Culture & Art

Mar 1, 2015

Free knowledge for everyone

Presently, Wikipedia is a normal internet companion, your go-to source when you need questions answered quickly, technical data on any subject or random trivia about virtually any celebrity in the world. 

Wikipedia began as a complementary project for Nupedia, a free online English-language encyclopedia project whose articles were written by experts and reviewed under a formal process. Nupedia was founded on March 9, 2000, under the ownership of Bomis, a web portal company. Its main figures were the Bomis CEO Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, editor-in-chief for Nupedia and later Wikipedia. While Wales is credited with defining the goal of making a publicly editable encyclopedia, Sanger is credited with the strategy of using a wiki to reach that goal. On January 10, 2001, Sanger proposed on the Nupedia mailing list to create a wiki as a "feeder" project for Nupedia. 

Wikipedia was formally launched on January 15, 2001, as a single English-language edition at www.wikipedia.com, and announced by Sanger on the Nupedia mailing list. Wikipedia's policy of "neutral point-of-view" was codified in its first months. Otherwise, there were relatively few rules initially and Wikipedia operated independently.

Wikipedia gained early contributors from Nupedia and web search engine indexing, using Google, Altavista and Yahoo as sources. On August 8, 2001, Wikipedia had over 8,000 articles, a number that increased to over 13,000 articles just a month later. And by the end of 2001 it had grown to approximately 20,000 articles and 18 language editions. It had reached 26 language editions by late 2002, 46 by the end of 2003, and 161 by the final days of 2004. Nupedia and Wikipedia coexisted until the former's servers were taken down permanently in 2003, and its text was incorporated into Wikipedia. English Wikipedia passed the mark of two million articles on September 9, 2007, making it the largest encyclopedia ever assembled, surpassing even the 1408 Yongle Encyclopedia, which had held the record for 600 years.

Citing fears of commercial advertising and lack of control in Wikipedia, users of the Spanish Wikipedia forked from Wikipedia to create the Enciclopedia Libre in February 2002. These moves encouraged Wales to announce that Wikipedia would not display advertisements, as previously thought by its founders, and to change Wikipedia's domain from wikipedia.com to wikipedia.org, a more friendly domain name to meet the changes in progress.

Though the English Wikipedia reached three million articles in August 2009, the growth of the edition, in terms of the numbers of articles and of contributors, appears to have peaked around early 2007. Around 1,800 articles were added daily to the encyclopedia in 2006; by 2013 that average was roughly 800. A team at the Palo Alto Research Center attributed this slowing of growth to the project's increasing exclusivity and resistance to change. Others suggest that the growth is flattening naturally because articles that could be called "low-hanging fruit" – topics that clearly merit an article – have already been created and built up extensively.

In November 2009, a researcher at the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid (Spain) found that the English Wikipedia had lost 49,000 editors during the first three months of 2009; in comparison, the project lost only 4,900 editors during the same period in the previous year. The Wall Street Journal cited the array of rules applied to editing and disputes related to such content among the reasons for this trend. Wales disputed these claims in 2009, denying the decline and questioning the methodology of the study. Two years later, Wales acknowledged the presence of a slight decline, noting a decrease from "a little more than 36,000 writers" in mid-2010 to 35,800 in June 2011. In the same interview, Wales also claimed the number of editors was "stable and sustainable," a claim which was questioned by MIT's Technology Review in a 2013 article titled "The Decline of Wikipedia." In July 2012, the Atlantic reported that the number of administrators is also in decline. In the November 25, 2013, issue of New York magazine, Katherine Ward stated "Wikipedia, the sixth-most-used website, is facing an internal crisis. In 2013, MIT's Technology Review revealed that since 2007, the site has lost a third of the volunteer editors who update and correct the online encyclopedia's millions of pages and those still there have focused increasingly on minutiae."

In early 2007, Wikipedia entered for the first time the top-ten list of the most popular websites in the United States, according to comScore Networks. With 42.9 million unique visitors, Wikipedia was ranked number 9, surpassing the New York Times (#10) and Apple (#11). This marked a significant increase over January 2006, when the rank was number 33, with Wikipedia receiving around 18.3 million unique visitors. In February 2014, Wikipedia was the sixth-most popular website worldwide according to Alexa Internet, receiving 12 billion pageviews every month (2.7 billion from the United States alone). On February 9, 2014, The New York Times reported that Wikipedia has 18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors a month, "according to the ratings firm comScore." 

On January 18, 2012, the English Wikipedia participated in a series of coordinated protests against two proposed laws in the United States Congress—the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA)—by blacking out its pages for 24 hours. More than 162 million people viewed the blackout explanation page that temporarily replaced Wikipedia content. 

Today the Wikipedia project lives on and new articles and pages are added everyday, contributing to the growth of the bigGest knowledge database in the world.

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