Several news outlets this week reported research conducted last month by web traffic analysis company Hitwise . The company reported that Wikipedia's traffic and popularity had soared over the past year, raising the site to the second-most popular reference site on the internet, and most popular encyclopaedia overall.
Hitwise found that since the beginning of 2004, Wikipedia's share of the reference market had risen by 618 per cent. Back then, the site ranked 13th in Hitwise's education/reference category, but an inexorable rise in traffic has seen us overtake the likes of About.com, Encarta and Answers.com (which re-uses substantial amounts of Wikipedia content) to lie behind only Dictionary.com. Of all sites receiving traffic via search engines, Wikipedia has fared similarly well. In June 2004 our overall ranking according to Hitwise was 146; by April of this year it had risen to 33.
Hitwise also analysed the demographics of Wikipedia users, and found that there was an even split between male and female users, with those between 18 and 24 years old considerably more likely to visit the site. Interestingly, families with total incomes over 150,000 US Dollars were 34 per cent more likely to visit the site.
Search engine magazine www.searchenginewatch.com reported that one possible factor in the increase in traffic was a campaign by some bloggers to increase the Google ranking of Wikipedia's online poker pages, to combat link spam . However, Hitwise reported that their analysis offered no evidence that this was the case, with the most popular search terms leading web users to Wikipedia articles during their study being Terri Schiavo, Pope John Paul II and The Amityville Horror.
E-business magazine line56.com examined Wikipedia this week in an article considering the benefits and drawbacks of open source software . Starting with the benefits, the article noted that Wikipedia draws on the efforts of tens of thousands of volunteers, far greater in number that those working on the Encyclopædia Britannica, for example. And of course, being free, Wikipedia has a considerable price advantage over its traditionally-produced rivals.
However, the article said that these benefits are counterbalanced by the issue of quality. While the very large user base means that obvious vandalism is rapidly removed, edit wars and other content disputes mean that quality does not uniformly increase over time. "Anonymous bigots, cranks, and eccentrics [can] distort subjects beyond comprehension", said columnist Demir Barlas.
In the end, the article sat on the fence, declaring itself unconvinced either that Wikipedia was the encyclopaedia of the future or that it was a ludicrous idea. "It remains to be seen whether the communal/democratic creation of content, software, and knowledge can trump the efforts of an inspired few", said Barlas, quoting John Stuart Mill's aphorism that "with small men no great thing can really be accomplished".
The Times Higher Education Supplement this week took a look at Wikipedia (, requires registration). The article notes that the English Wikipedia alone has over 510,000 articles, compared to Britannica's 120,000, and says this has all been achieved "without a penny being paid for its contributions or an ounce of kudos lent to its contributors". Many would dispute the second part of that statement, with considerable kudos given to the project by its many supporters around the world.
Considering the views of Wikipedia detractors, the THES quotes long-time critic Robert McHenry, a former Britannica editor, who accuses the project of cherishing an "irrelevant principle - openness". Internet journalist Andrew Orlowski, meanwhile, describes Wikipedians as "the Khmer Rouge in diapers" with an unfounded belief in the "mystical power" of the internet.
The article does not take a side on whether the project will tend towards excellence or mediocrity over time, but does point out that one major strength of the project is its contemporaneousness, noting that Wikipedia's coverage of recent events is "far ahead" of the opposition.
Larry Sanger, formerly closely associated with the project, is quoted as saying there is a need for greater deference to expertise, and that a more traditional quality control mechanism should be sought. Jimmy Wales responded robustly, saying that "my basic response is that he is completely wrong about everything". Wales agreed that expertise should be acknowledged, but said the important thing was to find a way of doing this that was compatible with the basic principles of the project.
Newspapers around the world continue to use Wikipedia as a source of information. The Guardian once again rated a Wikipedia page as one of 'six of the best' on a subject - this time it was Friday 13; whimsical columnist Smallweed referenced Heavy metal umlaut in the same paper later in the week , while diarist Marina Hyde also recently insinuated that Nicky Campbell himself may have been responsible for an anonymous but glowing edit to his article . In Ghana, news website GhanaWeb referenced Crown Prince and Heir apparent in an article considering a possible misuse of the title by a chief's son in the traditional succession system of the region of Gonjaland . And in New Zealand, independent news outlet Scoop looked to Wikipedia to clear up the confusion about what Neoconservatism is , saying that Wikipedia is "much more upfront and makes far greater sense" than WordNet's "rather unhelpful definition".