History of Wikipedia

The English edition of Wikipedia has grown to 5,299,599 articles, equivalent to over 2,000 print volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Including all language editions, Wikipedia has over 40 million articles,[1] equivalent to over 18,000 print volumes.
Wikipedia's Main Page as it appeared on December 20, 2001.

Wikipedia formally began with its launch on 15 January 2001, two days after registering the domain[2] by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Its technological and conceptual underpinnings predate this; the earliest known proposal for an online encyclopedia was made by Rick Gates in 1993,[3] but the concept of a free-as-in-freedom online encyclopedia (as distinct from mere open source)[4] was proposed by Richard Stallman in December 2000.[5]

Crucially, Stallman's concept specifically included the idea that no central organization should control editing. This characteristic was in stark contrast to contemporary digital encyclopedias such as Microsoft Encarta, Encyclopædia Britannica, and even Bomis's Nupedia, which was Wikipedia's direct predecessor. In 2001, the license for Nupedia was changed to GFDL, and Wales and Sanger launched Wikipedia using the concept and technology of a wiki pioneered in 1995 by Ward Cunningham.[6] Initially, Wikipedia was intended to complement Nupedia, an online encyclopedia project edited solely by experts, by providing additional draft articles and ideas for it. In practice, Wikipedia quickly overtook Nupedia, becoming a global project in multiple languages and inspiring a wide range of other online reference projects.

According to Alexa Internet, Wikipedia is the world's sixth-most-popular website in terms of overall visitor traffic.[7] Wikipedia's total worldwide monthly readership is approximately 495 million.[8] Worldwide in August 2015, WMF Labs tallied 18 billion page views for the month.[9] According to comScore, Wikipedia receives over 117 million monthly unique visitors from the United States alone.[10]

Historical overview


The concept of compiling the world's knowledge in a single location dates to the ancient Libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum, but the modern concept of a general-purpose, widely distributed, printed encyclopedia originated with Denis Diderot and the 18th-century French encyclopedists. The idea of using automated machinery beyond the printing press to build a more useful encyclopedia can be traced to Paul Otlet's 1934 book Traité de documentation; Otlet also founded the Mundaneum, an institution dedicated to indexing the world's knowledge, in 1910. This concept of a machine-assisted encyclopedia was further expanded in H. G. Wells' book of essays World Brain (1938) and Vannevar Bush's future vision of the microfilm-based Memex in his essay "As We May Think" (1945).[11] Another milestone was Ted Nelson's hypertext design Project Xanadu, which was begun in 1960.[11]

Advances in information technology in the late 20th century led to changes in the form of encyclopedias. While previous encyclopedias, notably the Encyclopædia Britannica, were book-based, Microsoft's Encarta, published in 1993, was available on CD-ROM and hyperlinked. The development of the World Wide Web led to many attempts to develop internet encyclopedia projects. An early proposal for a web-based encyclopedia was Interpedia in 1993 by Rick Gates;[3] this project died before generating any encyclopedic content. Free software proponent Richard Stallman described the usefulness of a "Free Universal Encyclopedia and Learning Resource" in 1999.[5] His published document "aims to lay out what the free encyclopedia needs to do, what sort of freedoms it needs to give the public, and how we can get started on developing it." On Wednesday 17 January 2001, two days after the founding of Wikipedia, the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) GNUPedia project went online, competing with Nupedia,[12] but today the FSF encourages people "to visit and contribute to [Wikipedia]".[13]

Formulation of the concept

Wikipedia was initially conceived as a feeder project for the Wales-founded Nupedia, an earlier project to produce a free online encyclopedia, volunteered by Bomis, a web-advertising firm owned by Jimmy Wales, Tim Shell and Michael E. Davis.[14][15][16] Nupedia was founded upon the use of highly qualified volunteer contributors and an elaborate multi-step peer review process.[17] Despite its mailing list of interested editors, and the presence of a full-time editor-in-chief, Larry Sanger, a graduate philosophy student hired by Wales,[18] the writing of content for Nupedia was extremely slow, with only 12 articles written during the first year.[16]

Wales and Sanger discussed various ways to create content more rapidly.[15] The idea of a wiki-based complement originated from a conversation between Larry M. Sanger and Ben Kovitz.[19][20][21] Ben Kovitz was a computer programmer and regular on Ward Cunningham's revolutionary wiki "the WikiWikiWeb". He explained to Sanger what wikis were, at that time a difficult concept to understand, over a dinner on Tuesday 2 January 2001.[19][20][21][22] Wales first stated, in October 2001, that "Larry had the idea to use Wiki software",[23] though he later stated in December 2005 that Jeremy Rosenfeld, a Bomis employee, introduced him to the concept.[24][25][26][27] Sanger thought a wiki would be a good platform to use, and proposed on the Nupedia mailing list that a wiki based upon UseModWiki (then v. 0.90) be set up as a "feeder" project for Nupedia. Under the subject "Let's make a wiki", he wrote:

