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Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) is a copyleft encyclopedia that is collaboratively developed using wiki software. Wikipedia is managed and operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. In addition to standard encyclopedic knowledge, Wikipedia includes information more often associated with almanacs and gazetteers, as well as coverage of current events.

All original material contributed to Wikipedia is free content under the GNU Free Documentation License, meaning that it may be freely used, freely edited, freely copied and freely redistributed subject to the restrictions of that license.

Wikipedia's content is designed by its users. Pages are always subject to editing, so no article is ever finished. As such, Wikipedia is subject to some unique hardships [1] that do not affect traditional encyclopedias. It has self-healing systems in place to deal with these challenges, and even a page designed to explain them [1].

Wikipedia began as an English language project on January 15, 2001, and soon gained its first other language, French, on March 23, 2001. There has since been a great deal of effort devoted to making it multilingual, and it currently contains over 310,000 articles in English and over 530,000 in other languages (as of July 2004 [1]).

Table of contents
1 History
2 Antecedents
3 Essential characteristics
4 Vandalism
5 Policies
6 Personnel
7 Software and hardware
8 Sister projects
9 Downloading the database
10 Awards and nominations
11 External links


Apart from downtimes caused by technical problems and upgrades, Wikipedia has been in operation since January 10, 2001. See History of Wikipedia.


The idea of collecting all of the world's knowledge under a single roof goes back to the ancient Library of Alexandria and Pergamon. The modern notion of the general purpose, widely distributed, printed encyclopedia dates from shortly before Denis Diderot and the 18th century encyclopedists.

The idea of using automated machinery beyond the printing press to build a more useful encyclopedia can be traced to H. G. Wells' short story World Brain (1937) and Vannevar Bush's future vision of the microfilm based Memex in As We May Think (1945). An important milestone along this path is also Ted Nelson's Project Xanadu (1960).

With the development of the Internet, many people attempted to develop Internet encyclopedia projects. Free software exponent Richard Stallman articulated the usefulness of a "Free Universal Encyclopedia and Learning Resource" in 1999. He described Wikipedia's formation as "exciting news", and his Free Software Foundation encourages people "to visit and contribute to the site".

Essential characteristics

There are three essential characteristics of the Wikipedia project, which together define its niche on the World Wide Web:
  1. It is, or aims to become, primarily an encyclopedia.
  2. It is a wiki, in that it can be edited by anyone (except for banned users, and excluding protected pages).
  3. It is open content, and uses the copyleft GNU Free Documentation License.

If you wish to become a Wikipedia contributor, please take a look at the page entitled Welcome, newcomers.


One pertinent issue on Wikipedia is "
vandalism": silly or offensive edits of the site's articles. For example, Sarah Lane, presenter of "Sarah's Blog Report", part of The Screen Savers TV program on TechTV, "vandalized" the Wikipedia page on monkeypox live on air [1] - leading to a surge of vandalism on that page by viewers of the TV show. Lane later wrote that: "Although this excites me in its ease and simplicity, it's a little frightening. I mean, what if I had instead written 'My boss is a big fat **** and his phone number is ****'? Sure, somebody would delete it, but this calls for some seriously dedicated moderators." [1]

"Because Wikipedia is a radically free, open project, it attracts an anarchistic element," Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, admitted to Wired News. "Fortunately, most of us are willing to take a definite stand against vandalism ... and to get rid of it instantly."

According to a Wall Street Journal article from February 2004, researchers have found that instances of vandalism at Wikipedia are often quickly resolved:

Recent research by a team from IBM found that most vandalism suffered by Wikipedia had been repaired within five minutes. That's fast: "We were surprised at how often we found vandalism, and then surprised again at how fast it was fixed," says Martin Wattenberg, a researcher in the IBM TJ Watson Research Center, in Cambridge, Mass. [1]


Wikipedia's participants (Wikipedians) commonly follow, and enforce, a few basic policies.


Wikipedia has been edited by thousands of people (referred to as Wikipedians). There is no editor-in-chief, as such. The founders of Wikipedia were Jimmy Wales (former CEO of the small
Internet company Bomis, Inc.) and Larry Sanger, and the wikipedia.com domain is registered to Wales. For the first thirteen months, Sanger was paid by Bomis to work on the project. Sanger was said to have taken a role of mediator at times, making decisions on issues that aroused contention. This was based not on formal authority, but on demands from users at large. Funding ran out for his position, leading to his resignation in February of 2002. Other current and past Bomis employees who have done some work on the encyclopedia include Tim Shell, one of the co-founders of Bomis and its current CEO, and programmers Jason Richey and Toan Vo.

Software and hardware

The software that originally ran Wikipedia was UseModWiki, written by Clifford Adams ("Phase I"). At first it required CamelCase for links; soon it was also possible to use the current linking method with double brackets. In January 2002, Wikipedia began running on a PHP wiki engine, which used an underlying MySQL database, added many features (and abolished the behaviour of CamelCase words automatically becoming links), and was specifically written for the Wikipedia project by Magnus Manske ("Phase II"). After a while, the site started to slow down to such an extent that editing became almost impossible. Several rounds of modifications to the software provided only temporary relief. Then Lee Daniel Crocker rewrote the software from scratch. The new version, a major improvement, has been running since July 2002. This "Phase III" software is now called MediaWiki, and is used by many other wiki projects. Brion Vibber has since taken the lead in fixing bugs and tuning the database for performance.

In late 2003, server outages began to seriously diminish the productivity of Wikipedia contributors. Many reported difficulty editing articles as a result of time-outs and severe slowness. This was due to congestion on the single server that was running all the Wikipedias at the time.

As of June 2004, the project runs on nine dedicated servers, located in Florida. This new configuration includes a single database server and four web servers, all running Fedora Core. The web servers serve pages as requested, performing page rendering for all the Wikipedias. To increase speed further, rendered pages for anonymous users are cached in a filesystem until invalidated, allowing page rendering to be skipped entirely for most common page accesses. Cached requests are served by two Squid servers; the new servers are linked via two file system NFS servers (one primary and one backup — the primary NFS server is currently also the email server).

Sister projects

Wikipedia has the following sister projects: There are many other conceptually related projects, including Wikitravel.

Downloading the database

Anyone who wishes to use Wikipedia's open content may at any time download a nearly-current version of the entire article database to use for any purpose, within the terms of the GFDL. [1]

A number of sites, such as Wikinfo, "4reference.net" and "nationmaster" have used this to mirror or fork Wikipedia's content.

Awards and nominations


External links

Related sites


Peer-revieweded articles

Reviews, endorsements, and discussion of Wikipedia