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Wikipedia's multilingual portal shows the project's different language editions.
Screenshot of Wikipedia's multilingual portal
Commercial? No
Type of site Internet encyclopedia project
Registration Optional
Available language(s): 182 active editions (250 in total)[1]
Owner Wikimedia Foundation
Created by Jimmy Wales, Larry Sanger[2]

Wikipedia (IPA: /ˌwikiˈpiːdi.ə/ or /ˌwɪkiˈpiːdi.ə/ (Audio (U.S.) )) is a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers; its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the web site. The name is a portmanteau of the words wiki (a type of collaborative website) and encyclopedia. Its primary servers are in Tampa, Florida, with additional servers in Amsterdam and Seoul.

Wikipedia was launched as the English Wikipedia on January 15, 2001, as a complement to Nupedia, an expert-written and now defunct encyclopedia. The project is now operated by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization created by Jimmy Wales who is the co-founder of Wikipedia.[2][3][4][5][6] Wikipedia has approximately six million articles in 250 languages,[1] 1.7 million of which are in the English edition. It has steadily risen in popularity since its inception,[7] and currently ranks among the top ten most-visited websites worldwide.[8]

Critics have questioned Wikipedia's reliability and accuracy. [9] The site has also been criticized for its susceptibility to vandalism,[10] uneven quality, systemic bias and inconsistencies,[11] and for favoring consensus over credentials in its editorial process.[12] Wikipedia's content policies[13] and sub-projects set up by contributors seek to address these concerns.[14] Two scholarly studies have concluded that vandalism is generally short-lived[15] and that Wikipedia is roughly as accurate as other encyclopedias.[16]



Main article: History of Wikipedia
Wikipedia originally developed from another encyclopedia project, Nupedia.
Wikipedia originally developed from another encyclopedia project, Nupedia.

Wikipedia began as a complementary project for Nupedia, a free online encyclopedia project whose articles were written by experts and reviewed by a formal process. Nupedia was founded on March 9, 2000, under the ownership of Bomis, Inc, a web portal company. Its principal figures were Jimmy Wales, Bomis CEO, and Larry Sanger, editor-in-chief for Nupedia and later Wikipedia. Nupedia was licensed initially under its own Nupedia Open Content License, switching to the GFDL before Wikipedia's founding at the urging of Richard Stallman.[17]

On January 10, 2001, Larry Sanger proposed on the Nupedia mailing list to create a wiki as a "feeder" project for Nupedia.[18] Wikipedia was formally launched on January 15, 2001, as a single English-language edition at, and announced by Sanger on the Nupedia mailing list.[19] Wikipedia's policy of "neutral point-of-view"[20] was codified in its initial months, and was similar to Nupedia's earlier "nonbiased" policy. Otherwise, there were relatively few rules initially and Wikipedia operated independently of Nupedia.[21] Wikipedia gained early contributors from Nupedia, Slashdot postings, and search engine indexing. It grew to approximately 20,000 articles, and 18 language editions, by the end of 2001. It grew to 26 language editions by the end of 2002, 46 by the end of 2003, and 161 by the end of 2004.[22] Nupedia and Wikipedia coexisted until the former's servers went down, permanently, in 2003, and its text was incorporated into Wikipedia. Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales are both the co-founders of Wikipedia.[2][23]

Wikipedia's Old Logo
Wikipedia's English edition on March 30, 2001, two and a half months after its founding.
Wikipedia's English edition on March 30, 2001, two and a half months after its founding.

Wales and Sanger attribute the concept of using a wiki to Ward Cunningham's WikiWikiWeb or Portland Pattern Repository.[citation needed] Although Wales is credited with defining the goal of making a publicly-editable encyclopedia,[21] Sanger is usually credited with the strategy of using a wiki to reach that goal.[24]

Citing fears of commercial advertising and lack of control in a perceived English-centric Wikipedia, users of the Spanish Wikipedia forked from Wikipedia to create the Enciclopedia Libre in February 2002. Later that year, Wales announced that Wikipedia would not display advertisements, and its website was moved to Various other projects have since forked from Wikipedia for editorial reasons. Wikinfo does not require neutral point of view and allows original research. New Wikipedia-inspired projects — such as Citizendium, Scholarpedia and Amapedia — have been started to address perceived limitations of Wikipedia, such as its policies on peer review, original research and commercial advertising.