No, this is not an indecent proposal. It's an idea to add a little feature to Nupedia. Jimmy Wales thinks that many people might find the idea objectionable, but I think not... As to Nupedia's use of a wiki, this is the ULTIMATE "open" and simple format for developing content. We have occasionally bandied about ideas for simpler, more open projects to either replace or supplement Nupedia. It seems to me wikis can be implemented practically instantly, need very little maintenance, and in general are very low-risk. They're also a potentially great source for content. So there's little downside, as far as I can determine.

Wales set one up and put it online on Wednesday 10 January 2001.[28]

Founding of Wikipedia

There was considerable resistance on the part of Nupedia's editors and reviewers to the idea of associating Nupedia with a wiki-style website. Sanger suggested giving the new project its own name, Wikipedia, and Wikipedia was soon launched on its own domain, wikipedia.com, on Monday 15 January 2001. The bandwidth and server (located in San Diego) used for these initial projects were donated by Bomis. Many former Bomis employees later contributed content to the encyclopedia: notably Tim Shell, co-founder and later CEO of Bomis, and programmer Jason Richey.

Wales stated in December 2008 that he made Wikipedia's first edit, a test edit with the text "Hello, World!"[29] The oldest article still preserved is the article UuU, created on Tuesday 16 January 2001, at 21:08 UTC.[30][31] The existence of the project was formally announced and an appeal for volunteers to engage in content creation was made to the Nupedia mailing list on 17 January.[32]

The "UuU" edit, the first edit that is still preserved on Wikipedia to this day, as it appears using the Nostalgia skin.

The project received many new participants after being mentioned on the Slashdot website in July 2001,[33] having already earned two minor mentions in March 2001.[34][35] It then received a prominent pointer to a story on the community-edited technology and culture website Kuro5hin on 25 July.[36] Between these relatively rapid influxes of traffic, there had been a steady stream of traffic from other sources, especially Google, which alone sent hundreds of new visitors to the site every day. Its first major mainstream media coverage was in the New York Times on Thursday 20 September 2001.[37]

The project gained its 1,000th article around Monday 12 February 2001, and reached 10,000 articles around 7 September. In the first year of its existence, over 20,000 encyclopedia entries were created – a rate of over 1,500 articles per month. On Friday 30 August 2002, the article count reached 40,000.

Wikipedia's earliest edits were long believed lost, since the original UseModWiki software deleted old data after about a month. On Tuesday 14 December 2010, developer Tim Starling found backups on SourceForge containing every change made to Wikipedia from its creation in January 2001 to 17 August 2001.[38]

Namespaces, subdomains, and internationalization

Early in Wikipedia's development, it began to expand internationally, with the creation of new namespaces, each with a distinct set of usernames. The first subdomain created for a non-English Wikipedia was deutsche.wikipedia.com (created on Friday 16 March 2001, 01:38 UTC),[39] followed after a few hours by Catalan.wikipedia.com (at 13:07 UTC).[40] The Japanese Wikipedia, started as nihongo.wikipedia.com, was created around that period,[41][42] and initially used only Romanized Japanese. For about two months Catalan was the one with the most articles in a non-English language,[43][44] although statistics of that early period are imprecise.[45] The French Wikipedia was created on or around 11 May 2001,[46] in a wave of new language versions that also included Chinese, Dutch, Esperanto, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.[47] These languages were soon joined by Arabic[48] and Hungarian.[49][50] In September 2001, an announcement pledged commitment to the multilingual provision of Wikipedia,[51] notifying users of an upcoming roll-out of Wikipedias for all major languages, the establishment of core standards, and a push for the translation of core pages for the new wikis. At the end of that year, when international statistics first began to be logged, Afrikaans, Norwegian, and Serbian versions were announced.[52]

In January 2002, 90% of all Wikipedia articles were in English. By January 2004, fewer than 50% were English, and this internationalization has continued to increase as the encyclopedia grows. As of 2014, about 85.5% of all Wikipedia articles are contained within non-English Wikipedia versions.[1]

Development of Wikipedia

A screenshot of Wikipedia's main page on 28 September 2002.

