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Image:Wikipedia-favicon.png Wikipedia <tr><td colspan="2" style="text-align: center;">Image:Wikipedia-logo.png</td></tr><tr><td colspan="2" style="text-align: center; border: 0px solid #aaaaaa"> screenshot.png
Type of site Internet encyclopedia project<tr><th>Registration</th><td>Optional</td></tr><tr><th>Available language(s):</th><td>multi-lingual (171 active editions)</td></tr>
Owner Wikimedia Foundation
Created by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger

Wikipedia is a multilingual, Web-based free content encyclopedia project. The name is a portmanteau of the words wiki and encyclopedia. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers, allowing most articles to be changed by almost anyone with access to the Web site. Its main servers are in Tampa, Florida, with additional servers in Amsterdam and Seoul.

Wikipedia was launched as an English language project on January 15, 2001, as a complement to the expert-written and now defunct Nupedia, and is now operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. It was created by Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales; Sanger resigned from both Nupedia and Wikipedia on March 1, 2002. Wales has described Wikipedia as "an effort to create and distribute a multi-lingual free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language".<ref>Jimmy Wales, "Wikipedia is an encyclopedia", March 8 2005, <></ref>

Currently Wikipedia has more than five million articles in many languages, including more than 1.5 million in the English-language version and more than half a million in the German-language version. There are 250 language editions of Wikipedia, and 18 of them have more than 50,000 articles each. The German-language edition has been distributed on DVD-ROM, and there have been proposals for an English DVD or print edition. Since its inception, Wikipedia has steadily risen in popularity,<ref>See plots at "Visits per day", Wikipedia Statistics, January 1 2005</ref> and has spawned several sister projects. According to Alexa, Wikipedia ranks among the top fifteen most visited sites, and many of its pages have been mirrored or forked by other sites, such as

There has been controversy over Wikipedia's reliability and accuracy, with the site receiving criticism for its susceptibility to vandalism, uneven quality and inconsistency, systemic bias, and preference for consensus or popularity over credentials. Information is sometimes unconfirmed and questionable, lacking the proper sources that, in the eyes of most Wikipedians, are necessary for an article to be considered "high quality". However, a 2005 comparison performed by the science journal Nature of sections of Wikipedia and the Encyclopædia Britannica found that the two were close in terms of the accuracy of their articles on the natural sciences. This study was challenged by Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., who described it as "fatally flawed".<ref>Template:Cite paper </ref>



Image depicting the linking characteristics of a wiki; pages are linked together extensively, which allows the user to traverse a pathway of related articles

Wikipedia uses a type of software called a "wiki", which allows for content to be authored by multiple people easily. Visitors are allowed to add, remove, or otherwise edit and change its content to help build the encyclopedia. Such contributions can be made without the need to register a user account. It therefore is possible for large numbers of people to create articles and update them quickly as new information becomes available; it also means online vandalism of and disagreement about content are common.

Many other Internet encyclopedia projects use traditional multi-lingual editorial policies and article ownership such as the expert-written Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Nupedia, h2g2 and Everything2. Projects such as, Enciclopedia Libre, and WikiZnanie are other wikis in which articles are developed by numerous authors, and there is no formal process of review. Unlike many encyclopedias, Wikipedia has licensed its content under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).

Wikipedia has a set of policies identifying types of information appropriate for inclusion. These policies often are cited in disputes over whether particular content should be added, revised, transferred to a sister project, or removed. One of Wikipedia's core policies is that articles must be written from a "neutral point of view", presenting all note-worthy perspectives on an issue along with the evidence supporting them. The project also forbids the use of original research. Wikipedia articles do not attempt to determine an objective truth on their subjects, but rather to describe them impartially from all significant viewpoints. Following the introduction of a more user friendly citation functionality, since early 2006, articles increasingly include an extensive reference section to support the information presented in the article and to allow verification of the article.

Free content

As a large and collaborative project that requires users to create and edit content en masse, it is imperative that all contributions be freely modifiable legally. Normally the creator of a work retains copyright over it, disallowing others from copying it or creating derivative works. It is for this reason that Wikipedia's articles are released under a license that permits anyone to build upon them. The "GNU Free Documentation License", or "GFDL", one of the many "copyleft" licenses that permit the redistribution, creation of derivative works, and commercial use of content, was chosen for this purpose. The license also states that, as a condition for the use of the information, its authors be attributed and any redistributed content remain available under the same license. Despite this free nature, the contributions of original material to the project by authors are still rightfully theirs, and the copyright over their work is retained by them; they simply agree to make that work available so that others may benefit from it. Contributors may choose to multi-license their content as well, which allows it to be used by third parties under any of the licenses, or simply release them into the public domain, although few contributors opt to do so.[citation needed]

A significant proportion of images, sound and video files on Wikipedia, however, do not fall under the GFDL license. Items such as corporate logos, song samples, or copyrighted news photos are used with a claim of fair use under the United States copyright law.<ref name="USCopyrightLaw">Note that it is the United States copyright law that applies to all of Wikipedia's content.[citation needed]</ref> There is also content released under different copyleft terms or licenses that are compatible with the GFDL, such as images under Creative Commons licenses.

