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Posted at 8:22 AM ET, 01/14/2011

What has a decade of Wikipedia meant to you?

By Hayley Tsukayama

Wikipedia turns 10 this year, marking a decade of making semi-accurate, user-generated, easily accessible content on just about every subject in the universe available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. The Washington Post has a great overview of how the site got to where it is today and on what the Web site hopes to accomplish as it moves forward. Ten years, however, is a big milestone, and the perfect opportunity to ask: How has the Web site affected our lives?

There's no doubt the Web site has made its way into the general consciousness, as Thursday's Post piece notes. For example: There's a common phrase, "If you looked up x in the dictionary, you'd see y." But just last month, in a sign of the times, a commenter on a Redskins Insider post changed that up, saying, "If you looked up "Abject NFL Failure of a Quarterback" on Wikipedia, you'd see a picture of Rex's face."

According to Washington Post archives, the first mention of Wikipedia in this newspaper was in a 2003 article about encyclopedias on CD, followed a year later by a profile on the Web site titled "Spreading Knowledge, The Wiki Way." By 2006, most articles stopped adding definitions, such as "an online encyclopedia," when referencing the site.

The latest study on the subject from the Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that 42 percent of all Americans use Wikipedia to look up information. The site is particularly popular among Internet users with more education -- of those surveyed, 69 percent of users with at least a college degree said they use the site. That's more than the percentage of people who say they use instant messaging services, though fewer than those who say they use YouTube.

Although students, journalists and other people who publish things normally shy away from citing Wikipedia's base of user-written information, it seems fitting to give you an overview of the site's history by using its own timeline. The site's own timeline of its history says the venture started out as "Nupedia" in January 2001 as the brain child of Wikipedia's co-founders: perpetual fundraiser and current face of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales and editor-in-chief Larry Sanger. (The Wikipedia article cites PC World here, so we will, too.)

The site launched as Nupedia in 2001, but the name Wikipedia was coined soon thereafter, based of a Hawaiian word "wiki-wiki" meaning quick. By 2006, the site published its 1 millionth article in English (on the Jordanhill railway station in Sweden), then published its 2 millionth article in English a year later. On Aug. 17, 2009, the site announced it had published its 3 millionth article in English, and 13 million articles worldwide.

Today, Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation oversee several different entities such as Wikiquotes, Wikinews and Wikimedia Commons as well as countless Wikia-platform sites dedicated to niche topics like Pokemon or gluten-free recipes. Its crowd-sourcing philosophy, one could argue, is the progenitor for sites to Yelp, which rely solely on the wiki model of user-generated content.

(WikiLeaks, on the other hand, has no connection to the encyclopedia at all, and is not even technically a wiki.)

In the future, Wales has said he wants to expand the site's writing base, perhaps fleshing out the humanities, as most of the site's writers still skew toward the hard sciences. But it's pretty easy to see that 10 years in, Wikipedia isn't going anywhere.

How does Wikipedia affect your life? What are the things you look up on the site?

By Hayley Tsukayama  | January 14, 2011; 8:22 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Grading my Verizon iPhone predictions
Next: The 'search neutrality' debate, and one way to end it: Give Android users a choice


I have come to using this site for all my searches and have always been pleased. Unlike any other search engin it dispayes what I need without all the advertisement and unrelated links.

Posted by: MilfordD | January 14, 2011 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Wikipedia is a great source of information, which should be checked for accuracy.

The aggressive, combative even, submission process isn't worth my time. I stopped submitting three years ago.

Still glad that others are willing to endure the abuse.

Posted by: sdpate | January 14, 2011 10:58 AM | Report abuse

By now my web searching has narrowed down to a very limited number of sites. I use Wikipedia a lot, particularly when I want information on a specific topic. I use Google when I'm looking for a specific document or I'm not sure exactly what I'm looking for. I use Merriam-Webster for dictionary definitions and Urban Dictionary for, uh, more colloquial expressions. That's about it. I use IMDB, Allmusic, and Amazon for information about artists and their works, but I'm starting to use Wikipedia for those topics as well. I think that is it as far as search goes.

Posted by: slar | January 14, 2011 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Wikipedia is an outstanding online resource. I use it multiple times on a daily basis. It's very handy for a blogger like myself. I often link to Wikipedia information in my own articles.

I recommend the site without reservation as a useful tool for those seeking knowledge. Of course, second opinions don't hurt. Always corroborate your sources.

I also would like to suggest that if you find Wikipedia useful in your own life, please drop a buck or two in their tip jar. Running that site isn't easy or inexpensive. They can use all the help they can get.


