The State of Wikipedia

The State of Wikipedia is a film that was produced by Jess3 and released under a free license around the time of Wikipedia's 10th anniversary. It tells the story of Wikipedia's history and the state in which it exists today. Speaker: Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia.

You can find the video here (Vimeo) or here (Wikimedia Commons). A blog post was written about it on the Wikimedia Foundation blog. And the background to the film can be found on Jess3's blog.

Transcript of speaker textEdit

Wikipedia is one of the most important websites on the Internet today, but you might be surprised to learn it began as a side project of another online encyclopedia. That was called Nupedia, to be a traditional encyclopedia written by experts—free and online—but only one person had final publishing authority and it wasn't quite taking off.

As the founder of Nupedia, I led the group to establish a farm team of sorts for future Nupedia articles. We used a new software platform to make collaboration easy—the wiki—Wikipedia.

It happened to be the perfect way to write many pages very quickly. Soon enough, Nupedia couldn't keep up and Wikipedia took center stage. We were creating not just a free content encyclopedia but a "free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." Other language editions appeared quickly—over 270 at last count—and it was soon followed by sister projects like Wikisource, Wikinews and Wiktionary.

In 2003, I created the Wikimedia Foundation to ensure that Wikipedia could keep up with its own growth. Wikipedia gets almost 400 million visitors every month, and the list of sites visited more often is very short and very famous. Wikipedia celebrates its tenth anniversary in January 2011 and in these ten years has become one of the most popular websites in the world. I still lead the community and the Wikimedia Foundation helps us to make Wikipedia what it is today.

Who does edit Wikipedia? Over time, as many as 1.2 million people have contributed to Wikipedia. As of 2010, there are more than 11 million monthly edits to all Wikipedias in all languages. According to one survey, we have about twice the proportion of Ph.Ds compared to the general public. On the English Wikipedia almost 50% have no religion and 14.6% of French editors claim to believe in Pastafarianism. It would be fair to say that most Wikipedians are not average.

One reason, maybe, is that editing a single page is easy, but getting heavily involved is harder. The community is defined by more than 200 combined policies, guidelines and essays, to say nothing of the discussions and reviews, committees and noticeboards, WikiProjects and more. All the site content is decided by Wikipedia's volunteer contributors. The Wikimedia Foundation has no editorial role whatsoever.

The Foundation's job is to keep the servers running and the lights on, but there's more to it than that. The Foundation is also growing Wikipedia's presence worldwide—more data centers to speed up Wikipedia worldwide and even bringing its first office outside of the United States to India.

Wikipedia is already very popular in the West and in the North. A new challenge is going to be making Wikipedia available to the developing world, as well. The Foundation is a charity and runs entirely on donations—some from corporations and institutions, but the vast majority from its millions of editors and readers.

It's incredible what has been accomplished already, but Wikipedia is far from done. As any reader knows, some articles are very good, but some are not. Wikipedia still needs a lot of work. Yet, this is a new challenge. Not just building an encyclopedia from scratch, but making it better: more accurate, more citations. Not just broad, but deep.

There's never been anything like Wikipedia before, and its future horizon is very, very long. As Wikipedia enters its second decade, it's up to all of us to make sure it gets even better.

Last modified on 29 January 2011, at 02:48