Language editions

An example of Wikipedia's range in language editions: Wikipedia in Hebrew.<ref></ref>

Currently Wikipedia encompasses 171 "active" language editions (ones with 100+ articles).<ref name="CompleteList">"List of Wikipedias", Meta-Wiki, April 15 2006</ref> In total, Wikipedia contains 250 language editions of varying states, with a combined 5 million articles.<ref name="CompleteLangList">"Complete list of language Wikipedias available", Meta-Wiki, April 15 2006</ref>

Language editions operate independently from one another. Editions are not bound to the content of other language editions, nor are articles on the same subject required to be translations of each other. Automated translation of articles is explicitly disallowed, though multilingual editors of sufficient fluency are encouraged to manually translate articles. 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. Articles and images are shared between Wikipedia editions, the former through "InterWiki" links and pages to request translations, and the latter through the Wikimedia Commons repository. Translated articles represent only a small portion of articles in most editions.<ref>For example, "Translation into English", Wikipedia. (March 9 2005)</ref>

Image:Wikipedia growth.png
Wikipedia's article count has shown rapid growth in some of the major language editions.

According to Alexa Internet's audience measurement service, the English sub-domain ( receives approximately 60% of Wikipedia's cumulative traffic, with the remaining 40% being splintered between the numerous other languages in which Wikipedia is offered.

The following is a list of the largest editions — those containing over 100,000 articles — sorted by number of articles as of December 3 2006.<ref>Note that the article count, however, is a limited metric for comparing the editions, for a variety of reasons. In some Wikipedia versions, for example, nearly half of the articles are short articles created automatically by robots. Further, many editions that have more articles also have fewer contributors. Although the French, Polish, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish and Italian Wikipedias have more articles than the Spanish Wikipedia, they have fewer users. See "Complete list of language Wikipedias available", Meta-Wiki, for more information.</ref><ref name="CompleteLangList" />

  1. English (1,514,592)
  2. German (505,176)
  3. French (403,483)
  4. Polish (320,980)
  5. Japanese (294,943)
  6. Dutch (243,982)
  7. Italian (219,679)
  8. Portuguese (201,694)
  9. Swedish (196,609)
  10. Spanish (175,460)
  11. Russian (119,653)
  12. Chinese (103,664)


Image:History comparison example.png
Editors keep track of changes to articles by checking the difference between two revisions of a page, displayed here in red.

Almost all visitors may edit Wikipedia's content; registered users can also create new articles. Changes made to pages are instantly displayed. Wikipedia is built on the expectation that collaboration among users will improve articles over time, in much the same way that open-source software develops. Some of Wikipedia's editors have explained its editing process as a "socially Darwinian evolutionary process".<ref>"Wikipedia sociology", Meta-Wiki, 23:30 March 24</ref> This real-time, collaborative model allows editors to rapidly update existing topics as they develop and to introduce new ones as they arise.

Some take advantage of Wikipedia's openness to add nonsense to the encyclopedia, which is called "vandalism". Additionally, collaboration also sometimes leads to "edit wars" — multiple people repetitively replacing or removing each others' contributions because they disagree with each other — and prolonged disputes when editors are unable to concede on an article's content.<ref>"Edit war", Wikipedia (March 26 2005)</ref>

The "recent changes" page shows the newest edits to the English Wikipedia. This page is often watched by users who revert vandalism.

Articles are always subject to editing, unless the article is protected for a short time due to the aforementioned vandalism or revert wars. Wikipedia does not declare any of its articles to be "complete" or "finished". The authors of articles need not have any expertise or qualifications in the subjects that they edit, and users are warned that their contributions may be "edited mercilessly and redistributed at will" by anyone who wishes to do so. Its articles are not controlled or copyrighted by any particular user or editorial group; decisions on the content and editorial policies of Wikipedia are instead made largely through consensus decision-making and, occasionally, by vote. Jimbo Wales retains final judgment on Wikipedia policies and user guidelines.<ref>"Power structure", Meta-Wiki, 10:55 April 4 2005</ref>

Regular users often maintain a "watchlist" of articles of interest to them, so that they can easily keep tabs on all recent changes to those articles, including new updates, discussions, and vandalism. Most past edits to Wikipedia articles also remain viewable after the fact, and are stored on "edit history" pages sorted chronologically, making it possible to see former versions of any page at any time. The only exceptions are the entire histories of articles that have been deleted, and many individual edits that contain libelous statements, copyright violations, and other content that could incur legal liability or be otherwise detrimental to Wikipedia. These edits may only be viewed by Wikipedia administrators.