Tampa, FL, USA

Posted by: vtel57 | January 14, 2011 11:23 AM | Report abuse

It's a great and "quick" place to start to learn about something. Where important one can follow up, but the WikiP can be used to point the way. I'm convinced it's good enough that I even made a donation (as I get sicker and sicker of Google).

Posted by: ElPedroDurp | January 14, 2011 11:44 AM | Report abuse

"Semi-accurate" is not a fair or accurate description of Wikipedia's content. In this context "semi" means "half." If you chose at random 10 articles,it is most unlikely that 5 of them would contain misleading inaccuracies. Many Wiki articles contain supernotes [1] [2] etc. that lead to the sources of the information contained in an article. This can be useful for students writing papers, since no competent teacher will accept the word "Wikipedia" as a source -- not so much because it's unreliable, but because it's anonymous. The practice of using anonymous sources is restricted to journalism when the person quoted insists on anonymity. Wiki users (and people going to medical sites for information)should use judgement: it's one thing if an article gets Judy Garland's date of death wrong, it's another if an unannotated medical article leads you to make a serious mistake.I will use Wiki if I need to be reminded of what the Punic Wars were, but I would search Google and/or go to the library if I were going to write a paper on them, or advise a friend on a medication. All of which is just a wordy way of saying: Whether you're reading a newspaper* or listening to a politican (or your mother-in-law)don't assume that anything is true unless they (or you)can confirm the information from an independent source.

* Even the New York Times acknowledges that it makes more than a hundred mistakes a week.

Posted by: wullman1 | January 14, 2011 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Of course Wikipedia isn't 100% accurate, but for the most part when I need a bit of information about something, such as what is X? or what does Y look like it's 5 9s for me.
And I do use other sources of information, that most time Wiki steers me to.

Posted by: Phoghat | January 14, 2011 12:42 PM | Report abuse

The article refers to the W/P content as 'semi-accurate' which is misleading. Many of its articles are totally accurate and overall it's as good as the Britannica, as the well-known study shows; on hot topics it's far more accurate than the EB. The difference is simply that there are some inaccurate entries that would not get into the EB. Perhaps a better description of it would be 'generally accurate (and very current)'.
The remark that W/P 'is not going anywhere' probably is intended to mean 'not going away' but sounds as if it means 'aimless' which would be very unfair. Its goal continues to be 'free expert knowledge' and its aim is to continue to provide this, something originally thought by almost everyone to be not just unrealistic but ridiculous, which in itself shows us something important about expert knowledge.

(For the sceptic, who's right to wonder, I have never contributed to W/P, my bad.)

Posted by: MSCRIVEN | January 14, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Wikipedia is very useful for satisfying my curiosity about things like the dates of events in "The Tudors", or what order to read the books in a series that's been out for a while but is new to me.

Posted by: Ghak | January 14, 2011 1:31 PM | Report abuse

We have a rule: you cannot cite Wikipedia as "proof" of anything, but you can use it to get a general idea of something.

Posted by: Bush--notrelated | January 14, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

"The aggressive, combative even, submission process isn't worth my time. I stopped submitting three years ago.

Still glad that others are willing to endure the abuse."

Agree with you sdpate. Wikipedia is great... if you're just reading articles. But if you're trying to edit articles, it can be a nightmare. People with agendas deleting anything they don't like, and then they threaten to ban you if you try to put it back.

Posted by: slwapo | January 14, 2011 2:27 PM | Report abuse

You write "But it's pretty easy to see that 10 years in, Wikipedia isn't going anywhere."

Are you being snide or ambiguous? WikiP is very useful when you don't know something. Every source makes mistakes. If you need to be sure, confirm it.

Posted by: johntbennett1 | January 15, 2011 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Wikipedia is a reliable source of information on Pokemon figures and marine biology, but on any potentially controversial issue, from politics to history to economics to philosophy, it is a constant struggle to see who can dominate a given article and use it for propaganda. It is the highly addictive game of capturing an article, "owning" it, and then defending it from moment to moment against any and all intruders, that motivates so many persons to spend innumerable unpaid hours editing Wikipedia.

An article with a lot of sources is not necessarily more reliable, because if a group of administrators controls (or "owns") that article, they will "cherry pick" sources so that only the sources that correspond to their bias will be in the article.

In order to get a better sense of how Wikipedia works, I recommend this series of instructional videos:

Posted by: macwhirr | January 16, 2011 3:42 PM | Report abuse

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