Wikipedia is great at laying out the cold, hard facts about things, but it often reads as if a computer wrote it. It can be hard to get the "vibe" of a subject. Instead, try TV Tropes. While this specialised wiki mostly focuses on entertainment like movies and TV shows and video games, it also collects "useful notes" about real-world people, places and phenomena.
Image by TV Tropes
For example, here's a line from Wikipedia's page on the Byzantine Empire:
Its citizens continued to refer to their empire as the Roman Empire.
And here's the TV Tropes version:
To the people living there, this was the Roman Empire.
If you appreciate the subtle difference between Wikipedia's detached phrasing and TV Tropes's POV outlook, you'll appreciate reading Useful Notes.
Useful Notes pages also include lists of "tropes" that the subject exemplifies, or inspired. These are mostly storytelling concepts applied to real life. For example, the Byzantine Empire is the prototype for the "vestigial empire" trope about dying kingdoms. (According to TV Tropes, that's a bit unfair to the Byzantines, who outlasted the Western Roman Empire by a thousand years.)
TV Tropes is less tightly organised than Wikipedia, so information about a subject will be scattered around several pages. Say you want to learn about evangelical Christianity; google "tv tropes evangelical" and you'll find TV Tropes pages for Christianity American churches (including megachurches) and "acceptable religious targets."
That last page will help you understand what different Christian denominations tend to think of each other. Here's a line you'd never find in Wikipedia:
There's sometimes the belief in countries with a Catholic majority, like in Latin America for example, that all Protestant denominations, especially within the United States, are comprised of slightly backwards people who are usually very overdramatic and willing to dish out all their money to televangelists in exchange for salvation.
There's a Useful Notes page for most major cities, which I consult weekly when writing Lifehacker's weekly Hack Your City column. (I even grabbed some direct quotes this week.) There are also pages for historical figures, national militaries, sports leagues, and almost every artistic creator of note.
(Artists, writers, and entertainers are especially well-covered, since TV Tropes is at heart a site about media and storytelling.)
Other interesting Useful Notes pages also cover phenomena you just might not have thought of. Here are some great ones:
- Cultural Cringe: what each country hates about itself
- IQ Testing: myth-busting about intelligence tests
- Constellation Trip: guided tour of the night sky
- Snow Means Cold: explains why, when the weather is really cold, it's less likely to snow
- Political Ideologies: a run-down of liberalism, nationalism, socialism, fascism, and the rest
- Trigger: an explanation of how mental triggers work, which corrects some misconceptions about trigger warnings
Remember, this is a casual entertainment site, not an encyclopedia, so don't trust it as an authoritative source. Unlike Wikipedia, TV Tropes doesn't require citations and source links. But do use it when Wikipedia feels impenetrable, when you want opinions more than facts, or when you've finished a Wikipedia page and now you want the juicy parts, the hard-to-confirm bits that Wikipedia doesn't share.
Useful Notes [TV Tropes]