Wikipedia in other formats

For some articles, there is a spoken version available in ogg format (using the Vorbis audio codec). The ogg format in favored over the more ubiquitous and better-known MP3 format in order to the decision to provide exclusively content that may (also; not exclusively) be accessed with "Free software"[citation needed]MP3 fails this criteria as it is covered by multiple enforced software patents.[citation needed]

As Wikipedia is available online and released under an unrestrictive license, it is very easy to download its content for use on containers other than the Web, which is its primary distribution method. Accordingly, some projects have sprung up that use the Wikipedia content differently. For example, SOS Children distributes the encyclopedia on a CD. Additionally, an editorial team is working on creating "Wikipedia 1.0", a collection of Wikipedia articles that have been verified for accuracy and are ready for printing or burning to CD. Published copies of selected Wikipedia articles are also available from PediaPress, a Print on Demand service.


Main article: History of Wikipedia
Wikipedia originally developed out of another encyclopedia project, Nupedia.
Image:WM2006 0060.jpg
Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia co-founder and current head of the Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikipedia concept was not novel — Everything2 (in 1998-1999) had used similar ideas before Wikipedia was founded — and Wikipedia began as a complementary project for Nupedia, a free online encyclopedia project whose articles were written by experts through 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 described by Sanger as differing from existing encyclopedias in being open content, in not having size limitations, due to being on the Internet, and in being free of bias, due to its public nature and potentially broad base of contributors.<ref name=QANupedia>Larry Sanger, "Q & A about Nupedia", Nupedia, March 2000</ref> Nupedia had a seven-step review process by appointed subject-area experts, but later came to be viewed as too slow for producing a limited number of articles. Funded by Bomis, there were initial plans to recoup its investment by the use of advertisements.<ref name=QANupedia /> It was initially licensed under its own Nupedia Open Content License, switching to the GFDL before Wikipedia's founding at the urging of Richard Stallman.[citation needed]

On January 10 2001, Larry Sanger proposed on the Nupedia mailing list to create a wiki alongside Nupedia. Under the subject "Let's make a wiki", he wrote:<ref>Larry Sanger. "Let's make a wiki", Internet Archive, January 10 2001.</ref>

No, this is not an indecent proposal. It's an idea to add a little feature to Nupedia. Jimmy Wales thinks that many people might find the idea objectionable, but I think not. (…) As to Nupedia's use of a wiki, this is the ULTIMATE "open" and simple format for developing content. We have occasionally bandied about ideas for simpler, more open projects to either replace or supplement Nupedia. It seems to me wikis can be implemented practically instantly, need very little maintenance, and in general are very low-risk. They're also a potentially great source for content. So there's little downside, as far as I can determine.
Wikipedia was formally launched on January 15 2001, as a single English-language edition at, and announced by Sanger on the Nupedia mailing list.<ref>Larry Sanger. "Wikipedia is up!", Internet Archive, January 17 2001.</ref> It had been, from January 10, a feature of in which the public could write articles that could be incorporated into Nupedia after review. It was relaunched off-site after Nupedia's Advisory Board of subject experts disapproved of its production model.<ref name=SangerMemoir>Larry Sanger. "The Early History of Nupedia and Wikipedia: A Memoir", Slashdot, April 18 2005.</ref> Wikipedia thereafter operated as a standalone project without control from Nupedia. Its policy of "neutral point-of-view" was codified in its initial months, though it is similar to Nupedia's earlier "nonbiased" policy. There were otherwise few rules initially. 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 its first year. It had 26 language editions by the end of 2002, 46 by the end of 2003, and 161 by the end of 2004.<ref>"Multilingual statistics", Wikipedia, March 30 2005</ref> Nupedia and Wikipedia coexisted until the former's servers went down, permanently, in 2003, and its text was incorporated into Wikipedia.
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. Wales mentioned that he heard the concept first from Jeremy Rosenfeld, an employee of Bomis who showed him the same wiki, in December 2000,<ref>Jimmy Wales, "Re: Sanger's memoirs", April 20 2005,<></ref> but it was after Sanger heard of its existence in January 2001 from Ben Kovitz, a regular at the wiki,<ref name=SangerMemoir /> that he proposed the creation of a wiki for Nupedia to Wales and Wikipedia's history started. Under a similar concept of free content, though not wiki-based production, the GNUpedia project existed alongside Nupedia early in its history. It subsequently became inactive, and its creator, free-software figure Richard Stallman, lent his support to Wikipedia.<ref>Richard Stallman. "The Free Encyclopedia Project", Free Software Foundation, 1999.</ref>