In March 2002, following the withdrawal of funding by Bomis during the dot-com bust, Larry Sanger left both Nupedia and Wikipedia.[53] By 2002, Sanger and Wales differed in their views on how best to manage open encyclopedias. Both still supported the open-collaboration concept, but the two disagreed on how to handle disruptive editors, specific roles for experts, and the best way to guide the project to success.

Wales went on to establish self-governance and bottom-up self-direction by editors on Wikipedia. He made it clear that he would not be involved in the community's day-to-day management, but would encourage it to learn to self-manage and find its own best approaches. As of 2007, Wales mostly restricts his own role to occasional input on serious matters, executive activity, advocacy of knowledge, and encouragement of similar reference projects.

Sanger says he is an "inclusionist" and is open to almost anything.[54] He proposed that experts still have a place in the Web 2.0 world. He returned briefly to academia, then joined the Digital Universe Foundation. In 2006, Sanger founded Citizendium, an open encyclopedia that used real names for contributors in an effort to reduce disruptive editing, and hoped to facilitate "gentle expert guidance" to increase the accuracy of its content. Decisions about article content were to be up to the community, but the site was to include a statement about "family-friendly content".[55] He stated early on that he intended to leave Citizendium in a few years, by which time the project and its management would presumably be established.[56]


The Wikipedia project has grown rapidly in the course of its life, at several levels. Content has grown organically through the addition of new articles, new wikis have been added in English and non-English languages, and entire new projects replicating these growth methods in other related areas (news, quotations, reference books and so on) have been founded as well. Wikipedia itself has grown, with the creation of the Wikimedia Foundation to act as an umbrella body and the growth of software and policies to address the needs of the editorial community. These are documented below:


Articles summarizing each year are held within the Wikipedia project namespace and are linked to below. Additional resources for research are available within the Wikipedia records and archives, and are listed at the end of this article.


The Bomis staff, summer 2000
The Bomis staff in the summer of 2000.

In March 2000, the Nupedia project was started. Its intention was to publish articles written by experts which would be licensed as free content. Nupedia was founded by Jimmy Wales, with Larry Sanger as editor-in-chief, and funded by the web-advertising company Bomis.[57]


In January 2001, Wikipedia began as a side-project of Nupedia, to allow collaboration on articles prior to entering the peer-review process.[58] The name was suggested by Sanger on 11 January 2001.[59] The wikipedia.com and wikipedia.org domain names were registered on 12[60] and 13 January,[61] respectively, with wikipedia.org being brought online on the same day.[62] The project formally opened on 15 January ("Wikipedia Day"), with the first international Wikipedias – the French, German, Catalan, Swedish, and Italian editions – being created between March and May. The "neutral point of view" (NPOV) policy was officially formulated at this time, and Wikipedia's first slashdotter wave arrived on 26 July.[33] The first media report about Wikipedia appeared in August 2001 in the newspaper Wales on Sunday.[63] The September 11 attacks spurred the appearance of breaking news stories on the homepage, as well as information boxes linking related articles.[64]


2002 saw the end of funding for Wikipedia from Bomis and the departure of Larry Sanger. The forking of the Spanish Wikipedia also took place with the establishment of the Enciclopedia Libre. The first portable MediaWiki software went live on 25 January. Bots were introduced, Jimmy Wales confirmed that Wikipedia would never run commercial advertising, and the first sister project (Wiktionary) and first formal Manual of Style were launched. A separate board of directors to supervise the project was proposed and initially discussed at Meta-Wikipedia.


The English Wikipedia passed 100,000 articles in 2003, while the next largest edition, the German Wikipedia, passed 10,000. The Wikimedia Foundation was established, and Wikipedia adopted its jigsaw world logo. Mathematical formulae using TeX were reintroduced to the website. The first Wikipedian social meeting took place in Munich, Germany, in October. The basic principles of Wikipedia's Arbitration system and committee (known colloquially as "ArbCom") were developed, mostly by Florence Devouard, Fred Bauder and other early Wikipedians.

Wikisource was created as a separate project on November 24, 2003, to host free textual sources.


The worldwide Wikipedia article pool continued to grow rapidly in 2004, doubling in size in 12 months, from under 500,000 articles in late 2003 to over 1 million in over 100 languages by the end of 2004. The English Wikipedia accounted for just under half of these articles. The website's server farms were moved from California to Florida, Categories and CSS style configuration sheets were introduced, and the first attempt to block Wikipedia occurred, with the website being blocked in China for two weeks in June. The formal election of a board and Arbitration Committee began. The first formal projects were proposed to deliberately balance content and seek out systemic bias arising from Wikipedia's community structure.

