OAKLAND -- For a few facts about MC Hammer, Bill Russell or any number of prominent homegrown Oaklanders, Wikipedia will do the trick.
But for a history about the neighborhoods they called home, a map of nearby murals and a tally of local street cameras that might one day feed into a city surveillance hub, only Oakland Wiki can help.
The community-powered website has grown exponentially since its launch 18 months ago. Its 5,000 pages comprise a living archive of the city, capturing its history, daily life and political battles.
The New York Times linked to Oakland Wiki in its story last year about the proposed surveillance hub. Councilwoman Libby Schaaf advised residents to read the site's Oakland budget page rather than the city's version. Librarians praise it as a historical and civic resource.
"I think it's just awesome to have a repository where you can go and share information on Oakland," said Tonya Love, a blogger and frequent Oakland Wiki contributor.
The site is affiliated with LocalWiki, a nonprofit that unlike Wikipedia, the collaboratively edited Internet encyclopedia, lets users write about anything they find interesting in their town.
That includes Hank the Pelican over at Lake Merritt, a guide identifying the helicopters that frequently fly overhead, a chart of wild turkey sightings and an epic retelling of Oakland's place in the Chicano Movement.
LocalWiki started 10 years ago in Davis as a resource for college students. It evolved into the site most residents go to learn anything about the town, from nighttime events to the locations of 24-hour public restrooms.
Oakland's wiki isn't that thorough, but it already has far more material than many longer running wikis including one in San Francisco.
The site has tapped into one of Oakland's most abundant resources: residents who are really into their town and aren't always happy about how it's portrayed.
"I think in Oakland specifically there are many people who feel it is a community that has been defined externally," said Marina Kukso, managing director of LocalWiki and a volunteer with Oakland Wiki. "This gives everyone the opportunity to challenge the dominant narrative and show what living in Oakland is really like."
That's not to say that the city's problems are ignored. Kukso created a page titled "West Oakland Trash Pile" that documented a massive pile of illegally dumped debris.
Oakland Wiki has 375 registered users and a core of about 15 to 20 volunteers who dedicate several hours a week writing and editing pages. Last year, many of them spent their Sundays at the Oakland History Room working with librarians to set up hundreds of pages.
"A lot of the time, it's a very seductive rabbit trail to follow. You start looking at one thing and it leads to another," said Gene Anderson, a computer programmer who has written many history pages.
There are 71 local wikis in 10 countries, including a relatively new one in San Jose. With a mission of empowering people to collect all the information available about their towns, the site doesn't have a centralized hierarchy. Anyone can write or edit a page. Contributors can delete material they think is abusive or libelous, but there is no tidbit of Oakland information too insignificant or esoteric for the site.
Contributors said the lack of structure hasn't been a problem. Anderson has emailed people when he thinks they edited one of his posts incorrectly, but most of the edits are helpful, he said.
"You get so wound up in a top sometimes, you forget to make the page readable as well," he said.
The key to expanding Oakland Wiki is drawing more people with different interests into the fold. While history, city politics, personal recollections and quirky facts are strong suits, the site still has gaping holes. There is more information on the Taco Bell on Telegraph and West Grand Avenue -- opened in 1977 as Taco Charley -- than there is about the Oakland Unified School District.
Contributors want to post more information about schools, building projects, social events and available social services.
This year, Love is expanding her mayoral election coverage to the wiki, where she and community members are organizing a 2014 candidate debate. Love, who blogged the debates four years ago, hopes others can use the wiki to join in with dispatches from candidate house parties and other campaign events.
"This time it doesn't have to be what I can attend," she said. "I can be what anybody can contribute."
Visit Oakland Wiki at www.oaklandwiki.org.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435. Follow him at Twitter.com/Matthew_Artz.