Against extraordinary odds, Wikipedia turned 10 years old Jan. 15, celebrating a decade of providing free information about almost any topic conceivable.
Wikipedia, managed by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, launched by Jimmy Wales in 2001 as a project to allow volunteer editors to contribute information for free.
The Website has lured more than 400 million users worldwide, including 77 million unique visitors in November, according to comScore. These users can peruse more than than 17 million articles in 270 languages.
Pew Internet & American Life Project said the percentage of American adults who use Wikipedia has increased from 25 percent in February 2007 to 42 percent in May 2010, which means roughly 53 percent of adult Internet users visit the Website.
“In the scope of general online activities, using Wikipedia is more popular than sending instant messages (done by 47 pecent of Internet users) or rating a product, service, or person (32 percent), but is less popular than using social network sites (61 percent) or watching videos on sites like YouTube (66 percent),” Pew wrote Jan. 13.
There have been bumps along the way, including hoaxes perpetrated by bad actors and accidental inaccuracies. Most recently, Wikipedia reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been killed.
To staunch the spread of misinformation, Wikipedia is according special editing honors to trusted editors. There have also been allegations of censorship.
In June 2009, Wales, Wikipedia’s administrators and The New York Times flushed information about Times journalist David Rohde, who was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, from Wikipedia. They argued it was to save his life.
There have been highlights, too. Wikipedia last year managed to raise enough donations to keep feeding users information ad-free, most recently raising $16 million from 500,000 people around the world.
What do the next 10 years hold for Wikipedia?
Wales and Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that manages Wikipedia, have told The New York Times and other publications that the organization hopes to boost the diversity of editors, and with that, increase contributors from different regions.
Specifically, they want to see more Wikipedia use in southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. To wit, Wikipedia is opening an office in India, its first ever outside the United States.
They also want to lure a more women editors, as well as more older people. Currently, 80 percent of Wikipedia editors are in their late 20s and male.
While usability will be improved, Wales told ReadWriteWeb that he doesn’t want to try to make Wikipedia a social network like Facebook or MySpace. Rather, social tools will be used to help Wikipedia editors collaborate better to improve the Website.
In other words, Wales envisions more of the same for Wikipedia, albeit with more articles in more languages, to serve more people all over the world. For free.