Bourgeois v. Peters,[65] (11th Cir. 2004), a court case decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit was one of the earliest court opinions to cite and quote Wikipedia.[66] It stated: "We also reject the notion that the Department of Homeland Security's threat advisory level somehow justifies these searches. Although the threat level was 'elevated' at the time of the protest, 'to date, the threat level has stood at yellow (elevated) for the majority of its time in existence. It has been raised to orange (high) six times.'"[65]

Wikimedia Commons was created in September 7, 2004 to host media files for Wikipedia in all languages.


In 2005, Wikipedia became the most popular reference website on the Internet, according to Hitwise, with the English Wikipedia alone exceeding 750,000 articles. Wikipedia's first multilingual and subject portals were established in 2005. A formal fundraiser held in the first quarter of the year raised almost US$100,000 for system upgrades to handle growing demand. China again blocked Wikipedia in October 2005.

The first major Wikipedia scandal, the Seigenthaler incident, occurred in 2005, when a well-known figure was found to have a vandalized biography which had gone unnoticed for months. In the wake of this and other concerns,[67] the first policy and system changes specifically designed to counter this form of abuse were established. These included a new Checkuser privilege policy update to assist in sock puppetry investigations, a new feature called semi-protection, a more strict policy on biographies of living people and the tagging of such articles for stricter review. A restriction of new article creation to registered users only was put in place in December 2005.[68]

"Wikimania - the Wikimentary", Documentary about Wikimania 2005, featuring Jimmy Wales, Ward Cunningham

Wikimania 2005, the first Wikimania conference, was held from 4 to 8 August 2005 at the Haus der Jugend in Frankfurt, Germany, attracting about 380 attendees.


The English Wikipedia gained its one-millionth article, Jordanhill railway station, on 1 March 2006. The first approved Wikipedia article selection was made freely available to download, and "Wikipedia" became registered as a trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation. The congressional aides biography scandals – multiple incidents in which congressional staffers and a campaign manager were caught trying to covertly alter Wikipedia biographies – came to public attention, leading to the resignation of the campaign manager. Nonetheless, Wikipedia was rated as one of the top five global brands of 2006.[69]

Jimmy Wales indicated at Wikimania 2006 that Wikipedia had achieved sufficient volume and called for an emphasis on quality, perhaps best expressed in the call for 100,000 feature-quality articles. A new privilege, "oversight", was created, allowing specific versions of archived pages with unacceptable content to be marked as non-viewable. Semi-protection against anonymous vandalism, introduced in 2005, proved more popular than expected, with over 1,000 pages being semi-protected at any given time in 2006.


Wikipedia continued to grow rapidly in 2007, possessing over 5 million registered editor accounts by 13 August.[70] The 250 language editions of Wikipedia contained a combined total of 7.5 million articles, totalling 1.74 billion words in approximately 250 languages, by 13 August.[71] The English Wikipedia gained articles at a steady rate of 1,700 a day,[72] with the wikipedia.org domain name ranked the 10th-busiest in the world. Wikipedia continued to garner visibility in the press – the Essjay controversy broke when a prominent member of Wikipedia was found to have lied about his credentials. Citizendium, a competing online encyclopedia, launched publicly. A new trend developed in Wikipedia, with the encyclopedia addressing people whose notability stemmed from being a participant in a news story by adding a redirect from their name to the larger story, rather than creating a distinct biographical article.[73] On 9 September 2007, the English Wikipedia gained its two-millionth article, El Hormiguero.[74] There was some controversy in late 2007 when the Volapük Wikipedia jumped from 797 to over 112,000 articles, briefly becoming the 15th-largest Wikipedia edition, due to automated stub generation by an enthusiast for the Volapük constructed language.[75][76]

According to the MIT Technology Review, the number of regularly active editors on the English-language Wikipedia peaked in 2007 at more than 51,000, and has since been declining.[77]


Various WikiProjects in many areas continued to expand and refine article contents within their scope. In April 2008, the 10-millionth Wikipedia article was created, and by the end of the year the English Wikipedia exceeded 2.5 million articles.


By late August 2009, the number of articles in all Wikipedia editions had exceeded 14 million.[78] The three-millionth article on the English Wikipedia, Beate Eriksen, was created on 17 August 2009 at 04:05 UTC.[79] On 27 December 2009, the German Wikipedia exceeded one million articles, becoming the second edition after the English Wikipedia to do so. A TIME article listed Wikipedia among 2009's best websites.[80]

Wikipedia content became licensed under Creative Commons in 2009.


