Insights

Wikipedia’s Birthday: The world’s largest collab turns 20 

Wikipedia might not be trusted by your university professor, but the world’s largest free encyclopedia is more relevant than ever. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers spend their time collectively documenting every corner of human knowledge, including history happening in real time.

The free website celebrates 20 years of existence on 15 January. It plans to commemorate two decades of global efforts to support free knowledge, open collaboration and trust on the internet, which is fitting in our time of disinformation and polarisation.

“Wikipedia has evolved from a seemingly impossible idea into a sprawling testament to humanity—a place where we can collaborate, share, and learn about anything and everything,” said Katherine Maher, CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation. “It is a global effort of volunteers who elevate knowledge and cooperation over conflict and self-interest. We are committed to preserving the integrity and value of information at a time when the world needs it most.”

Founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, Wikipedia is one of the 20 most popular sites on the Internet, and its pages are generally favoured by Google, snatching up the top search results. Anyone interested in changing an article is allowed, and people with more experience can gain more privileges. Some editors have specialities, others are generalists, and they all donate their time to keep the resource clean and informative in multiple languages. There are no firm rules for becoming a Wikipedia editor, but many follow a few basic tenets which include adopting a neutral point of view and each editor must be treated with respect.

“I think the large number of editors helps to make sure different viewpoints are considered,” said Wikipedia Editor Molly White, who has put in 12 hours of editing on the page and related wikis in the last week. “Any changes must be carefully sourced, and there are constant discussions to ensure neutral tone and appropriate weight to topics within the page. … It is the lower-profile pages that are more susceptible.”

Wikipedia articles are ever-evolving, and will continue to be a fluid draft of history moving forward. Their goal is to stick as closely to dispassionate facts as possible while regularly fighting off attempts to insert opinions and disinformation.

Despite this Wikipedia still has its fair share of errors and incorrect information, with a long history of hidden pranks, hoax entries and vandalism.

What a lot of us love Wikipedia for, however, is not just the knowledge it offers, but the endless entertainment of its bizarre pages that can send us into a Wiki-hole.

Here are just some of our favourites:

  1. The History of the High Five
  2. Toilet Paper Orientation – settling the over vs under debate once and for all
  3. Witch Windows – appears to come from a folk belief that witches cannot fly their broomsticks through the tilted windows
  4. List of Unexplained Sounds
  5. List of Inventors Killed by their Own Inventions 
  6. List of Common Misconceptions 
  7. The Great Emu War of 1932
  8. The Dancing Plague of 1518
  9. The Diary of Robert Shields – a man who wrote a new diary journal every five minutes from 1972 to 1997
  10. Jokes on The Simpsons that became real products