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Wikipedia was launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger on January 15, 2001. Sanger coined its name as a blend of wiki and encyclopedia.[6][7] Wales was influenced by the "spontaneous order" ideas associated with Friedrich Hayek and the Austrian School of economics after being exposed to these ideas by the libertarian economist Mark Thornton.[8] Initially available only in English, versions in other languages were quickly developed. Its combined editions comprise more than 60 million articles, attracting around 2 billion unique device visits per month and more than 15 million edits per month (about 5.7 edits per second on average) as of January 2023[update].[9][10] In 2006, Time magazine stated that the policy of allowing anyone to edit had made Wikipedia the "biggest (and perhaps best) encyclopedia in the world".[11]

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In November 2009, a researcher at the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, Spain found that the English Wikipedia had lost 49,000 editors during the first three months of 2009; in comparison, it lost only 4,900 editors during the same period in 2008.[51][52] The Wall Street Journal cited the array of rules applied to editing and disputes related to such content among the reasons for this trend.[53] Wales disputed these claims in 2009, denying the decline and questioning the study's methodology.[54] Two years later, in 2011, he acknowledged a slight decline, noting a decrease from "a little more than 36,000 writers" in June 2010 to 35,800 in June 2011. In the same interview, he also claimed the number of editors was "stable and sustainable".[55] A 2013 MIT Technology Review article, "The Decline of Wikipedia", questioned this claim, revealing that since 2007, Wikipedia had lost a third of its volunteer editors, and that those remaining had focused increasingly on minutiae.[56] In July 2012, The Atlantic reported that the number of administrators was also in decline.[57] In the November 25, 2013, issue of New York magazine, Katherine Ward stated, "Wikipedia, the sixth-most-used website, is facing an internal crisis."[58]

On January 20, 2014, Subodh Varma reporting for The Economic Times indicated that not only had Wikipedia's growth stalled, it "had lost nearly ten percent of its page views last year. There was a decline of about two billion between December 2012 and December 2013. Its most popular versions are leading the slide: page-views of the English Wikipedia declined by twelve percent, those of German version slid by 17 percent and the Japanese version lost nine percent."[70] Varma added, "While Wikipedia's managers think that this could be due to errors in counting, other experts feel that Google's Knowledge Graphs project launched last year may be gobbling up Wikipedia users."[70] When contacted on this matter, Clay Shirky, associate professor at New York University and fellow at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society said that he suspected much of the page-view decline was due to Knowledge Graphs, stating, "If you can get your question answered from the search page, you don't need to click [any further]."[70] By the end of December 2016, Wikipedia was ranked the fifth most popular website globally.[71]

Due to Wikipedia's increasing popularity, some editions, including the English version, have introduced editing restrictions for certain cases. For instance, on the English Wikipedia and some other language editions, only registered users may create a new article.[85] On the English Wikipedia, among others, particularly controversial, sensitive, or vandalism-prone pages have been protected to varying degrees.[86][87] A frequently vandalized article can be "semi-protected" or "extended confirmed protected", meaning that only "autoconfirmed" or "extended confirmed" editors can modify it.[88] A particularly contentious article may be locked so that only administrators can make changes.[89] A 2021 article in the Columbia Journalism Review identified Wikipedia's page-protection policies as "perhaps the most important" means at its disposal to "regulate its market of ideas".[90]

According to the rules on the English Wikipedia community, each entry in Wikipedia must be about a topic that is encyclopedic and is not a dictionary entry or dictionary-style.[122] A topic should also meet Wikipedia's standards of "notability", which generally means that the topic must have been covered in mainstream media or major academic journal sources that are independent of the article's subject.[123] Further, Wikipedia intends to convey only knowledge that is already established and recognized.[124] It must not present original research.[125] A claim that is likely to be challenged requires a reference to a reliable source, as do all quotations.[122] Among Wikipedia editors, this is often phrased as "verifiability, not truth" to express the idea that the readers, not the encyclopedia, are ultimately responsible for checking the truthfulness of the articles and making their own interpretations.[126] This can at times lead to the removal of information that, though valid, is not properly sourced.[127] Finally, Wikipedia must not take sides.[128]