On 24 March, the European Wikipedia servers went offline due to an overheating problem. Failover to servers in Florida turned out to be broken, causing DNS resolution for Wikipedia to fail across the world. The problem was resolved quickly, but due to DNS caching effects, some areas were slower to regain access to Wikipedia than others.[81][82]

On 13 May, the site released a new interface. New features included an updated logo, new navigation tools, and a link wizard.[83] However, the classic interface remained available for those who wished to use it. On 12 December, the English Wikipedia passed the 3.5-million-article mark, while the French Wikipedia's millionth article was created on 21 September. The 1-billionth Wikimedia project edit was performed on 16 April.[84]


One of many cakes made to celebrate Wikipedia's 10th anniversary[85] in 2011.
First Day of Issue Cover of the "Wikimania 2011 – Haifa, Israel" stamp, issued by Israel Post on August 2, 2011 – The first-ever stamp dedicated to a Wikimedia-related project.

Wikipedia and its users held hundreds of celebrations worldwide to commemorate the site's 10th anniversary on 15 January.[86] The site began efforts to expand its growth in India, holding its first Indian conference in Mumbai in November 2011.[87][88] The English Wikipedia passed the 3.6-million-article mark on 2 April, and reached 3.8 million articles on 18 November. On 7 November 2011, the German Wikipedia exceeded 100 million page edits, becoming the second language edition to do so after the English edition, which attained 500 million page edits on 24 November 2011. The Dutch Wikipedia exceeded 1 million articles on 17 December 2011, becoming the fourth Wikipedia edition to do so.

Between 4 and 6 October 2011, the Italian Wikipedia became intentionally inaccessible in protest against the Italian Parliament's proposed DDL intercettazioni law, which, if approved, would allow any person to force websites to remove information that is perceived as untrue or offensive, without the need to provide evidence.[89]

Also in October 2011, Wikimedia announced the launch of Wikipedia Zero, an initiative to enable free mobile access to Wikipedia in developing countries through partnerships with mobile operators.[90][91]


The staff at the Wikimedia Foundation the moment the SOPA blackout happened

On 16 January, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales announced that the English Wikipedia would shut down for 24 hours on 18 January as part of a protest meant to call public attention to the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act, two anti-piracy laws under debate in the United States Congress. Calling the blackout a "community decision", Wales and other opponents of the laws believed that they would endanger free speech and online innovation.[92] A similar blackout was staged on 10 July by the Russian Wikipedia, in protest against a proposed Russian internet regulation law.[93]

In late March 2012, the Wikimedia Deutschland announced Wikidata, a universal platform for sharing data between all Wikipedia language editions.[94] The US$1.7-million Wikidata project was partly funded by Google, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.[95] Wikimedia Deutschland assumed responsibility for the first phase of Wikidata, and initially planned to make the platform available to editors by December 2012. Wikidata's first phase became fully operational in March 2013.[96][97]

Justin Knapp

In April 2012, Justin Knapp became the first single contributor to make over one million edits to Wikipedia.[98][99] Jimmy Wales congratulated Knapp for his work and presented him with the site's Special Barnstar medal and the Golden Wiki award for his achievement.[100] Wales also declared that 20 April would be "Justin Knapp Day".[101]

On 13 July 2012, the English Wikipedia gained its 4-millionth article, Izbat al-Burj.[102] In October 2012, historian and Wikipedia editor Richard J. Jensen opined that the English Wikipedia was "nearing completion", noting that the number of regularly active editors had fallen significantly since 2007, despite Wikipedia's rapid growth in article count and readership.[103]

According to Alexa Internet, Wikipedia was the world's sixth-most-popular website as of November 2012.[104] Dow Jones ranked Wikipedia fifth worldwide as of December 2012.[105]


On 22 January 2013, the Italian Wikipedia became the fifth language edition of Wikipedia to exceed 1 million articles, while the Russian and Spanish Wikipedias gained their millionth articles in May 11 and 16 respectively. On 15 July the Swedish and on 24 September the Polish Wikipedias gained their millionth articles, becoming the eighth and ninth Wikipedia editions to do so.

On 27 January, the main belt asteroid 274301 was officially renamed "Wikipedia" by the Committee for Small Body Nomenclature.[106]

The first phase of the Wikidata database, automatically providing interlanguage links and other data, became available for all language editions in March 2013.[97]

In April 2013, the French secret service was accused of attempting to censor Wikipedia by threatening a Wikipedia volunteer with arrest unless "classified information" about a military radio station was deleted.[107]

A presentation about the Wikipedia VisualEditor

In July, the VisualEditor editing system was launched, forming the first stage of an effort to allow articles to be edited with a word processor-like interface instead of using wikimarkup.[108] An editor specifically designed for smartphones and other mobile devices was also launched.[109]


A video review of Wikipedia content in 2014 that encourages viewers to edit Wikipedia.

