Happy Birthday Wikipedia

By Stuart Fuller


Fifteen years ago last week, one of the world's most famous websites launched.  Today, it can be said that Wikipedia is one of the most important sources of fact (and sometimes fiction) on the Internet today.  Launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, the website has grown to be the 7th most visited in the world today.  The unusual aspect is that the website carries no advertising, nor charges users a penny - the significant infrastructure is maintained through donations.

Wiki, the Hawaiian word for 'quick' has become synonymous with openly editable knowledge base websites, whilst its popularity is one of the contributory factors in the decline of the Encyclopaedia Britannica's publishing model.  On the eve of its 15th birthday, the growth of the website is still as impressive as it was five years ago.  There are over 38 million articles (grown from 17 million in 2011), written in nearly 300 languages.  A pool of over 115,000 registered users keep the website's pages bang up to date and it is one of the ten most visited websites in the world with over 374 million unique visitors per month.  There's not a day goes past where I don't search for something on the website.

The popularity of its pages reflects the world's current events.  In the past week the give most visited pages have been:-

1st Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Highest grossing film in cinematic history
2nd Lemmy - The former frontman of Motörhead who died of cancer
3rd Steven Avery - The subject of the hit Netflix true crime series "Making of a Murderer"
4th Ethan Couch - Young US fugitive who broke his parole and went missing after posting pictures on social media (the related term "affluenza" ranks 12th)
5th Natalie Cole - Soul singer, daughter of Nat King Cole, who died last week

As you can see the popularity of articles tends to be dominated by deaths - with the very sad news of the passing of David Bowie and Alan Rickman this week you'd expect to see their pages appear in the top five in a week's time.  The two most visited pages in a single day have both been as a result of deaths - Steve Jobs (7.4 million views) and Michael Jackson (5.9 million).

The issue many brand holders face is that because it is open-access, anyone of the 115,000 users could potentially infringe on their IP through reputational damage or negative association of facts.  There have been many cases where high profile pages for brands or individuals have been edited, perhaps in jest, to cause infringements to intellectual property.  Such events are often referred to as "Vandalism", and are normally very quickly edited by the site volunteers.  Wikipedia's site structure is highly searchable and indexed, which does at least make it relatively easy for brand protection solutions to crawl for any potential infringing material.

In 2015 the English language version of Wikipedia was published as a book to form part of an art exhibition, running into 7,473 volumes of 700 pages each, which of course we're out of date the moment the first page was printed.  We may mock the website for sometimes being inaccurate and out of date, but the sheer scale of the content today is eye-watering.  Trying to ensure that it is kept relevant and updated is the job of volunteers and for that we should be very grateful.