What has a decade of Wikipedia meant to you?
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 Urbandictionary.com 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?
| January 14, 2011; 8:22 AM ET
Categories: Digital culture
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