A print edition of the English Wikipedia, comprising 1,000 volumes and over 1,100,000 pages, was exhibited by German Wikipedia contributors in 2014.[8] The project sought funding through Indiegogo, and was intended to honor the contributions of Wikipedia's editors.[110] On 22 October 2014, the first monument to Wikipedia was unveiled in the Polish town of Slubice.[111]


Video marking English Wikipedia's milestone of five million articles on 1 November 2015

In mid-2015, Wikipedia was the world's seventh-most-popular website according to Alexa Internet,[7] down one place from the position it held in November 2012. At the start of 2015, Wikipedia remained the largest general-knowledge encyclopedia online, with a combined total of over 36 million mainspace articles across all 291 language editions.[1] On average, Wikipedia receives a total of 10 billion global pageviews from around 495 million unique visitors every month,[8][112] including 85 million visitors from the United States alone,[10] where it is the sixth-most-popular site.[7]

Print Wikipedia was an art project by Michael Mandiberg that printed out the 7473 volumes of Wikipedia as it existed on April 7, 2015. Each volume has 700 pages.[113]


In mid-2016, Wikipedia was once again the world's sixth-most-popular website according to Alexa Internet,[114] up one place from the position it held in the previous year.

In October 2016, the mobile version of Wikipedia gets a new look.

History by subject area

Hardware and software

Main article: MediaWiki
The software that runs Wikipedia, and the computer hardware, server farms and other systems upon which Wikipedia relies.

Look and feel

The external face of Wikipedia, its look and feel, and the Wikipedia branding, as presented to users.

Internal structures

Landmarks in the Wikipedia community, and the development of its organization, internal structures, and policies.
  • The policy for "Checkuser" (a MediaWiki extension to assist detection of abuse via internet sock-puppetry) was established in November 2005.[135] Checkuser function had previously existed, but was viewed more as a system tool at the time, so there had been no need for a policy covering use on a more routine basis.[136]
  • Creation of new pages on the English Wikipedia was restricted to editors who had created a user account.[137]
  • The introduction and rapid adoption of the policy Wikipedia:Biographies of living people, giving a far tighter quality control and fact-check system to biographical articles related to living people.
  • The "semi-protection" function and policy,[138] allowing pages to be protected so that only those with an account could edit.

The Wikimedia Foundation and legal structures

Legal and organizational structure of the Wikimedia Foundation, its executive, and its activities as a foundation.

Projects and milestones

Main pages: Wikipedia:Statistics, List of Wikipedias, and Wikipedia:Milestones
Sister projects and milestones related to articles, user base, and other statistics.


Every year, Wikipedia runs a fundraising campaign to support its operations.

External impact

Effect of biographical articles

Because Wikipedia biographies are often updated as soon as new information comes to light, they are often used as a reference source on the lives of notable people. This has led to attempts to manipulate and falsify Wikipedia articles for promotional or defamatory purposes (see Controversies). It has also led to novel uses of the biographical material provided. Some notable people's lives are being affected by their Wikipedia biography.

Early roles of Wales and Sanger

Sanger played an important role in the early stages of creating Wikipedia.[175][176] Wales says that Sanger was his subordinate employee.[176] Sanger initially brought the wiki concept to Wales and suggested it be applied to Nupedia and then, after some initial skepticism, Wales agreed to try it.[20] It was Jimmy Wales, along with other people, who came up with the broader idea of an open-source, collaborative encyclopedia that would accept contributions from ordinary people and it was Wales who invested in it.[16] Wales stated in October 2001 that "Larry had the idea to use Wiki software."[23] Sanger coined the portmanteau "Wikipedia" as the project name.[16] In review, Larry Sanger conceived of a wiki-based encyclopedia as a strategic solution to Nupedia's inefficiency problems.[176] In terms of project roles, Sanger spearheaded and pursued the project as its leader in its first year, and did most of the early work in formulating policies (including "Ignore all rules")[177] and "Neutral point of view"[53] and building up the community.[176] Upon departure in March 2002, Sanger emphasized the main issue was purely the cessation of Bomis' funding for his role, which was not viable part-time, and his changing personal priorities;[18] however, by 2004, the two had drifted apart and Sanger became more critical. Two weeks after the launch of Citizendium, Sanger criticized Wikipedia, describing the latter as "broken beyond repair."[178] By 2005 Wales began to dispute Sanger's role in the project, three years after Sanger left.[179][180][181]

