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Wikipedia is a peer-directed project to create a group of online encyclopedias in every major language. Founded in 2001, Wikipedia went "live" on January 15th of that year[1] and grew exponentially in its first 4 to 5 years. It is the world's largest encyclopedia project and one of the most popular sites on the Internet.[2] The English-language Wikipedia is the world's largest single wiki and now contains more than 3.5 million individual articles, and over 17 million articles exist in over 200 languages.

Wikipedia also has sister projects like Wiktionary, Wikibooks, Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikinews and Wikiversity which are all owned by the Wikimedia Foundation.


[edit] History

Logo of Nupedia

An accidental spin-off of Nupedia, a now-defunct online encyclopedia written by experts, Wikipedia was started by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger (who left the project in late 2001 when funding ran dry, and later permanently distanced himself from it) in January 2001 as a multilingual, Web-based, free content encyclopedia that anyone with access to one of its project websites can edit. Changes made to Wikipedia articles undergo no formal peer review and are immediately viewable on the World Wide Web. Under this deliberately radical open model, Wikipedia's growth has been nothing short of exponential. Within only a month, Wikipedia had 600 articles, and a year later in January 2002, 20,000. On November 20, 2004, the English Wikipedia alone reached 400,000 articles, and by March 1, 2006, that number had reached 1 million. By 2010 more than 3,000,000 articles had been created on the English Wikipedia alone. Although the Wikipedia continues to grow, many editors are quitting the site. In 2009, Wikipedia lost over 49,000 editors.

[edit] Philosophy

Wikipedia's undergirding philosophy is that most of its contributors are well-meaning, and that unmoderated collaboration among them will gradually improve the encyclopedia such that it is both reliable and reputable. Organizationally, Wikipedia is headed by the Wikimedia Foundation, which includes an eighteen-member advisory board with fewer than ten employees, working under the de facto direction of Jimmy Wales.

[edit] Main features

Wikipedia refers to two of its pivotal features in its slogan, "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." Indeed, virtually any person on the Internet may create or edit a Wikipedia article, thanks to the use of wiki software. Contributors may edit Wikipedia anonymously or register user accounts. As of August, 2009, Wikipedia has more than 10 million registered users,[3] though much of the content that users see is produced by a relatively small group of people: perhaps about 4,200 users, or 0.1%. These users have been responsible for about 44% of regularly-read content, with this domination increasing, according to one 2007 research estimate based on words read.[4]

The project wrote its own wiki software called MediaWiki, the software package on which Wikipedia runs, which makes it a dynamic wiki, capable of producing its contents through the interactions of its users. It is written in PHP and released under the GPL, permitting anyone to copy it and to modify it freely.

MediaWiki keeps fastidious track of its participants' editing and much of its internal activities. All edits are tracked and the editing history for every Wikipedia page is available.[5] As a result, when anonymous (or registered) users make inappropriate revisions to an encyclopedia article (i.e., Wikipedia "vandalism"), Wikipedia volunteers can readily restore the prior version. This transparency also enables visitors to examine both the history of substantive articles and the deliberations of Wikipedia's policy and organizational decisions, which are often effectuated through wiki webpages.

A more or less stable group of Wikipedia users judges certain articles to be important enough and well-written enough to be considered featured articles. On 24 April 2008, there were 2,024 "Featured Articles" out of 2,346,120 articles on the English Wikipedia.[6] In addition, various groups of users collaborate within topical "projects" to rate the quality of articles and upgrade weaker articles.

Wikipedia may be said to be free insofar as its articles provide free and open access to all content, thereby creating public domain products. All contributions of text are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).

While anyone may contribute anonymously, anonymous contributors may be partially identified by the IP address from which they contributed.

Wikipedia articles include both knowledge typical of printed encyclopedias as well as relatively recondite subjects, such as information on small towns, minor sports figures and celebrities, and popular culture. For example, many of the Pokémon characters have individual articles.

[edit] Policies

Wikipedia requires articles and contributors to conform to a number of policies. These policies have developed by consensus over time. The neutral point of view or NPOV policy requires that articles represent a wide variety of opinions while remaining neutral. A "simple formulation" of this policy is given as: "Assert facts, including facts about opinions - but do not assert the opinions themselves".[7] The neutrality policy also disallows moralizing, preferring to let the facts "speak for themselves". In the section on balance, the policy asserts that viewpoints should be weighted according to their prominence. On an article on the Holocaust, for instance, it would be required to point out that the opinions of Holocaust deniers (or 'revisionist scholars') make up a tiny proportion of the learned opinion on the subject. The policy also bans "POV forks", that is articles about existing topics that contain just supportive or critical material. If one were to start an article entitled "Benefits of Homeopathy" because the article on Homeopathy was considered too critical or sceptical, this would be considered a breach of the neutrality policies.

Wikipedia requires that claims in articles be verifiable, which generally means that mainstream media sources must be pointed to in order to make it so that readers can follow up and verify Wikipedia's claims. Original research and writing is not allowed on Wikipedia.[8]

Wikipedia's "Be bold" policy[9], which has become widely used on other wikis and collaborative projects, encourages participation by letting people just jump in, even at risk of breaking other policies.

