English Wikipedia reaches one million articles

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Wednesday, March 1, 2006

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Today, at 23:09 UTC, the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia reached the point of having over one million articles written in English. In comparison, the largest traditional English-language encyclopedia, Encyclopædia Britannica, has 120,000 articles. This milestone marks an important point in Wikipedia's short history.

There was minor confusion over the millionth article; it was first held to be Jordanhill Railway Station, then a brief biography of baseball player Aaron Ledesma. The millionth article was later confirmed to be the former, started by Wikipedia contributor Nach0king (Ewan Macdonald). "While I am, of course, delighted at being the one to hit this milestone, I must confess, along with many others I timed my contributions tonight to give me a chance at being the lucky one," he wrote on his Wikipedia user page.

Jimmy Wales commented that "We are thrilled that our millionth article in English is about the Jordanhill railway station. This is not something which would appear in a traditional encyclopedia, and it shows how Wikipedia reflects the needs and interests of people everywhere, and not just the dictates of what academics and cultural mavens claim is worthy of an encyclopedia."

Celebrations

The milestone was celebrated by a party on the Freenode IRC network, where Wikimedia's official IRC channels can be found. The milestone was preceded by an announcement to all 30,000 Freenode users, that a separate channel, #wikipedia-countdown, was being set aside for a celebration. In that channel, an IRC script, ran by Wikipedian ems, called off the article numbers as they passed by. A total of 733 different people joined the channel over the course of the afternoon. The tension was high when the millionth article was reached; in the first 40 seconds afterwards, chatting was briefly enabled in the channel, and over 3,000 lines of celebratory chat filled the room; chatting had to be disabled until everyone had calmed down.

About Wikipedia

Wikipedia was founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales, the CEO and co-founder of Bomis, Inc., and Larry Sanger, an employee of Bomis. Wikipedia began as a complementary project to Nupedia, which was created by Wales to be a free internet encyclopedia. Nupedia was open like Wikipedia but had a much more complex editing system. One day, Sanger made a proposal on the Nupedia mailing list exploring the possibility of a Wiki-based encyclopedia. Out of this proposal, Wikipedia was born. Sanger was appointed editor-in-chief of Wikipedia by Wales, and the project was underwritten by Bomis. Nupedia was eventually scrapped.

Wikipedia has grown immensely in five short years and is no longer under the control of Bomis. The success of Wikipedia and some of the earlier sister projects lead Wales to create a non-profit organization to run them, called the Wikimedia Foundation. Wikipedia has a user base of around one million registered users and contains over three million pages altogether. It has become one of the world's top 25 websites, as ranked by Alexa Internet, and has come to the attention of the media worldwide.

A source of negative publicity for Wikipedia in November 2005 was the John Seigenthaler Sr. controversy, in which a then-unknown vandal created a biographical article about Seigenthaler on Wikipedia that contained numerous false and defamatory statements. This article went unnoticed for several months until it was discovered by Victor S. Johnson, Jr., a friend of Seigenthaler's, who brought it to his attention. Another friend corrected the erroneous information. Seigenthaler contacted Wales about the problem and later wrote an op-ed column for USA Today about the incident, which led to much unfavorable coverage of Wikipedia. However Wikipedia also experienced some of its strongest growth in usage shortly after his op-ed.

In December 2005, a more positive story about Wikipedia appeared in Nature magazine, describing a study that reported Wikipedia's science articles to be slightly less accurate as those in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Since many Wikipedia pages are not articles, the number of articles in Wikipedia depends on how an article is defined. To be counted as an article, a Wikipedia page must be in the article namespace and contain at least one internal link. This definition will include some stub articles. The number of articles would be about 8% smaller under the alternative definition that an article must also contain at least 200 characters of text.

The next largest Wikipedia is the German version, which contains over 350,000 articles. Currently there are Wikipedias in 125 different languages, containing 3.3 million articles in total.

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