In 2005, Wales described himself simply as the founder of Wikipedia;[179] however, according to Brian Bergstein of the Associated Press, "Sanger has long been cited as a co-founder."[176] There is evidence that Sanger was called co-founder, along with Wales, as early as 2001, and he is referred to as such in early Wikipedia press releases and Wikipedia articles and in a September 2001 New York Times article for which both were interviewed.[182] In 2006, Wales said, "He used to work for me [...] I don't agree with calling him a co-founder, but he likes the title";[183] nonetheless, before January 2004, Wales did not dispute Sanger's status as co-founder[184] and, indeed, identified himself as "co-founder" as late as August 2002.[185] In Sanger's introductory message to the Nupedia mailing list, he said that "Jimmy Wales contacted me and asked me to apply as editor-in-chief of Nupedia. Apparently, Bomis, Inc. (which owns Nupedia)... who could manage this sort of long-term project, he thought I would be perfect for the job. This is indeed my dream job".[186] Sanger said "He [Wales] had had the idea for Nupedia since at least last fall".[186]

As of March 2007: Wales emphasized this employer–employee relationship and his ultimate authority, terming himself Wikipedia's sole founder; and Sanger emphasized their statuses as co-founders, referencing earlier versions of Wikipedia pages (2004, 2006), press releases (2002–2004), and media coverage from the time of his involvement routinely terming them in this manner.[176][182][187][188]


Wikinews has related news: U.K. National Portrait Gallery threatens U.S. citizen with legal action over Wikimedia images
  1. The strong prohibition against *any* sort of centralized control ("[must not be] written under the direction of a single organization, which made all decisions about the content, and... published in a centralized fashion. ...we dare not allow any organization to decide what counts as part of [our encyclopedia]"). In particular, deletionists were not allowed; editing an article would require forking it, making a change, and then saving the result as a 'new' article on the same topic.
  2. Assuming attribution for articles (rather than anonymous by default), requiring attribution for quotations, and allowing original authors to control straightforward translations, In particular, the idea was to have a set of N articles covering the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, with some to-be-determined mechanism for readers to endorse/rank/like/plus/star the version of the article they found best.
  3. Given the structure above, where every topic (especially controversial ones) might have a thousand articles purporting to be *the* GNUpedia article about Sarah Palin, Stallman explicitly rejected the idea of a centralized website that would specify which article of those thousand was worth reading. Instead of an official catalogue, the plan was to rely on search engines at first (the reader would begin by googling "gnupedia sarah palin"), and then eventually if necessary construct catalogues according to the same principles as articles were constructed. In Wikipedia, there is an official central website for each language (en.wikipedia.org), and an official catalogue of sorts (category-lists and lists-of-lists), but as of 2013 search engines still provide about 60% of the inbound traffic.

The goals which led to GNUpedia were published at least as early as 18 December 2000,[190][191] and these exact goals were finalized on the 12th[189] and 13th[192] of January 2001, albeit with a copyright of 1999, from when Stallman had first started considering the problem. The only sentence added between 18 December and the unveiling of GNUpedia the week of 12–16 January was this: "The GNU Free Documentation License would be a good license to use for courses."

GNUpedia was 'formally' announced on the slashdot website,[193] on January 16, the same day that their mailing list first went online with a test-message. Wales posted to the list on January 17, the first full day of messages, explaining the discussions with Stallman concerning the change in Nupedia content-licensing, and suggesting cooperation.[194][195] Stallman himself first posted on January 19, and, in his second post on January 22, mentioned that discussions about merging Wikipedia and GNUpedia were ongoing.[196] Within a couple of months, Wales had changed his email signature from the open source encyclopedia to the free encyclopedia;[197] both Nupedia and Wikipedia had adopted the GFDL; and the merger[198] of GNUpedia into Wikipedia was effectively accomplished.

Politician Editing undertaken Sources
Marty Meehan Replacement with staff-written biography Congressional staffers edit boss's bio on Wikipedia
Norm Coleman Rewrite to make more favorable, claimed to be "correcting errors") "Web site's entry on Coleman revised Aide confirms his staff edited biography, questions Wikipedia's accuracy". St. Paul Pioneer Press(Associated Press). Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. 
Conrad Burns
Removal of quoted pejorative statements the Senator had made, and replacing them with "glowing tributes" as "the voice of the farmer" Williams, Walt (1 January 2007). "Burns' office may have tampered with Wikipedia entry". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved 13 February 2007. 
Joe Biden Removal of unfavorable information Congressional staffers edit boss's bio on Wikipedia
Gil Gutknecht Staff rewrite and removal of information evidencing broken campaign promise.

