do so many people volunteer so much time to write and edit entries for Wikipedia? Wales, who spends about 200 days a year crisscrossing the globe to support his passion, says that while contributors' names appear in the "history" section of an article, everlasting glory is the last thing on their minds. "They view this as a charitable and worthwhile mission. They believe that sharing knowledge is beneficial for society," he says. "Many of them also enjoy the social aspects of discussing and debating the finer points of articles and belonging to a community."

David Gerard is a perfect example. The UK-based computer-systems administrator spends upwards of 50 hours per week overseeing pages and handling an assortment of other functions. The self-described trivia fanatic says that Wikipedia offers him a chance to exercise his editing and interpersonal skills. "It's interesting to be able to go into as much depth as you like on a subject without worrying about running out of paper. It feels good to create a useful resource," he says.

Gerard is convinced that Wikipedia's neutral approach resonates with the public. Rather than advocating a single truth or a particular position, Wikipedia articles typically offer a variety of viewpoints, Gerard explains. While absolute neutrality is impossible, and editorial decisions always come down to judgment, "neutral-point-of-view writing on subjects seems to be drastically rare. That's something Wiki­pedia does that no one else in fact has as a key goal," Gerard says.