The Arbitration Committee presides over the ultimate dispute resolution process. Although disputes usually arise from a disagreement between two opposing views on how an article should read, the Arbitration Committee explicitly refuses to directly rule on the specific view that should be adopted.[138] Statistical analyses suggest that the committee ignores the content of disputes and rather focuses on the way disputes are conducted,[139] functioning not so much to resolve disputes and make peace between conflicting editors, but to weed out problematic editors while allowing potentially productive editors back in to participate.[138] Therefore, the committee does not dictate the content of articles, although it sometimes condemns content changes when it deems the new content violates Wikipedia policies (for example, if the new content is considered biased).[note 5] Commonly used solutions include cautions and probations (used in 63% of cases) and banning editors from articles (43%), subject matters (23%), or Wikipedia (16%).[138] Complete bans from Wikipedia are generally limited to instances of impersonation and anti-social behavior.[140] When conduct is not impersonation or anti-social, but rather edit warring and other violations of editing policies, solutions tend to be limited to warnings.[138]

Wikipedia does not require that its editors and contributors provide identification.[145] As Wikipedia grew, "Who writes Wikipedia?" became one of the questions frequently asked there.[146] Jimmy Wales once argued that only "a community ... a dedicated group of a few hundred volunteers" makes the bulk of contributions to Wikipedia and that the project is therefore "much like any traditional organization".[147] In 2008, a Slate magazine article reported that: "According to researchers in Palo Alto, one percent of Wikipedia users are responsible for about half of the site's edits."[148] This method of evaluating contributions was later disputed by Aaron Swartz, who noted that several articles he sampled had large portions of their content (measured by number of characters) contributed by users with low edit counts.[149]

Editors who fail to comply with Wikipedia cultural rituals, such as signing talk page comments, may implicitly signal that they are Wikipedia outsiders, increasing the odds that Wikipedia insiders may target or discount their contributions. Becoming a Wikipedia insider involves non-trivial costs: the contributor is expected to learn Wikipedia-specific technological codes, submit to a sometimes convoluted dispute resolution process, and learn a "baffling culture rich with in-jokes and insider references".[151] Editors who do not log in are in some sense second-class citizens on Wikipedia,[151] as "participants are accredited by members of the wiki community, who have a vested interest in preserving the quality of the work product, on the basis of their ongoing participation",[152] but the contribution histories of anonymous unregistered editors recognized only by their IP addresses cannot be attributed to a particular editor with certainty.[152]

Several studies have shown that most Wikipedia contributors are male. Notably, the results of a Wikimedia Foundation survey in 2008 showed that only 13 percent of Wikipedia editors were female.[157] Because of this, universities throughout the United States tried to encourage women to become Wikipedia contributors.[158] Similarly, many of these universities, including Yale and Brown, gave college credit to students who create or edit an article relating to women in science or technology.[158] Andrew Lih, a professor and scientist, said that the reason he thought the number of male contributors outnumbered the number of females so greatly was because identifying as a woman may expose oneself to "ugly, intimidating behavior".[citation needed][159] Data has shown that Africans are underrepresented among Wikipedia editors.[160]

Jimmy Wales has described Wikipedia as "an effort to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language".[170] Though each language edition functions more or less independently, some efforts are made to supervise them all. They are coordinated in part by Meta-Wiki, the Wikimedia Foundation's wiki devoted to maintaining all its projects (Wikipedia and others).[171] For instance, Meta-Wiki provides important statistics on all language editions of Wikipedia,[172] and it maintains a list of articles every Wikipedia should have.[173] The list concerns basic content by subject: biography, history, geography, society, culture, science, technology, and mathematics.[173] It is not rare for articles strongly related to a particular language not to have counterparts in another edition. For example, articles about small towns in the United States might be available only in English, even when they meet the notability criteria of other language Wikipedia projects.[123]


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