20 years of Wikipedia: Free knowledge with challenges


The online encyclopedia is still one of the most popular websites in the world. But the platform also has problems.

20 years of Wikipedia: Free knowledge with challenges

One of the largest international internet projects turns 20 today. According to Similarweb, the online lexicon Wikipedia is the 9th most popular website in the world. Over 300 languages are now represented on the site – this brings the entire Wikipedia to an impressive 55 million articles. With 6.2 million articles, the English version is best positioned, the German Wikipedia still has 2.5 million articles.

The most important non-commercial service in Internet history began on January 15, 2001, like so many online projects, with the programmers' greeting: “Hello World”. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales typed the two words into new wiki software that was supposed to enable an online lexicon to be set up quickly.


The experiment with the wiki software was actually only intended as a reservoir where the first ideas for the online encyclopedia were to be collected on the Internet, says the Austrian economist Leonhard Dobusch, who did research on Wikipedia. “But it soon became apparent that this collecting basin was the really exciting thing. While the encyclopedia originally planned by Wales failed very quickly, Wikipedia developed rapidly, attracted a large number of volunteers and volunteers and within weeks had already Thousands of items produced. “

German Wikipedia is fourth largest edition

In the book “Wikipedia Story” by long-time insider Pavel Richter, Wikipedia co-founder Wales praised the role of the German-speaking community: “Shortly after we started German Wikipedia, it turned out that Germans apparently have a special relationship with the idea behind Wikipedia. How else can we explain that German is only 13th on the list of the most widely spoken languages worldwide, but German Wikipedia is the fourth largest of all editions? “

If only the articles by human authors were counted, the German Wikipedia would even be directly behind the English edition at the top. The versions in second place (Cebuano, a language spoken in the Philippines) and three (Swedish) were inflated with texts by the controversial software robots of the Swede Lars Sverker Johansson.

Financing through donations

The German-speaking community has also made a major contribution to the discarding of all ideas for commercializing Wikipedia. “Nobody became a billionaire because of them, there is no advertising,” says Richter, who from 2011 to 2014 was a board member and managing director of the German Wikimedia support company. Initially, Wikipedia was only viewed as an internet project by a few nerds. Established reference works would have ignored them at first, and then fought vigorously.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which funds the online lexicon infrastructure and pays more than 100 programmers, collects over $ 120 million annually in donations. The German sponsorship association Wikimedia Germany has over 80,000 members and an annual budget of around 18 million euros.

Defects and quality control

Errors occur again and again. that goes from turning numbers to serious misinformation. For 15 years, the English Wikipedia made the false claim that 200,000 Poles had been gassed in a German concentration camp in Warsaw. There is no doubt that the Warsaw concentration camp existed, but it was not an extermination camp, as the article said.

“It remains a dark shadow on the history of Wikipedia to have failed in this central case over such a long period of time,” writes Richter. After all, the article about the Warsaw camp is also proof that sooner or later the quality control will work for important Wikipedia articles.

However, there are also so-called “Wikipedia wars” in which authors repeatedly edit a page over a long period of time and then revert to the previous version. An example can be found in the entry on “Jim Button and Lukas the Engine Driver” on German Wikipedia. For almost 10 years, the image of a performance has been removed and added again here at regular intervals. It shows an actor with “Black Face”, which is criticized by a group of authors.

Share of women of only 10 percent

Co-founder Wales often emphasizes that functioning Wikipedia communities are a prerequisite for quality assurance: “Communities in which the members treat each other in a respectful and friendly manner; communities that are open to people of every religion, gender, political orientation and social Origin.”

20 years of Wikipedia: Free knowledge with challenges

However, Wikipedia has not gotten out of hand with this challenge for years. Around 90 percent of the authors are men, most of them from western industrial nations. With the “WomenEdit” project, women in the community network in order to advertise more women authors.

As before, however, no gender-appropriate language is used in German Wikipedia. In the set of rules it says on forms like the Binnen-I: “Wikipedia uses such forms in articles only in proper names and in literal quotations.”


An impulse for the future viability of Wikipedia comes from the German-speaking community, namely Wikidata. “That is the idea behind Wikipedia only for a machine-readable knowledge database,” explains Richter in an interview with the dpa. The future will belong to artificial intelligence. “Everyone agrees on that.” With Wikidata, a large and important basis, namely structured machine-readable knowledge, is placed on a non-profit basis right from the start and supported by the power of a strong community. “That means that we as a society do not become dependent on Google, Facebook and Alibaba and other internet giants.”

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