Wikipedia (/ˌwɪkɪˈpiːdiə/ (listen) wik-ih-PEE-dee-ə or /ˌwɪki-/ (listen) wik-ee-) is a free content, multilingual online encyclopedia written and maintained by a community of volunteer contributors through a model of open collaboration, using a wiki-based editing system. It is the largest and most-read reference work in history, and consistently one of the 15 most popular websites ranked by Alexa; as of 2021, Wikipedia was ranked the 13th most popular site. It carries no advertisements and is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, an American non-profit organization funded mainly through small donations.
Wikipedia was launched on January 15, 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger; Sanger coined its name as a blending of “wiki” and “encyclopedia”. Initially available only in English, versions in other languages were quickly developed. Its combined editions comprise more than 57 million articles, attracting around 2 billion unique device visits per month, and more than 17 million edits per month (1.9 edits per second).
Wikipedia has received praise for its enablement of the democratization of knowledge, extent of coverage, unique structure, culture, and reduced amount of commercial bias, but criticism for exhibiting systemic bias, particularly gender bias against women. Its reliability was frequently criticized in the 2000s, but has improved over time and has been generally praised in the late 2010s and 2020s. Its coverage of controversial topics such as American politics and major events such as the COVID-19 pandemic has received substantial media attention. It has been censored by world governments, ranging from specific pages to the entire site. It has become an element of popular culture, with references in books, films and academic studies. In 2018, Facebook and YouTube announced that they would help users detect fake news by suggesting fact-checking links to related Wikipedia articles.
Cartogram showing number of articles in each European language as of January 2019. One square represents 10,000 articles. Languages with fewer than 10,000 articles are represented by one square. Languages are grouped by language family and each language family is presented by a separate color.
In January 2007, Wikipedia first became one of the ten most popular websites in the US, according to comscore Networks. With 42.9 million unique visitors, it was ranked #9, surpassing The New York Times (#10) and Apple (#11). This marked a significant increase over January 2006, when Wikipedia ranked 33rd, with around 18.3 million unique visitors. As of March 2020, it ranked 13th in popularity according to Alexa Internet. In 2014, it received eight billion page views every month. On February 9, 2014, The New York Times reported that Wikipedia had 18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors a month, “according to the ratings firm comScore”. Loveland and Reagle argue that, in process, Wikipedia follows a long tradition of historical encyclopedias that have accumulated improvements piecemeal through “stigmergic accumulation”.
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 its content.
On January 20, 2014, Subodh Varma reporting for The Economic Times indicated that not only had Wikipedia’s growth stalled, it “had lost nearly ten percent of its page views last year. There was a decline of about two billion between December 2012 and December 2013. Its most popular versions are leading the slide: page-views of the English Wikipedia declined by twelve percent, those of German version slid by 17 percent and the Japanese version lost nine percent.” Varma added, “While Wikipedia’s managers think that this could be due to errors in counting, other experts feel that Google’s Knowledge Graphs project launched last year may be gobbling up Wikipedia users.” When contacted on this matter, Clay Shirky, associate professor at New York University and fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society said that he suspected much of the page-view decline was due to Knowledge Graphs, stating, “If you can get your question answered from the search page, you don’t need to click [any further].” By the end of December 2016, Wikipedia was ranked the 5th most popular website globally.
In January 2013, 274301 Wikipedia, an asteroid, was named after Wikipedia; in October 2014, Wikipedia was honored with the Wikipedia Monument; and, in July 2015, 106 of the 7,473 700-page volumes of Wikipedia became available as Print Wikipedia. In April 2019, an Israeli lunar lander, Beresheet, crash landed on the surface of the Moon carrying a copy of nearly all of the English Wikipedia engraved on thin nickel plates; experts say the plates likely survived the crash. In June 2019, scientists reported that all 16 GB of article text from the English Wikipedia had been encoded into synthetic DNA.
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