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, such as Wikinfo, which abandoned "neutral point-of-view" in favor of multiple complementary articles written from a "sympathetic point-of-view".<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Wikipedia's first sister project, "In Memoriam: September 11 Wiki", was created in October 2002 to detail the September 11, 2001 attacks;<ref>The "In Memoriam: September 11" site is not widely considered a "sister project" as of 2006; there has been calls to close the site, or move it to Wikia. "Proposals for closing projects", a page of the Wikimedia Meta-Wiki, discusses this process.</ref> The Wikimedia Foundation was created from Wikipedia and Nupedia on June 20 2003.<ref>Jimmy Wales: "Announcing Wikimedia Foundation", June 20 2003, <></ref> Wikipedia and its sister projects thereafter operated under this non-profit organization. Wiktionary, a dictionary project, was launched in December 2002; 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, detailed below.

Wikipedia has traditionally measured its status by article count. In its first two years, it grew at a few hundred or fewer new articles per day; by 2004, this had accelerated to a total of 1,000 to 3,000 per day (counting all editions). The English Wikipedia reached its 100,000-article milestone on January 22 2003.<ref>"Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, reaches its 100,000th article", Wikimedia Foundation, January 21 2003</ref> Wikipedia reached its one millionth article, among the 105 language editions that existed at the time, on September 20 2004,<ref>"Wikipedia Reaches One Million Articles", Wikimedia Foundation, September 20 2004</ref> while the English edition alone reached its 500,000th on March 18 2005.<ref>"Wikipedia Publishes 500,000th English Article", Wikimedia Foundation, March 18 2005</ref> This figure had doubled less than a year later, with the millionth article in the English edition, Jordanhill railway station, being created on March 1 2006<ref>"English Wikipedia Publishes Millionth Article", Wikimedia Foundation, March 1 2006</ref>; meanwhile, the millionth user registration had been made just two days before. The 1.5 millionth article was created on November 25, 2006 about the Kanab Ambersnail. <ref>Note that this user count includes both sockpuppets, accounts solely used for vandalism, and unused accounts. The number of true accounts is significantly less.</ref>

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 currently plans to license the usage of the Wikipedia trademark for some products, such as books or DVDs.<ref>Nair, Vipin. "Growing on volunteer power", Business Line, December 5 2005.</ref>

Software and hardware

Wikipedia receives over 2000 page requests per second. More than 100 servers have been set up to handle the traffic.

Wikipedia itself runs on its own in-house created software, known as MediaWiki, a powerful, open source wiki system written in PHP and built upon MySQL.<ref>MediaWiki Homepage</ref> As well as allowing articles to be written, it includes a basic internal macro language, variables and transcluded templating system for page enhancement, and features such as redirection.

Wikipedia runs on a cluster of dedicated Linux servers located in Florida and four other locations around the world.<ref>Wikimedia servers at</ref> MediaWiki is Phase III of the program's software. Originally, Wikipedia ran on UseModWiki by Clifford Adams (Phase I). At first it required camel case for links; later it was also possible to use double brackets. Wikipedia began running on a PHP wiki engine with a MySQL database in January 2002. This software, Phase II, was written specifically for the Wikipedia project by Magnus Manske. Several rounds of modifications were made to improve performance in response to increased demand. Ultimately, the software was rewritten again, this time by Lee Daniel Crocker. Instituted in July 2002, this Phase III software was called MediaWiki. It was licensed under the GNU General Public License and used by all Wikimedia projects.

Overview of system architecture, May 2006 (see also: Server layout diagrams)

Wikipedia was served from 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 software, 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 processed by first passing to a front-end layer of Squid caching servers. Requests that cannot be served from the Squid cache are sent to two load-balancing servers running the Perlbal software, which then pass the request to one of the Apache web servers for page-rendering from the database. The web servers serve pages as requested, performing page rendering for all the Wikipedias. 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, which can lead to a lag. To further increase response times, Wikimedia began building a global network of caching servers with the addition of three caching servers in France. Two larger clusters in the Netherlands and Korea now take much of Wikipedia's traffic load. In spite of all this, Wikipedia page load times remain quite variable. The ongoing status of Wikipedia's website is posted by users at a status page on OpenFacts.