On Wikipedia, new or proposed articles must satisfy several criteria that are enforced by the site's administrators: notability,[10] verifiability[11] (not 'truth'),[12] reliability of sources[13] and neutral point of view.[14] In addition, new articles can be 'speedily deleted' by administrators if the author fails to assert the significance of the subject.[15] An example of the latter occurred in September 2007, when a row erupted over the deletion of a 'stub' article started by co-founder Jimmy Wales.[16][17]

[edit] Criticisms and controversies

Due to Wikipedia's practice of allowing anonymous editing by anyone with access to the Internet, it has been criticized for factual inaccuracy and for vulnerability to vandalism. A notorious incident involving Wikipedia's inaccuracies was the John Seigenthaler biography controversy, in which an anonymous Wikipedia editor wrote a biography of a John Seigenthaler alleging that Seigenthaler was involved in the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.[18] In February 2007, The New Yorker ran a rare editorial retraction that Essjay, a high ranking Wikipedia administrator, was discovered to have lied about his career, background, and academic credentials in a telephone interview to 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Stacy Schiff of The New Yorker.[19]

In June, 2007, the Wikimedia Foundation hit the headlines again over a false claim regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of professional wrestler Chris Benoit, placed on the Wikinews site. Georgia police told reporters that the information had been a significant hindrance to their investigations. The individual responsible was traced via their IP address.[20]

Also in June, as reported in Wikipedia's own on-line newspaper, in rejecting an attempt to register a trademark, the UK Intellectual Property Office based their decision in part on the Wikipedia article on Formula One motor racing. Despite noting that Wikipedia could host "potentially libellous [sic] statements", the final ruling extensively quotes Wikipedia sources and includes a claim by author David Landau that "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" [sic]. As unreported on Wikipedia, Landau also noted that the material referred to contains "the history and background of F1 racing, nothing particularly controversial."

[edit] Forks and spin-offs

The concept of Wiki's collaborative projects, along with criticisms of Wikipedia, has led to the emergence of several forks and spin-offs of Wikipedia. Examples include Wikinfo, a fork created by Fred Bauder; Conservapedia, a Wiki-style encyclopedia for political conservatives; Veropedia, founded by Danny Wool, which, funded by advertising, copies and fixes selected Wikipedia articles, and New World Encyclopedia, an encyclopedia written by "online collaboration with certified experts," [21] that launched in 2008.[22] The Citizendium, an encyclopedic project established by Larry Sanger, the co-founder of Wikipedia, was originally a Wikipedia fork. Knowino in turn is a fork of Citizendium.

[edit] Development of editing restrictions

In June 2010, the English Wikipedia introduced editing restrictions as a test for some articles that was to be applicable to other language versions if successful. These involve identifying a set of "trusted users" and allowing only their changes to be instantly visible to the general public. New contributors' work is identified in the history of selected articles as "pending changes", so it can be moderated by these users, who are selected on the basis of how long they have been on the site and the number of their edits that have gone unreverted.[23]

In 2011, the test of pending changes was ended and it has not been decided whether the pending changes system will return. It is likely that if introduced pending changes will probably be used as an optional alternative to semi-protection and full protection to allow users to submit updates while a page is protected.

[edit] References

  1. Long, Tony (2008-01-15). Jan. 15, 2001: Enter Wikipedia, for Better and Worse. Wired. Retrieved on 2008-01-15.
  2. Wikipedia is the largest encyclopedia in terms of article size and number of related encyclopedias.
  3. [1], Not all users are equally active. A small number of users are blocked or temporarily banned from creating or modifying Wikipedia content, mainly due to repeated vandalism to the site.
  4. Priedhorsky et al. (2007).
  5. This tracking exceeds the documentation requirements of the GFDL.
  6. Wikipedia:Featured articles. Retrieved on 2008-04-24.
  7. Wikipedia: Neutral point of view
  8. Wikipedia: No original research
  9. Wikipedia: Be bold
  10. Wikipedia: 'Notability.' Accessed October 12, 2007.
  11. Wikipedia: 'Verifiability.' Accessed October 12, 2007.
  12. Wikipedia: 'Verifiability'. October 12, 2007.
  13. Wikipedia: 'Reliable Sources.' Accessed October 12, 2007.
  14. Wikipedia: 'Neutral point of view.' Accessed October 12, 2007.
  15. Wikipedia: '[2] - 7.' October 11, 2007.
  16. Sarno, David (September 30, 2007), "Wikipedia wars erupt", Web Scout. Retrieved on October 12, 2007
  17. The article concerned Mzoli's, a restaurant near Cape Town, South Africa; see the original stub.
  19. Schiff, Stacy (July 24, 2006), "Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?", Know It All
  20. Schoetz, David (June 29, 2007), Police: Wiki Confession an 'Unbelievable Hindrance'. Retrieved on July 17, 2007
  21. as stated on its info page. The philosophical and axiological foundations for the project derive from life and teachings of its originator, Sun Myung Moon [3]."
  22. Wikinfo, Conservapedia, New World Encyclopedia
  23. New Scientist: 'Wikipedia 2.0 - now with added trust'. 20th September 2007.
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