The Wikipedia Monument, an art work by Mihran Hakobyan, was installed in Poland in 2014. It’s a tribute to the site’s anonymous contributors. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Wikipedia Monument, an art work by Mihran Hakobyan, was installed in Poland in 2014. It’s a tribute to the site’s anonymous contributors. (Wikimedia Commons)

Wikipedia at 20: The internet’s go-to reference site, by the numbers

Did you know it’s reached the moon, makes an update every second, and made its billionth edit last week?
PUBLISHED ON JAN 16, 2021 04:56 PM IST

First, the details you probably know: Wikipedia is 20 years old and was launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. It hosts 55 million articles; 6.2 million of those in English, the rest in overlapping editions across 300 languages. Globally, 280,000 editors work with bots to create and edit the information on the site. On January 12, 2021, just after 1am, Wikipedia made its billionth edit.

In theory, Wikipedia sounds like a disaster. It’s a global, volunteer-driven, open source, real-time compendium, created to record the sum of human knowledge, keep revisions transparent, and offer all content to readers free.

And yet, despite early mistrust, it’s managed to thrive and stay neutral at a time when platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are struggling to retain credibility.

At 20, there’s more than articles on the site. You can look for free-to-use images and media files on Wikimedia Commons, access open-learning courses on Wikiversity, check out the species record on Wikispecies, and head to Wikivoyage for travel advisories.

Wikipedia is the 13th most-visited space on the web, according to data put out by The Economist this year. The site updates at a rate of 1.9 edits per second.

It accepts no advertising. No pop-ups, sponsored posts, or commercial videos. This is because the site is hosted by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, funded primarily through crowdsourced donations. Millions of people donated a total of $122 milllion to it in 2019.

In 2007, the English-language edition of Wikipedia surpassed the Ming Dynasty’s Yongle Encyclopaedia, compiled in 1408, to become the largest reference compendium ever assembled. English Wikipedia consisted of two million articles at the time.

It has 5.5 million articles in Cebuano, the second most common language on the site after English. It’s spoken largely in southern Philippines.

In 2015, an art project in New York City saw 106 volumes of English Wikipedia printed by Michael Mandiberg, as Print Wikipedia. It was an effort to represent how information gathering has evolved, and how it can never be contained or updated in books anymore.

Wikipedia’s even made it off the planet. In April 2019, it travelled 384,400km, when an Israeli lander made it to the surface of the Moon, carrying a copy of nearly all of the English Wikipedia of the time, engraved on nickel plates. The craft crash landed, but experts say the plates survived.

DID YOU KNOW?

84,000: is the number of articles on the site created or improved via Art + Feminism edit-a-thons globally. The volunteer-led events aim to right Wikipedia’s strong white-male bias in article selection and research.

1,800: is the number of Hindi articles Raju Jangid, a 22-year-old carpenter from Jodhpur, has single-handedly contributed to the site. He also edited 57,000 pages on Wikipedia, working from his phone’s keypad, one keystroke at a time, until Wikipedia gifted him a laptop and an internet connection in 2016.

19: is the age of one contributor who had written nearly half the Scots Wikipedia articles until last year. It emerged that the young man had no knowledge of Scots — he was from North Carolina in the US and has just been sprinkling Scots words and truncations into regular articles. It’s impossible to catch pranksters early on in such a large-format, publicly edited site. The page has this disclaimer: “Followin recent revelations, Scots Wikipedia is presently reviewin its airticles for muckle leid inaccuracies.”

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