Authorship and management process

During December 2005, Wikipedia had about 27,000 users who made at least five edits that month; 17,000 of these active users worked on the English edition.<ref>Paragraph's statistics taken from "Active wikipedians" (Wikipedia Statistics, April 13 2006).</ref> A more active group of about 4,000 users made more than 100 edits per month, over half of these users having worked in the English edition. According to Wikimedia, one-quarter of Wikipedia's traffic comes from users without accounts, who are less likely to be editors.<ref>"Wikipedia", Meta-Wiki, 08:02 March 30 2005.</ref>

Maintenance tasks are performed by a group of volunteer developers, stewards, bureaucrats, and administrators, which number just over a thousand. Administrators are the largest such group, privileged with the ability to prevent articles from being edited, delete articles, or block users from editing in accordance with community policy. Any editor with a significant history of positive contributions and a firm understanding of Wikipedia's policies and guidelines can be nominated to become an administrator.

Some users have been temporarily or permanently blocked from editing Wikipedia. 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 Jimmy Wales or, on its English edition, an elected Arbitration Committee.

Former Nupedia editor-in-chief Larry Sanger has said that having the GFDL license as a "guarantee of freedom is a strong motivation to work on a free encyclopedia".<ref>Larry Sanger, "Britannica or Nupedia? The Future of Free Encyclopedias", Kuro5hin, July 25 2001.</ref> In a study of Wikipedia as a community, economics professor 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.<ref>Andrea Ciffolilli, "Phantom authority, self-selective recruitment and retention of members in virtual communities: The case of Wikipedia", First Monday December 2003.</ref> Wikipedia has been viewed as an experiment in a variety of social, political, and economic systems, including anarchy, democracy, and communism. Its founder has replied that it is not intended as one, though that is a consequence.<ref>Jimmy Wales, "Re: Illegitimate block", January 26 2005, <>.</ref> Daniel Brandt of Wikipedia Watch has referred to Jimbo Wales as the "dictator" of Wikipedia; however, most Wikipedia users either do not consider Wales to be a dictator, or consider him to be one who rarely gives non-negotiable orders.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Future directions for authoring content

An experimental feature planned for the German version of Wikipedia has been reported which could eventually improve the quality of editing for Wikipedia and protect it from vandalism. The concept being tested is to still allow anyone to edit articles, but to only allow editors judged as "trustworthy" to make edits live on the public site. The process by which trustworthiness would be established is yet to be determined. Jimbo Wales stated "We want to let anybody edit but we don't want to show vandalized versions. It would be fun for me to announce to the press that the front page of Wikipedia is open for public editing for the first time in five years".<ref>Daniel Terdiman, "Can German engineering fix Wikipedia?", August 23 2006, <CNET></ref>


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.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Bomis, an online advertising company that caters to a generally male audience and has hosted soft-core pornography, played a significant part in the early development of Wikipedia and the network itself. <ref name="The Hive">Template:Cite web</ref>

Criticism and controversy

Further information: Criticism of Wikipedia

Wikipedia has become increasingly controversial as it has gained prominence and popularity, with critics alleging that Wikipedia's open nature makes it unauthoritative and unreliable, with unconfirmed information that often lacks any proper sources, and that it exhibits severe systemic bias and inconsistency. Wikipedia has also been criticized for using dubious sources, having a biased but neutrally written perspective towards certain points of view, for disregarding credentials, for lacking understanding and international nature, and for being vulnerable to vandalism and special interest groups.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Critics of Wikipedia include Wikipedia's own editors (and ex-editors), representatives of other encyclopedias, and even subjects of articles, especially those that find information presenting them in a bad light.

At the end of 2005, controversy arose after journalist John Seigenthaler, Sr. found that his biography had been written largely as a hoax, which had gone undetected for almost four months; this discovery led to several policy decisions within Wikimedia regarding creation of articles and the overview process, intended to address some of the flaws which had allowed the hoax to go undetected for that time.

The Wikipedia model

Wikipedia has been both praised and criticized for being open to editing by anyone. Critics allege that non-expert editing undermines quality. Because contributors usually submit edits, rewriting small portions of an entry rather than making full-length revisions, high- and low-quality content may be intermingled within an entry.

Wikipedia has been criticized for a perceived lack of reliability, comprehensiveness and authority. It is criticized as having no or limited utility as a reference work among many librarians, academics, and the editors of more formally written encyclopedias. Many university lecturers discourage their students from using any encyclopedia as a reference in academic work, preferring primary sources instead.<ref>Wide World of WIKIPEDIA</ref> A critical website, Wikipedia Watch, was created by Daniel Brandt, accusing Wikipedia of having "…a massive, unearned influence on what passes for reliable information."<ref></ref>

Supporters argue that Wikipedia does meet all the criteria for the basic definition of the word 'encyclopedia'. One difference from book encyclopedias is online web editing with Wikipedia's history function. A deleted text will remain in the history tab and other users can look up an individual's work history to gauge the author's merit.