The Wikimedia Foundation was created from Wikipedia and Nupedia on June 20, 2003.[25]

The Wikimedia Foundation applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark Wikipedia® on September 17, 2004. The mark was granted registration status on January 10, 2006. Trademark protection was accorded by Japan on December 16, 2004 and in the European Union on January 20, 2005. Technically a service mark, the scope of the mark is for: "Provision of information in the field of general encyclopedic knowledge via the Internet". There are plans to license the usage of the Wikipedia trademark for some products, such as books or DVDs.[26]

The number of English Wikipedia articles grew exponentially from 2002 to 2006, with a doubling time of roughly 1 year.
The number of English Wikipedia articles grew exponentially from 2002 to 2006, with a doubling time of roughly 1 year.[27]

As of 2007, English Wikipedia had over 1.6 million articles, making it the largest encyclopedia ever assembled, eclipsing even the Yongle Encyclopedia (1407), which held the record for nearly 600 years.[28]

Authorship and management

During December 2005, about 27,000 users made at least five edits to Wikipedia; of these, 17,000 worked on the English edition.[29] Maintenance tasks are performed by a group of volunteers; these include developers, who work on the MediaWiki software, and other trusted users with various permission levels including "steward", "bureaucrat" and "administrator".[30] Stewards and bureaucrats are able to promote or demote users to different permission levels. Administrators are the largest group of specially privileged users, and have the ability to delete pages, prevent articles from being edited, or block users from editing. Administrators are, however, required to follow community policy when exercising these powers.[31] These permissions are normally granted by community consensus; stewards are elected at irregular intervals. Vandalism or the minor infraction of policies may result in a warning or temporary block, while long-term or permanent blocks for prolonged and serious infractions are given by[citation needed](or in the name of) Jimmy Wales or, on the English-language edition, an elected "Arbitration Committee".[32]

Wikipedia is funded through the Wikimedia Foundation. Its 4th Quarter 2005 costs were $321,000 USD, with hardware making up almost 60% of the budget.[33] The Wikimedia Foundation currently relies primarily on private donations, and holds regular fundraisers;[34] the January 2007 fundraiser raised just over $1 million.[35]

Software and hardware

Wikipedia receives between 10,000 and 30,000 page requests per second, depending on time of day. More than 100 servers have been set up to handle the traffic.
Wikipedia receives between 10,000 and 30,000 page requests per second, depending on time of day.[36] More than 100 servers have been set up to handle the traffic.

The operation of Wikipedia depends on MediaWiki, a custom-made, open source wiki software platform written in PHP and built upon the MySQL database. The software incorporates modern programming features, such as a macro language, variables, a transclusion system for templates, and URL redirection. MediaWiki is licensed under the GNU General Public License and used by all Wikimedia projects, as well as many other wiki projects. Originally, Wikipedia ran on UseModWiki written in Perl by Clifford Adams (Phase I), which initially required CamelCase for article hyperlinks; the present double brackets were incorporated later. Starting in January 2002 (Phase II), Wikipedia began running on a PHP wiki engine with a MySQL database; this software was custom-made for Wikipedia by Magnus Manske. The Phase II software was repeatedly modified to accommodate the exponentially increasing demand. In July 2002 (Phase III), Wikipedia shifted to the third-generation software, MediaWiki, originally written by Lee Daniel Crocker.

Overview of system architecture, May 2006. Source: Server layout diagrams on Meta-Wiki.
Overview of system architecture, May 2006. Source: Server layout diagrams on Meta-Wiki.

Wikipedia runs on dedicated clusters of Linux servers in Florida and in four other locations.[37] Wikipedia employed a single server until 2004, when the server setup was expanded into a distributed multitier architecture. In January 2005, the project ran on 39 dedicated servers located in Florida. This configuration included a single master database server running MySQL, multiple slave database servers, 21 web servers running the Apache HTTP Server, and seven Squid cache servers. By September 2005, its server cluster had grown to around 100 servers in four locations around the world.

Page requests are first passed to a front-end layer of Squid caching servers. Requests that cannot be served from the Squid cache are sent to load-balancing servers running the Perlbal software, which in turn pass the request to one of the Apache web servers for page-rendering from the database. The web servers deliver pages as requested, performing page rendering for all the language editions of Wikipedia. To increase speed further, rendered pages for anonymous users are cached in a filesystem until invalidated, allowing page rendering to be skipped entirely for most common page accesses. To further accelerate response times, Wikimedia is building a global network of caching servers, beginning with three caching servers in France. Two larger clusters in the Netherlands and Korea now handle much of Wikipedia's traffic load.

Language editions

Wikipedia in Hebrew.
Wikipedia in Hebrew.[38]

Wikipedia has been described as "an effort to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language".[39] There are presently 250 language editions of Wikipedia; of these, the top 14 have over 100,000 articles and the top 131 have over 1,000 articles.[1] According to Alexa Internet's audience measurement service, the English subdomain ( receives approximately 55% of Wikipedia's cumulative traffic, with the remaining 45% split among the other languages.[7] The various language editions are held to global policies such as "neutral point of view," though they may diverge on subtler points of policy and practice.

