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Wikipedia[note 3] is a multilingual free online encyclopedia written and maintained by a community of volunteers, known as Wikipedians, through open collaboration and using a wiki-based editing system. Wikipedia is the largest and most-read reference work in history.[3] It is consistently one of the 10 most popular websites ranked by Similarweb and formerly Alexa; as of 2022,[update] Wikipedia was ranked the 5th most popular site in the world.[4] It is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, an American non-profit organization funded mainly through donations.[5]




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Various collaborative online encyclopedias were attempted before the start of Wikipedia, but with limited success.[24] Wikipedia began as a complementary project for Nupedia, a free online English-language encyclopedia project whose articles were written by experts and reviewed under a formal process.[25] It was founded on March 9, 2000, under the ownership of Bomis, a web portal company. Its main figures were Bomis CEO Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, editor-in-chief for Nupedia and later Wikipedia.[1][26] Nupedia was initially licensed under its own Nupedia Open Content License, but before Wikipedia was founded, Nupedia switched to the GNU Free Documentation License at the urging of Richard Stallman.[27] Wales is credited with defining the goal of making a publicly editable encyclopedia,[28][29] while Sanger is credited with the strategy of using a wiki to reach that goal.[30] On January 10, 2001, Sanger proposed on the Nupedia mailing list to create a wiki as a "feeder" project for Nupedia.[31]


Though the various language editions are held to global policies such as "neutral point of view", they diverge on some points of policy and practice, most notably on whether images that are not licensed freely may be used under a claim of fair use.[168][169]


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]


Wikipedia has a ".mw-parser-output .vanchor>:target.vanchor-textbackground-color:#b1d2ffVolunteer Response Team" that uses Znuny, a free and open-source software fork of OTRS[261] to handle queries without having to reveal the identities of the involved parties. This is used, for example, in confirming the permission for using individual images and other media in the project.[262]


In May 2014, Wikimedia Foundation named Lila Tretikov as its second executive director, taking over for Sue Gardner.[276] The Wall Street Journal reported on May 1, 2014, that Tretikov's information technology background from her years at University of California offers Wikipedia an opportunity to develop in more concentrated directions guided by her often repeated position statement that, "Information, like air, wants to be free."[277][278] The same Wall Street Journal article reported these directions of development according to an interview with spokesman Jay Walsh of Wikimedia, who "said Tretikov would address that issue (paid advocacy) as a priority. 'We are really pushing toward more transparency ... We are reinforcing that paid advocacy is not welcome.' Initiatives to involve greater diversity of contributors, better mobile support of Wikipedia, new geo-location tools to find local content more easily, and more tools for users in the second and third world are also priorities", Walsh said.[277]


The operation of Wikipedia depends on MediaWiki, a custom-made, free and open source wiki software platform written in PHP and built upon the MySQL database system.[284] The software incorporates programming features such as a macro language, variables, a transclusion system for templates, and URL redirection.[285] MediaWiki is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) and it is used by all Wikimedia projects, as well as many other wiki projects.[284][286] Originally, Wikipedia ran on UseModWiki written in Perl by Clifford Adams (Phase I), which initially required CamelCase for article hyperlinks; the present double bracket style was incorporated later.[287] Starting in January 2002 (Phase II), Wikipedia began running on a PHP wiki engine with a MySQL database; this software was custom-made for Wikipedia by Magnus Manske. The Phase II software was repeatedly modified to accommodate the exponentially increasing demand. In July 2002 (Phase III), Wikipedia shifted to the third-generation software, MediaWiki, originally written by Lee Daniel Crocker.


When the project was started in 2001, all text in Wikipedia was covered by the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), a copyleft license permitting the redistribution, creation of derivative works, and commercial use of content while authors retain copyright of their work.[329] The GFDL was created for software manuals that come with free software programs licensed under the GPL. This made it a poor choice for a general reference work: for example, the GFDL requires the reprints of materials from Wikipedia to come with a full copy of the GFDL text.[330] In December 2002, the Creative Commons license was released; it was specifically designed for creative works in general, not just for software manuals. The Wikipedia project sought the switch to the Creative Commons.[331] Because the GFDL and Creative Commons were incompatible, in November 2008, following the request of the project, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) released a new version of the GFDL designed specifically to allow Wikipedia to relicense its content to CC BY-SA by August 1, 2009.[332] In April 2009, Wikipedia and its sister projects held a community-wide referendum which decided the switch in June 2009.[333][334][335][336]


The handling of media files (e.g. image files) varies across language editions. Some language editions, such as the English Wikipedia, include non-free image files under fair use doctrine,[337] while the others have opted not to, in part because of the lack of fair use doctrines in their home countries (e.g. in Japanese copyright law). Media files covered by free content licenses (e.g. Creative Commons' CC BY-SA) are shared across language editions via Wikimedia Commons repository, a project operated by the Wikimedia Foundation.[338] Wikipedia's accommodation of varying international copyright laws regarding images has led some to observe that its photographic coverage of topics lags behind the quality of the encyclopedic text.[339]


Collections of Wikipedia articles have been published on optical discs. An English version released in 2006 contained about 2,000 articles.[347] The Polish-language version from 2006 contains nearly 240,000 articles,[348] the German-language version from 2007/2008 contains over 620,000 articles,[349] and the Spanish-language version from 2011 contains 886,000 articles.[350] Additionally, "Wikipedia for Schools", the Wikipedia series of CDs / DVDs produced by Wikipedia and SOS Children, is a free selection from Wikipedia designed for education towards children eight to seventeen.[351]


Bloomberg Businessweek reported in July 2014 that Google's Android mobile apps have dominated the largest share of global smartphone shipments for 2013, with 78.6% of market share over their next closest competitor in iOS with 15.2% of the market.[363] At the time of the appointment of new Wikimedia Foundation executive Lila Tretikov, Wikimedia representatives made a technical announcement concerning the number of mobile access systems in the market seeking access to Wikipedia. Soon after, the representatives stated that Wikimedia would be applying an all-inclusive approach to accommodate as many mobile access systems as possible in its efforts for expanding general mobile access, including BlackBerry and the Windows Phone system, making market share a secondary issue.[278] The Android app for Wikipedia was released on July 23, 2014, to over 500,000 installs and generally positive reviews, scoring over four of a possible five in a poll of approximately 200,000 users downloading from Google.[364][365] The version for iOS was released on April 3, 2013, to similar reviews.[366]


Wikipedia Zero was an initiative of the Wikimedia Foundation to expand the reach of the encyclopedia to the developing countries by partnering with mobile operators to allow free access.[370][371] It was discontinued in February 2018 due to lack of participation from mobile operators.[370]


During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wikipedia's coverage of the pandemic and fight against misinformation received international media attention, and brought an increase in Wikipedia readership overall.[386][387][388][389] Noam Cohen wrote in Wired that Wikipedia's effort to combat misinformation related to the pandemic was different from other major websites, opining, "Unless Twitter, Facebook and the others can learn to address misinformation more effectively, Wikipedia will remain the last best place on the Internet."[387] In October 2020, the World Health Organization announced they were freely licensing its infographics and other materials on Wikimedia projects.[390] There were nearly 7,000 COVID-19 related Wikipedia articles across 188 different Wikipedias, as of November 2021.[update][391][392]


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