Emigh and Herring (2005)<ref name="emigh">Emigh & Herring (2005) "Collaborative Authoring on the Web: A Genre Analysis of Online Encyclopedias", Proceedings of the Thirty-Eighth Hawai'i International Conference on System Sciences. (PDF)</ref> in a study of Wikipedia, note that there are not yet many formal studies of Wikipedia or its model. Their main conclusions regarding style and encyclopedic quality were:

  1. Statistically speaking, "the language of Wikipedia entries is as formal as that in the traditional print encyclopedia".
  2. Wikipedia entries are "stylistically homogenous, typically describe only a single, core sense of an item, and are often presented in a standard format" (attributed partly to policies and partly to the norms of conventional print encyclopedias "which Wikipedia effectively emulates").
  3. Wikipedia achieves its results by social means, including self-norming, a core of active and vigilant users watching for problems, and editors' expectations of encyclopedic text drawn from the wider culture.


Wikipedia can be assessed for reliability in several areas, including:

  • Accuracy of information provided within articles;
  • Comprehensiveness, scope and coverage within articles and in the range of articles;
  • Susceptibility to, and exclusion and removal of, false information (a criterion specific to the Wikipedia process);
  • Susceptibility to editorial and systemic bias;
  • Identification of reputable third party source references (citations).

Accuracy and comprehensiveness

A variety of studies to date have tended to suggest that some Wikipedia articles (scientific articles most notably) are of a similar degree of accuracy to Encyclopædia Britannica, that Wikipedia provides a good starting point for research, and that articles are, in general, reasonably sound. However, these studies also suggest that due to its novel editorial model, it suffers omissions and inaccuracies which can sometimes be serious. A separate study suggests that in many cases, vandalism is reverted fairly quickly, but that this does not always happen.

One of the studies, by Nature, identified that among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was relatively low: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three. In the pairs of articles reviewed, eight serious errors such as misinterpretations of important concepts were detected, four from each encyclopædia. Reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 in Wikipedia and 123 in Britannica. However, the study did find that the errors on Wikipedia were generally more severe, with a greater proportion of factual errors, while the errors in Britannica were more commonly errors of omission. However, it was also found that Wikipedia articles were generally of greater length (2.6 times as long as the Britannica equivalents, on average), and that thus its error per word ratio is lower.<ref>"Wikipedia and Britannica about as accurate in science entries, reports Nature", Wikinews, Wikimedia, December 14 2005.</ref>

Critics of Wikipedia often charge that allowing anyone to edit makes Wikipedia an unreliable work, and that some editors may employ clever use of semantics to make possibly biased statements sound more credible. Wikipedia contains no formal peer review process for fact-checking, and the editors themselves may not be well-versed in the topics they write about, leading to criticism that its contents lack authority,<ref name="Who">Simon Waldman, "Who knows?", The Guardian, October 26 2004.</ref> and according to Danah Boyd, that "[i]t will never be an encyclopedia, but it will contain extensive knowledge that is quite valuable for different purposes."<ref>Danah Boyd, "Academia and Wikipedia", Many-to-Many, January 4 2005.</ref>

Although Wikipedia has a policy of citing reputable sources, this is only sometimes adhered to. Encyclopædia Britannica's executive editor, Ted Pappas, was quoted in The Guardian as saying: "The premise of Wikipedia is that continuous improvement will lead to perfection. That premise is completely unproven."<ref name="Who" /> and former Britannica editor Robert McHenry criticized the wiki approach on the grounds that "What [a user] certainly does not know is who has used the facilities before him". <ref>Robert McHenry, "The Faith-Based Encyclopedia", Tech Central Station, November 15 2004.</ref>

Academic circles have not been exclusively dismissive of Wikipedia as a reference. Wikipedia articles have been referenced in "enhanced perspectives" provided on-line in Science. The first of these perspectives to provide a hyperlink to Wikipedia was "A White Collar Protein Senses Blue Light",<ref>Template:Cite web (subscription access only)</ref> and dozens of enhanced perspectives have provided such links since then. However, these links are offered as background sources for the reader, not as sources used by the writer, and the "enhanced perspectives" are not intended to serve as reference material themselves.

Former Nupedia editor-in-chief Larry Sanger criticized Wikipedia in late 2004 for having, according to Sanger, an "anti-elitist" philosophy of active contempt for expertise.<ref name="SangerElitism">Larry Sanger, "Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism", Kuro5hin, December 31 2004.</ref> It is possible that articles subject to strong opinions (such as George W. Bush) are more prone to be edited poorly, but this is uncertain — often such articles receive extra attention and strong consensus exactly because they are the subject of heated debate. Other articles that do not produce such emotive responses may tend to be more stable.

