Why is the sky blue? How does Relativity work? What political system does Thailand use? For many people, the first step toward answering these questions (and millions more) begins with a visit to Wikipedia. Though its credibility is sometimes question, Wikipedia remains a quick and convenient source for learning just about anything. It contains millions of articles, in hundreds of languages, and can be updated in an instant. Questions of credibility aside, there can be no doubt, Wikipedia has revolutionized the way people create and share knowledge. Here are 42 credible facts about Wikipedia.
1. Opening the Gates
Wikipedia was founded by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001. The project evolved out of Nupedia, an online, encyclopedia which Wales and Sanger had worked on together. Wikipedia differed from Nupedia in one key respect: whereas the content on Nupedia was written and edited by experts, anyone could contribute to Wikipedia.
2. The Pillars of the Community
Just what is Wikipedia? To help Wales and Sanger figure that out, they developed “the Five Pillars,” the guiding principles which outline Wikipedia’s goals and functions. The Five Pillars state that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, that Wikipedia is neutral, that Wikipedia is free to use and to distribute, that Wikipedia is a respectful environment, and that Wikipedia has no firm rules.
3. The Lei of the Land
The word “Wiki” comes from the Hawaiian word for quick. It has since been adopted by the tech world, generally, for any kind of open-edit community.
4. On the Rise
Wikipedia officially launched on January 15th, 2001. Within a year, the site had published more than 20,000 articles.
5. Giant Killer
By 2007, Wikipedia had surpassed 2 million articles, making it the most comprehensive encyclopedia ever written. It’s predecessor, Yonge’s Encyclopedia, had held that title for more than 600 years.
Wikipedia soon expanded to form the Wikimedia Foundation, which is considered the “owner” of the site. Founded in 2003 by Wales, the Wikimedia Foundation advocates for public access and ownership of information. Further Wikimedia initiatives have included the creation of Wikiquotes, Wiktionary, WikiBooks, and even Wikiversity.
7. Growing Family
Wikipedia started out with just three employees—an administrator and two software developers. Today, the Wikimedia Foundation has as many as 280 full- and part-time employees.
8. Volunteer Force
While the Wikimedia Foundation does have employees to handle things like software development, outreach, and administration, the bulk of Wikipedia’s content is created by a dedicated group of volunteers who write and edit the articles. They refer to themselves as Wikipedians.
9. The Division of Labor
While Wikipedia has 26 million registered users, less than 0.5% are active. Less than 10% of those have made 50 or more edits in the last six months.
10. Status Symbol
A monument to the efforts of Wikipedians, by Armenian sculpture Mirhan Hakobyan, was unveiled in Słubice, Poland, in 2014. The inscription on the fiber-and-resin statue honors “the greatest project co-created by people regardless of political, religious or cultural borders.”
11. The Face of Wikipedia
Who are these Wikipedians? Well, statistically speaking, they’re probably English-speaking American males, aged 17-49. More than half have a Bachelors’ degree or higher. In a 2009 survey, 70% self-reported as single, and 90% were childless.
12. Diversity Problems
The homogeneity of Wikipedians does have a serious impact on the website’s content. For example, just 15% of Wikipedia editors are women. In a telling near-coincidence, just 17% of the biographies featured on Wikipedia are about women.
13. Super Fail
Just 5% of Wikipedia’s “super users”—editors with more than 500 edits—are women. In 2015, Wales acknowledged that the foundation’s goal of “25% female editors by 2015” had “completely failed.”
14. A Quiet Bunch
A 2009 study looked at the personality types and motivations of the users of various popular websites like Twitter or YouTube. Wikipedians, the survey suggests, are less likely to be agreeable and extroverted, and more likely to suffer social anxiety.
15. Homework Party
To address some of the disparities on Wikipedia, some activist groups have begun organizing “Edit-a-Thons,” events where communities work to correct misinformation in Wikipedia entries, create new articles, and introduce new members to the guidelines and procedures of Wikipedia editing.
16. Editor in Chief
In 2003, Justin Knapp wrote an edit for the Wikipedia article “Political Status of Taiwan.” Since then, he has contributed 1,485,342 edits to the site—the most of any human being since Wikipedia’s creation. Knapp’s nearly 1.5 million edits averages out to 385 edits every day since he began. Knapp admits to working sometimes 16 hours a day on the site.
17. Today’s Your Day
On April 20th, 2012, Knapp became the first person to surpass 1 million edits on Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales declared April 20th “Justin Knapp Day” in honor of the feat.
18. A Matter of Time
Knapp shared in, arguably, a greater honor in 2006, when Time magazine chose Wikipedia editors, collectively, as Person of the Year. Time has also called Wikipedia the third most influential website ever, after Google and Amazon.
19. “Fine, I’ll Start My Own Encyclopedia!”
At odds with Wales over how to address issues like credibility, peer-review, and disruptive editing Sanger left Wikipedia in 2002 to start Citizendium. Like Wikipedia, Citizendium is an open-edit online encyclopedia, but editors are required to use their own names, and face expert scrutiny.
20. Citizendium’s Arrest
Citizendium’s review model meant it took much longer to put material on the site: the site averaged just a dozen edits a day. Compared to Wikipedia’s publication of 20,000 articles in its first year, it took Citizendium nearly a decade to reach 17,000 articles, with only 160 having earned expert approval. By 2017, Citizendium was dead.
21. In Any Language
The first non-English Wikipedia, a German version, was launched in March, 2001. Today, there are Wikipedia sites in 302 languages. 85.5% of all Wikipedia content is now in a language other than English.
