Wikipedia depends on donations for it’s existence. It’s well run and has been very useful to many people over the years. I was recently in contact with Samantha Lien, Communications Manager at the Wikimedia Foundation. Samantha was kind enough to discuss Wikipedia with me.
Mike: Can you tell me how Wikipedia got it’s name? Obviously, the wiki model blended with encyclopedia, but what made that the perfect name?
Samantha: “Wiki” refers to the wiki software that Wikipedia is built on. It’s actually Hawaiian for “fast” or “quick.” The wiki software was first created by a computer programmer named Ward Cunningham in 1995. “Wiki” combined with “-pedia” to reflect the free, online, collaboratively-written encyclopedia we know today.
Mike: While everyone is familiar with Wikipedia, can you explain more about what the wiki model is and the benefits?
In a world with endless information of varying quality, Wikipedia aims to bring reliable, neutral information on millions of topics to every single person. Wikipedia is written by volunteer editors, who collaborate to write articles on almost any subject area — from history, to science, to the arts. Over the years, editors have developed various policies and guidelines that guide their work on Wikipedia. These guidelines differ based on the language version, but generally they have three core content policies in common: (1) neutral point of view (2) verifiability and (3) no original research. Information on Wikipedia must be presented from a neutral point of view, representing significant views fairly and without bias. It must also be backed up or verified by reliable sources, allowing readers to check the origin of information by viewing the citations at the bottom of every article. Finally, Wikipedia does not publish original research. Instead, information on Wikipedia must be attributable to published, reliable sources that have already been evaluated and are known for reliability and accuracy.
Wikipedia is based on an open model: every edit make to Wikipedia is publicly available, so anyone can go back and evaluate how an article has changed over time. It is constantly changing with the world around it. Wikipedia invites all to participate in the creation of knowledge, and strives to make free knowledge a reality for everyone.
Mike: How many views does the site get per month and how are you able to handle all of the traffic?
Wikipedia is viewed more than 15 billion times every month. Collectively, the Wikimedia sites are accessed by more than a billion unique devices each month. This high volume of web traffic is sustained by about 1200 servers, which are run by the Wikimedia Foundation. We have an Operations team of about 20 people who keep all of this running smoothly.
Mike: It still costs money to run a non-profit organization. Where does the funding come from?
The Wikimedia Foundation is funded primarily through small donations from millions of individuals around the world. The average donation is about $15 USD.
We also receive donations through institutional grants and gifts (see benefactors). Every contribution is valuable, and we are grateful that so many people find value in Wikipedia and want to sustain its future.
Mike: What is the Wikimedia Foundation? What other Wikimedia projects exist?
The Wikimedia Foundation is the non-profit organization that supports and operates Wikipedia and its sister projects. These sister projects include Wikimedia Commons, Wikidata, and Wikivoyage, among others. You can find a full list of all twelve Wikimedia projects, here: https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Our_projects.
At the Wikimedia Foundation, we keep the Wikimedia sites fast, secure, and accessible no matter where you are. We support local communities of volunteers around the world with grants and programs to improve and enrich the knowledge on the Wikimedia sites. We develop programs and initiatives to expand access and support free knowledge globally. We defend our users and the Wikimedia sites when they are threatened legally or otherwise. We do this and more to support our vision — a world in which everyone can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.
Mike: What ties, if any, does the Wikimedia Foundation have to MediaWiki, the free and open-source wiki software?
Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia free knowledge projects run on MediaWiki, a free open source software written in PHP. This means that anyone can use and re-use the code produced on MediaWiki.
MediaWiki was first launched in 2002 by software developer and Wikipedia contributor Magnus Manske. Lee Daniel Cocker rewrote it later that year to help scale the software. MediaWiki is used by several other projects of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and by many other independent wikis around the world, including NASA.
Mike: Does Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, have any for profit ventures?
Jimmy Wales does have several for profit ventures, including Wikia and The People’s Operator.
Although Jimmy continues to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, we are not affiliated with his ventures outside of this role.