I like to think I’ve been around a bit on the Internet, remembering my first exposure to web pages via IBM Web Explorer on OS/2 (don’t ask), following gopher information links, logging in to sites via command line FTP and I still remember my amazement when I first saw an ad on TV that included a URL, wondering how many people watching would actually know what to do with it.
So I find it fascinating when I find something that has been around for ages that I never knew existed. In this case, the Simple English “Translation” of wikipedia. Apparently this was created in 2003 and now boasts more than 100,000 pages. What brought me to this site was reading about the Euler Identity in the latest book to hit my bookshelves – Dataclysm (Euler – “He was a slacker” according to the footnote from Christian Rudder :)).
Searching for Euler Identity yeilded the Wikipedia entry as the first hit and the Simple English Version as the second hit. When I realised that you could use the “select language” option at the bottom of wikipedia pages to choose “Simple English”, I thought that was a really inspired use of the idea of language. I know techies often go to town with language and computers – just consider the Google “big data” approach to translation, Luis von Ahn‘s crowd-sourced approach using desire to learn language to translate the web with Duolingo and the fact that Unicode itself has been used to include non-Earth languages among its character set!
So when I thought about the idea of using “select language” to choose not just translations, but also approaches to conveying the information in the first place, I thought it was a really good idea, and looked a bit deeper on what else was available. It turns out there are actually a number of English language wikipedia sites:
And it turns out that there are also sites for:
Whilst they apparently didn’t want to split into British and American verisons, there is also apparently a schools wikipedia.
Naturally the first thing to do when one discovers the Simple English Wikipedia is to search for the most complicated subjects you can think of. Consequently, I present links to the Simple English guide to:
- Euler’s Identity (the article that started it all)
- Quantum Mechanics
- The Theory of Relativity – which includes the wonderful warning at the top of the page that “The English used in this article may not be easy for everybody to understand” (a warning worthy of Randall Munroe)
- Fermat’s Last Theorem
- Goldbach’s Conjecture