Of the 302 linguistic versions of Wikipedia, Cheyenne is the smallest. Cheyenne-language Wikipedia features just 57 articles and has only 10 regular users.
23. Team Effort
English Wikipedia might be the largest, with nearly 6 million articles, but the most popular per capita is surely the Wikipedia in Volapük. A constructed universal language originating in Germany, Volapük has just 200 speakers. The Volapük Wikipedia, however, is home to 122,273 articles—that’s roughly 614 articles for every Volapük speaker.
24. Paying their Respects
The most visited page on Wikipedia, all-time, is a list of notable deaths, arranged chronologically. The most visited page for a single day was the entry on Steve Jobs. On October 6, 2011—the day of his death—Jobs’ Wikipedia entry received more than 7 million views.
25. A Polarizing Figure
The most-frequently edited Wikipedia article of all time is the entry on former US president George W. Bush, with 46,000 edits. Articles on World Wrestling Entertainment and the United States of America round out the top three.
26. On the Campaign Trail
The longest Wikipedia article is the article on US president Donald Trump, which takes up 448,481 bytes. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, holds the title for longest featured article.
The article with the most references and citations belongs to an article listing Hilary Clinton’s non-political endorsements.
27. You Can Say That Again
The longest title of any Wikipedia article is “Lopadotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrim-hypotrimmatosilphioparaomelitokatakechymenokichlepikossyphophattoperisteralektryonoptekephalliokigklopeleiolagoiosiraiobaphetraganopterygon.” The name of a fictional dish in Aristophanes’ play Assemblywomen, Lopadotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrimhypotrim-matosilphioparaomelitokatakechymenokichlepikossyphophattoperisteralektryonoptekephalliokigklopeleiolagoiosiraiobaphetraganopterygon contains 182 letters and 78 syllables.
28. Science Fiction
In 2009, Wikipedia banned the Church of Scientology from editing articles on the site. The controversial church has a long history of erasing criticism from the website. By a vote of 10-1, Wikipedia’s arbitration council agreed that any edits originating from IP addresses associated with the Church of Scientology would be blocked.
29. Out of Session
A similar ban is in place for the US Congress.
30. In Plain English
There have been nearly 6000 edits made by users inside British Parliament. These edits, which tend to be either favorable or critical of Members of Parliament, are tracked on Twitter by a journalist-run account called Parliament Edits.
31. You Can Trust Them
You’ve probably been told by a teacher not to use Wikipedia for research, but Wikipedia’s lack of credibility has been greatly exaggerated. Wikipedia takes credibility seriously and has strict guidelines in place to ensure accuracy and neutrality. One study found that Wikipedia’s articles on science are as rigorous as those in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
32. What Do You Know?
Reading the Wikipedia article for his novel The Human Stain, Philip Roth found an inaccuracy. The article stated Roth’s novel was inspired by the life of writer Anatole Broyard, when in reality, Roth had based The Human Stain on his friend Melvin Tumin. Roth attempted to correct the error himself, but his edits were removed by administrators. The reason? Roth was deemed a non-credible source.
33. Primary School
How did that happen? By Wikipedia’s definitions, the most credible sources are secondary sources—that is, sources which are one step removed from the subjects they comment on. Roth would be a primary source, and while primary sources are allowed under very strict guidelines, Roth’s assertions about his own novel apparently did not meet the threshold.
34. Obey the Law
Wikipedia’s rules around credibility may be strict, but credibility is not their only concern. Other in-house rules among Wikipedians include “No angry mastodons,” “No putting hexes on other Wikipedia users,” and “No climbing the Reichstag while dressed as Spiderman.”
Wikipedians have created an entire genre of music devoted to the website. “Wikisongs” mostly consists of song parodies, but a few originals have been posted to the user boards. The official anthem of Wikipedians is “Hotel Wikipedia,” an example of what the song’s author calls “Wiki-oriented rock.”
36. A for Effort
Wikipedia has inspired a parody site. Uncyclopedia bills itself as “a content-free encyclopedia.” Uncyclopedia is itself no small undertaking: it features 30,000 articles in 75 languages. Among those articles is one titled “AAAAAAAAA!,” a full page of upper-case As.
37. Out of this World
An asteroid discovered by Ukrainian astronomers in 2013 was named 274031 Wikipedia in honor of the website. The name was proposed by the owner of the observatory, Yuri Ivaschenko, and Wikimedia Ukraine board member Andriya Mahkuka.
38. From Rags to Riches
Regular visitors to Wikipedia will have noticed the website’s frequent requests for donations. If you’re one of the many people who find the ads irritating, we have good-ish news: you can put your wallet away. Not only is Wikipedia not in dire straits, they’re actually making money. In 2017, the Wikimedia Foundation turned a profit of $109.7 million.
39. All in a Day’s Work
In one single day of their 2014 donor drive, Wikipedia raked in enough money to power the website for 66 weeks.
40. Popular Spot
Wikipedia is consistently one of the top five most frequently visited websites in the world. Wikipedia receives more than 16 billion page-views each month, most of which originate from the United States.
41. Too Big to Fail?
30 terabytes and growing, Wikipedia continues to expand. English Wikipedia adds an average of 600 articles every single day, just a small part of the 7000 new articles added across all Wikipedias.
42. The End is Nigh
There are nearly 40 million articles on Wikipedia, but there is still one piece of information you won’t find there: what will be the last article posted to Wikipedia? No one knows for sure, but if you feel like placing a bet, head over to Wikipedia’s Last Topic Pool. Suggestions so far range from the mundane (Wikipedia’s funding running out), to the terrifying (an imminent nuclear apocalypse). Good luck!