The editing of the language editions is not coordinated, and articles of one edition need not match their counterparts in another edition. Multilingual editors of sufficient fluency are encouraged to manually translate articles; automated translation of articles is explicitly disallowed.[40] Translated articles represent only a small portion of articles in most editions.[41] Articles available in more than one language offer "InterWiki" links in their left margins, which link to the counterpart articles in other editions. Images and other non-verbal media are shared among the various language editions through the Wikimedia Commons repository.

Reliability and bias

Wikipedia appeals to the authority of peer-reviewed publications rather than the personal authority of experts.[42] Wikipedia does not require that its contributors give their legal names[43] or provide other information to establish their identity.[44] Although some contributors are authorities in their field, Wikipedia requires that even their contributions be supported by published sources.[42] A drawback of this citation-only approach is that readers may be unable to judge the credibility of a cited source.[citation needed]

Wikipedia tries to address the problem of systemic bias, and to deal with zealous editors who seek to influence the presentation of an article in a biased way, by insisting on a neutral point of view.[20] The English-language Wikipedia has introduced a scale against which the quality of articles is judged;[45] other editions have also adopted this. Roughly 1200 articles have passed a rigorous set of criteria to reach the highest rank, "featured article" status; such articles are intended to provide a thorough, well-written coverage of their topic, and be supported by many references to peer-reviewed publications.[46]

Academic evaluation

Some studies suggest that Wikipedia provides a good starting point for research, but sometimes suffers from significant omissions and inaccuracies.[47] On the other hand, an investigation by Nature comparing Wikipedia to the Encyclopædia Britannica suggested a near similar level of accuracy in terms of its natural science articles.[48] Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. disagreed and described this study as "fatally flawed",[49] to which Nature later responded, stating that its study was perfectly neutral.[50] Other studies have concluded that Wikipedia's coverage of history is significantly broader and deeper than that of Encarta, while being just as accurate,[16] and that obvious vandalism is usually reverted quickly.[15]

In a study of Wikipedia as a community, economics PhD student Andrea Ciffolilli argued that the low transaction costs of participating in wiki software create a catalyst for collaborative development, and that a "creative construction" approach encourages participation.[51]

In February 2007, an article in The Harvard Crimson newspaper reported that some of the professors at Harvard University do include Wikipedia in their syllabi, but that there is a split in their perception of using Wikipedia.[52]

Criticism and controversy

Wikipedia has been accused of exhibiting systemic bias and inconsistency;[9] critics argue that Wikipedia's open nature, and favouring consensus over credentials in its editorial process, makes it unauthoritative, and that a lack of proper sources for much of the information makes it unreliable,[53] although the converse of the same argument can also be argued. Some commentators suggest that Wikipedia is usually reliable, but that it is not always clear how much.[12] The project's preference for consensus over credentials has been labelled "anti-elitism".[11] Editors of traditional reference works such as the Encyclopædia Britannica have questioned the project's utility and status as an encyclopedia.[54] Many university lecturers discourage students from citing any encyclopedia in academic work, preferring primary sources;[55] some specifically prohibit Wikipedia citations.[56] Founder Jimmy Wales stresses that encyclopedias of any type are not usually appropriate as primary sources, and should not be relied upon as authoritative.[57] Technology writer Bill Thompson commented that the debate was possibly "symptomatic of much learning about information which is happening in society today."[58]

Wikipedia on 25th March 07
Wikipedia on 25th March 07

Concerns have also been raised regarding the lack of accountability that results from users' anonymity,[59] and that it is vulnerable to vandalism and Internet trolls.[60] For example, false information was introduced into the biography of John Seigenthaler, Sr. and remained undetected for four months.[61]

Wikipedia's community has been described as "cult-like",[62] although not always with entirely negative connotations,[63] and criticised for failing to accommodate inexperienced users.[64] The addition of political spin to articles by organizations including the U.S. House of Representatives and special interest groups[10] has been noted,[65] and organizations such as Microsoft have offered financial incentives to work on certain articles.[66] Wikipedia has been parodied by its critics, notably by Stephen Colbert in The Colbert Report.[67]

In 2007, the Wikipedia article on then-Montana senator Conrad Burns was edited by his own staff, causing political scandal among his constituents.[68]

Wikipedia's content policies[13] and sub-projects set up by contributors seek to address these concerns.[69] Several scholarly studies have concluded that vandalism is generally short-lived,[15] and that Wikipedia is roughly as accurate as other online encyclopedias.[16]


Wikipedia won two major awards in May 2004.[70] The first was a Golden Nica for Digital Communities of the annual Prix Ars Electronica contest; this came with a €10,000 (£6,588; $12,700) grant and an invitation to present at the PAE Cyberarts Festival in Austria later that year. The second was a Judges' Webby Award for the "community" category.[71] Wikipedia was also nominated for a "Best Practices" Webby. In September 2004, the Japanese Wikipedia was awarded a Web Creation Award from the Japan Advertisers Association. This award, normally given to individuals for great contributions to the Web in Japanese, was accepted by a long-standing contributor on behalf of the project.