(Multiple attempts)

On 16 August 2006, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported that the office of Representative Gil Gutknecht tried twice — on 24 July 2006 and 14 August 2006 — to remove a 128-word section in the Wikipedia article on him, replacing it with a more flattering 315-word entry taken from his official congressional biography. Most of the removed text was about the 12-year term-limit Gutknecht imposed on himself in 1995 (Gutknecht ran for re-election in 2006, breaking his promise). A spokesman for Gutknecht did not dispute that his office tried to change his Wikipedia entry, but questioned the reliability of the encyclopedia. "Gutknecht joins Wikipedia tweakers". Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. 16 August 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-08-21. Retrieved 17 August 2006. 

Multiple attempts, first using a named account, then an anonymous IP account.

In a separate but similar incident, the campaign manager for Cathy Cox, Morton Brilliant, resigned after being found to have added negative information to the Wikipedia entries of political opponents.[208] Following media publicity, the incidents tapered off around August 2006.

Notable forks and derivatives

There are a number of Wikipedia mirrors and forks. No list of sites using the software is maintained, A significant number of sites use the MediaWiki software and concept, popularized by Wikipedia.

Specialized foreign language forks using the Wikipedia concept include Enciclopedia Libre (Spanish), Wikiweise (German), WikiZnanie (Russian), Susning.nu (Swedish), and Baidu Baike (Chinese). Some of these (such as Enciclopedia Libre) use GFDL or compatible licenses as used by Wikipedia, leading to exchange of material with their respective language Wikipedias.

In 2006, Larry Sanger founded Citizendium, based upon a modified version of MediaWiki.[231] The site cited its aims were 'to improve on the Wikipedia model with "gentle expert oversight", among other things'.[56][232] (See also Nupedia).

Publication on other media

The German Wikipedia was the first to be partly published also using other media (rather than online on the internet), including releases on CD in November 2004[233] and more extended versions on CDs or DVD in April 2005 and December 2006. In December 2005, the publisher Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, a sister company of Directmedia, published a 139-page book explaining Wikipedia, its history and policies, which was accompanied by a 7.5 GB DVD containing 300,000 articles and 100,000 images from the German Wikipedia.[234] Originally, Directmedia also announced plans to print the German Wikipedia in its entirety, in 100 volumes of 800 pages each. Publication was due to begin in October 2006, and finish in 2010. In March 2006, however, this project was called off.[235]

In September 2008, Bertelsmann published a 1000 pages volume with a selection of popular German Wikipedia articles. Bertelsmann paid voluntarily 1 Euro per sold copy to Wikimedia Deutschland.[236]

The first CD version containing a selection of articles from the English Wikipedia was published in April 2006 by SOS Children as the 2006 Wikipedia CD Selection.[237] In April 2007, "Wikipedia Version 0.5", a CD containing around 2000 articles selected from the online encyclopedia was published by the Wikimedia Foundation and Linterweb. The selection of articles included was based on both the quality of the online version and the importance of the topic to be included. This CD version was created as a test-case in preparation for a DVD version including far more articles.[238][239] The CD version can be purchased online, downloaded as a DVD image file or Torrent file, or accessed online at the project's website.

A free software project has also been launched to make a static version of Wikipedia available for use on iPods. The "Encyclopodia" project was started around March 2006 and can currently be used on 1st to 4th generation iPods.[240]


In limited ways, the Wikimedia Foundation is protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. In the defamation action Bauer et al. v. Glatzer et al., it was held that Wikimedia had no case to answer because of this section.[241] A similar law in France caused a lawsuit to be dismissed in October 2007.[242] In 2013, a German appeals court (the Higher Regional Court of Stuttgart) ruled that Wikipedia is a "service provider" not a "content provider", and as such is immune from liability as long as it takes down content that is accused of being illegal.[243]

See also


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    "Wikipedia has sometimes suffered from the self-editing that is intrinsic to it, giving rise at times to potentially libellous statements. However, inherently, I cannot see that what is in Wikipedia is any less likely to be true than what is published in a book or on the websites of news organisations. [Formula One's lawyer] did not express any concerns about the Wikipedia evidence [presented by the plaintiff]. I consider that the evidence from Wikipedia can be taken at face value."
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