Other commentators have drawn a middle ground, that it contains much valuable knowledge and has some reliability, even if the degree is not yet assessed with certainty. People taking such a view include Danah Boyd, Larry Sanger (re-applying Eric Raymond's "Given enough eyeballs, all errors are shallow"<ref>"Wikipedia is wide open. Why is it growing so fast? Why isn't it full of nonsense?", September 24 2001.</ref>) and technology figure Joi Ito, who wrote, "the question is whether something is more likely to be true coming from a source whose resume sounds authoritative or a source that has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people (with the ability to comment) and has survived."<ref>Joi Ito, "Wikipedia attacked by ignorant reporter", Joi Ito's Web, August 29 2004.</ref>

Bill Thompson, a well known technology writer, commented that the debate is probably symptomatic of much learning about information which is happening in society today, arguing that:

It is the same with search engine results. Just because something comes up in the top 10 on MSN Search or Google does not automatically give it credibility or vouch for its accuracy or importance... One benefit that might come from the wider publicity that Wikipedia is currently receiving is a better sense of how to evaluate information sources... The days when everything you saw on a screen had been carefully filtered, vetted, edited and checked are long gone. Product placement, advertorials and sponsorship are all becoming more common. An educated audience is the only realistic way to ensure that we are not duped, tricked, fleeced or offended by the media we consume, and learning that online information sources may not be as accurate as they pretend to be is an important part of that education. I use the Wikipedia a lot. It is a good starting point for serious research, but I would never accept something that I read there without checking.

Bill Thompson, What is it with Wikipedia?


A common criticism is that editors, being volunteers, write on what interests them, and what they are aware of. Therefore coverage both within topics, and across the encyclopedia, is uneven and may at times be seriously unbalanced, with obvious and notable omissions.

Wikipedia has been accused of deficiencies in comprehensiveness because of its voluntary nature, and of reflecting the systemic biases of its contributors. For example, like any Internet group, the site can become dominated by cliques of habitual users who express both condescension and hostility to users not involved in the "in-group" — habitual users also feel a sense of "ownership" over "their" pages, leading to edit wars.

Encyclopædia Britannica's editor-in-chief Dale Hoiberg has argued this case,<ref name="Who" /> as has former Nupedia editor-in-chief Larry Sanger who stated in 2004 that "when it comes to relatively specialized topics (outside of the interests of most of the contributors), the project's credibility is very uneven."<ref name="SangerElitism" />

The same fluidity that allows articles to be patchy has also led to Wikipedia being praised for making it possible for articles to be updated or created in response to current events. For example, the then-new article on the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake on its English edition was cited often by the press shortly after the incident.<ref>Cited by Workers World (January 8 2005) and Chicago Times (January 16 2005)</ref> Its editors have also argued that, as a website, Wikipedia is able to include articles on a greater number of subjects than print encyclopedias may.<ref>"Wikipedia:Replies to common objections", Wikipedia, 22:53 April 13 2005.</ref>


Wikipedia has been criticized as having a systematic bias. There are several forms of this criticism.

First, there could be an unintentional bias due to the overall makeup of the community of Wikipedian editors. For instance, because Wikipedia's basic model is popular and nonmonetary, this could lead to a shortage of editors with elitist or strongly pro-capitalist views. There is no doubt that Wikipedia includes a wide diversity of editors, and important articles which are the focus of a controversy generally receive input from editors on both sides of this controversy; but this weak bias would tend to show up in more secondary articles.

Second, there could be an intentional bias within a given article due to the focused efforts of a single editor or a small group of editors. This would also tend to be confined to secondary articles which receive less editorial attention. In general, this bias would be more-or-less strong, and thus possibly detectable by a critical reader.

Third, there could be a bias introduced by some other aspect of Wikipedia. The tendency to use web-based sources (or even the "background knowledge" of editors), the policies against original research, and the injunction to maintain a "neutral point of view" could all be sources of bias, especially if overapplied.


