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As Wikipedia Turns 15, Here Are 15 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About It

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that any idiot can edit (and many do), turns 15 today. From its humble beginnings in 2001, it has grown into one of the ten most popular websites in the world, and the go-to source for millions of kids looking to cheat on their homework.

Like many teenagers, this 15-year-old has had its share of ups and downs over the years; now it looks like it may even make it to full-fledged adulthood. Here’s a quick overview of the world’s most popular reference site, in 15 bite-sized chunks.

1. The most edited Wikipedia article of all time is the one for our 43rd president, George W. Bush. It has been changed 45,862 times. Number two: The wiki entry for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), at 42,836.

(Photo: Yahoo Sports)

2. Wikipedia has more than 27 million registered users but only about 1,300 administrators. These super-users have the power to banish other lesser users, delete entire entries, or lock down entries from being edited. Do not make them angry.

3. Wikipedia was founded either by Internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales or by Wales and academic Larry Sanger, depending on the Wikipedia article you choose to believe. In 2005, Wales was publicly chastised for editing his own Wiki entry (a no-no) to remove Sanger’s name from the history of its inception.

(Image: Internet Archive)

4. In the dot-com era, Wales founded Bomis (rhymes with promise), a subscription-based adult-oriented startup famous for the “Bomis Babe Report.” To this day, Wales vigorously denies he was ever in the pornography business.

5. In 2006, several members of the US Congress (or their staff) were caught editing their own Wikipedia entries to cast themselves in a more favorable light. Among them: Vice President Joe Biden.

6. Popular sites that rely on the same technology as Wikipedia include the Star Wars-based Wookieepedia and Memory Alpha (all about Star Trek). Both use Wikia, a for-profit wiki-hosting company started by Wales and Andela Beesley Starling in 2004.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

7. Wikipedia holds an annual global conference called Wikimania. Last year’s event in Mexico City drew 800 attendees. This year’s takes place in June in Esino Lario, Italy, an alpine village near the Swiss border with a population of 772 (according to Wikipedia, natch).

8. In 2007 prominent Wikipedia administrator Ryan Jordan, who went by the pseudonym Essjay, was exposed as a fraud. Essjay claimed to have a Ph.D in theology and a position teaching graduate students at a private university; it was later revealed that he based at least some of his edits on material culled from Catholicism for Dummies.  

9. In 2007, Sanger left Wikipedia to start his own online encyclopedia called Citizendium, which relies on information vetted by actual experts. That wiki now boasts nearly 17,000 articles, making it approximately 0.0034 percent the size of the English-language Wikipedia.

(Photo: Yahoo News)

10. Despite frequent criticism of Wikipedia’s accuracy, a 2005 study comparing it to the then-237-year-old Encylopaedia Britannica found them equally reliable, more or less. In 2012, the venerable reference work went entirely digital.

11. Upset with Wikipedia’s alleged liberal bias, cultural conservatives formed their own Conservapedia wiki in 2006. The entries on global warming, evolution, and President Obama remain particularly enlightening, though probably not in the way their authors intended.

12. Wikipedia and/or its editors have been sued multiple times for defamation, including by billionaire hedge-fund manager Louis Bacon, literary agent Barbara Baeur, and Sylvia Scott Gibson, author of Latawnya, the Naughty Horse, Learns to Say “No” to Drugs. The wiki almost always prevails, thanks to the safe harbor provisions of the Communications Decency Act.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

13. In 2013, an asteroid discovered by Ukranian Ukrainian astronomers was named “274301 Wikipedia.” Unlike its namesake, it cannot be edited by other astronomers.

14. Wikipedia has reported the untimely demise of several celebrities, such as Senator Ted Kennedy, comedian Sinbad, and under-clothed pop siren Miley Cyrus, all of whom turned out to be not quite dead at the time.

15. Wikipedia’s nonprofit sibling, the Wikimedia Foundation, has raised more than $250 million over the past 15 years through what seems like an unending fundraising campaign. The foundation has a stated goal of raising $100 million over the next 10 years. You can contribute here.

Dan Tynan often starts his research at Wikipedia, but he usually doesn’t stop there. Visit him on Twitter.