In a 2006 Multiscope research study, the Dutch Wikipedia was rated the third best Dutch language site, after Google and Gmail, with a score of 8.1.[72] On 26 January 2007, Wikipedia was also awarded the fourth highest brand ranking by the readers of, receiving 15% of the votes in answer to the question "Which brand had the most impact on our lives in 2006?"[73] Founder Jimmy Wales was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine in 2006.[74] In 2006, the Russian Wikipedia won the "Science and education" category of the "Runet Prize" (Russian: Премия Рунета) award, supervised[75] by the Russian government agency FAPMC.

In the media

Wikipedia's content has been mirrored and forked by hundreds of sites including database dumps. Its content has also been used in academic studies, books, conferences and court cases.[76][77] The Canadian Parliament website refers to Wikipedia's article on same-sex marriage in the "related links" section of its "further reading" list for Civil Marriage Act.[78] The encyclopedia's assertions are increasingly used as a source by organizations such as the U.S. Federal Courts and the World Intellectual Property Office[79] — though mainly for supporting information rather than information decisive to a case.[80] Wikipedia has also been used as a source in journalism,[81] sometimes without attribution; several reporters have been dismissed for plagiarizing from Wikipedia.[82][83]

Wikipedia maintains a (non-comprehensive) list of notable uses of the encyclopedia as a source.[84]

With increased usage and awareness, there have been an increasing number of references to Wikipedia in popular culture. Many parody Wikipedia's openness, with characters vandalizing or modifying the online encyclopedia project's articles. Uncyclopedia is the largest such website; its Main Page claims that it is the "content-free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,"[85] parodying the English Wikipedia's welcome message on its Main Page.

In the episode "Wikiality" of The Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert has instigated his viewers to vandalize articles in humorous ways, once doing so on the Wikipedia article on elephants.[86] "Weird Al" Yankovic's character in his video 'White & Nerdy' is seen vandalising the entry for the Atlantic record label with the exclamation "You suck!," after they rescinded permission for a parody.[87]

In a recent episode of American Dad (entitled Black Mystery Month), protagonists Stan Smith and Steve Smith fail to reveal to the world that George Washington Carver wasn't the person who invented peanut butter, then create a Wikipedia page entitled "The Truth About Peanut Butter" to inform the world, citing that it is the one place you can put crazy information out with no evidence and still have millions of people believe it to be true.

Related projects

Wikipedia has spawned several sister projects. The first, "In Memoriam: September 11 Wiki",[88] created in October 2002,[89] detailed the September 11, 2001 attacks; this project was closed in October 2006.[90] Wiktionary, a dictionary project, was launched in December 2002;[91] Wikiquote, a collection of quotations, a week after Wikimedia launched, and Wikibooks, a collection of collaboratively-written free books, the next month. Wikimedia has since started a number of other projects.[92]

A similar non-wiki project, the GNUpedia project, co-existed with Nupedia early in its history; however, it has been retired and its creator, free-software figure Richard Stallman, has lent his support to Wikipedia.[93]

Other websites centered around collaborative knowledge base development have drawn inspiration from or inspired Wikipedia. Some, such as, Enciclopedia Libre, and WikiZnanie likewise employ no formal review process, whereas others use more traditional peer review, such as the expert-written Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, h2g2 and Everything2.

See also

Meta has a page about this at:


  1. ^ a b c List of Wikipedias. Meta-Wiki (2007-01-24). Retrieved on 2007-01-31.
  2. ^ a b c There is some controversy over who founded Wikipedia. Wikipedia's official personnel page from September 2001 states that Wales and Sanger were the two co-founders, and that there was no editor-in-chief. Wales considers himself to be the sole founder of Wikipedia and has told the Boston Globe that "it's preposterous" to call Sanger the co-founder. However, Sanger strongly contests that description. He was identified as a co-founder of Wikipedia at least as early as September 2001 and referred to himself that way as early as January 2002.
  3. ^ [1]
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  10. ^ a b Ahrens, Frank (2006-07-09). Death by Wikipedia: The Kenneth Lay Chronicles. The Washington Post. Retrieved on 2006-11-01.
  11. ^ a b Larry Sanger, "Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism", Kuro5hin, December 31, 2004.
  12. ^ a b Danah Boyd (2005-01-04). Academia and Wikipedia. Many-to-Many. Retrieved on 2007-02-11.
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  52. ^ Child, Maxwell L.,"Professors Split on Wiki Debate", The Harvard Crimson, Monday, February 26, 2007.
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