The Wikipedia community consists of users who are proportionally few, but highly active. Emigh and Herring argue<ref name="emigh" /> that "a few active users, when acting in concert with established norms within an open editing system, can achieve ultimate control over the content produced within the system, literally erasing diversity, controversy, and inconsistency, and homogenizing contributors' voices."<ref name="emigh" /> Editors on Wikinfo, a fork of Wikipedia, similarly argue that new or controversial editors to Wikipedia are often unjustly labeled "trolls" or "problem users" and blocked from editing.<ref>"Critical views of Wikipedia", Wikinfo, 07:28 March 30 2005.</ref> Its community has also been criticized for responding to complaints regarding an article's quality by advising the complainer to fix the article (a common complaint about open-source software development as well).<ref>Andrew Orlowski, "Wiki-fiddlers defend Clever Big Book", The Register, July 23 2004.</ref> It has also been described as "cult-like",<ref>Arthur, Charles. "Log on and join in, but beware the web cults", The Guardian, 2005-12-15.</ref><ref>Lu Stout, Kristie. "Wikipedia: The know-it-all Web site", CNN, 2003-08-04.</ref><ref>Thompson, Bill. "What is it with Wikipedia?", BBC, 2005-12-16.</ref><ref>Orlowski, Andrew. "Who owns your Wikipedia bio?", The Register, 2005-12-06.</ref> although, as these instances demonstrate, not always with entirely negative connotations.

In a page on researching with Wikipedia, the community view is argued that Wikipedia is valuable for being a social community. That is, authors can be asked to defend or clarify their work, and disputes are readily seen.<ref>"Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia", Wikipedia (March 28 2005).</ref> Wikipedia editions also often contain reference desks in which the community answers questions.

Professor James H. Fetzer criticized Wikipedia in that he could not change the article about himself; Wikipedia has a policy that prohibits the editing of biographies by the subjects themselves.<ref>Professor James Fetzer Exposes</ref>

Responses to criticisms

In an interview with BusinessWeek on December 13 2005, Wales discussed the reasons that the Seigenthaler hoax had gone undetected, and steps being taken to address them. He stated that one problem was that Wikipedia's use had grown faster than its self-monitoring system could comfortably handle, and that therefore new page creation would be deliberately restricted to account-holders only, addressing one of Seigenthaler's main criticisms. He also gave his opinion that encyclopedias as a whole (whether print or online) were not usually appropriate for primary sources and should not be relied upon as authoritative (as some were doing), but that nonetheless on balance Wikipedia was more reliable as "background reading" on subjects than most online sources. He stated that Wikipedia was a "work in progress".<ref>Wikipedia: "A Work in Progress" December 14 2005. </ref>

In response to this criticism, proposals have been made to provide various forms of provenance for material in Wikipedia articles.<ref>"Wikipedia:Provenance", Wikipedia (May 9 2006).</ref> The idea is to provide source provenance on each interval of text in an article and temporal provenance as to its vintage. In this way a reader can know "who has used the facilities before him" and how long the community has had to process the information in an article to provide calibration on the "sense of security". For example, Cross<ref>Cross, Tom. "Puppy smoothies: Improving the reliability of open, collaborative Wikis". First Monday.</ref> proposes a temporal provenance scheme which colors text based how many edit sessions a piece of text has survived (red for new text, yellow for text that has survived 50 edits, green if 100, black if more than 150 edits). However, these proposals for provenance are quite controversial. Aaron Krowne wrote a rebuttal article in which he criticized McHenry's methods, and labeled them "FUD", the marketing technique of "fear, uncertainty, and doubt".<ref>Aaron Krowne, "The FUD-based Encyclopedia", Free Software Magazine, March 1 2005.</ref>


Wikipedia won two major awards in May 2004.<ref>"Trophy Box", Meta-Wiki (March 28 2005).</ref> The first was a Golden Nica for Digital Communities, awarded by Prix Ars Electronica; this came with a €10,000 ($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. 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.

Wikipedia has also received plaudits from sources including BBC News, The Washington Post, The Economist, Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, Science, The Guardian, Chicago Sun-Times, The Times (London), Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, The Financial Times, Time Magazine, Irish Times, Reader's Digest, and The Daily Telegraph. Founder Jimmy Wales was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine in 2006.

In 2006, in a Multiscope research, the Dutch Wikipedia was rated the third best Dutch language site (after Google and Gmail), with a score of 8.3.

In popular culture

Wikipedia's content has been mirrored and forked by hundreds of sites including database dumps. Wikipedia content has also been used in academic studies, books and conferences, albeit more rarely, and very recently, in movies [citation needed].As of 2006, Wikipedia has been used once in a United States court case,<ref>Bourgeois et al v. Peters et al.</ref> and the Parliament of Canada website refers to Wikipedia's article on same-sex marriage in the "further reading" list of Civil Marriage Act.<ref>"C-38", LEGISINFO (March 28 2005)</ref> Some Wikipedia users, or Wikipedians, maintain (non-comprehensive) lists of such uses.<ref>Wikipedia as a source</ref>

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. Still others feature characters using the references as a source, or positively comparing a character's intelligence to Wikipedia.

See also



Further reading

Find more information on Wikipedia by searching Wikipedia's sister projects:

Image:Wiktionary-logo-en.png Dictionary definitions from Wiktionary
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External links

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