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Data: Wikimedia; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

What began as a free alternative to World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica has become one of the biggest repositories of basic information and a testament to the power of the open web.

Why it matters: Almost no one has a traditional set of encyclopedias anymore. As Wikipedia turns 20 today, it's worth taking a look at the rise of the massive site and the impact it has had.

Flashback: Wikipedia debuted on Jan. 15, 2001, as the brainchild of Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, who gave the site its name, a portmanteau of wiki — derived from the Hawaiian for "quick" and then already in use to refer to a family of user-editable websites — and encyclopedia.

By the numbers:

  • Wikipedia is among the top 15 sites on the internet.
  • There are 55 million articles, across 300 languages.
  • More than 280,000 volunteers help add to the site and keep it updated.
  • Wikipedia is edited 350 times per minute and read more than 8000 times a second. 
  • Wikipedia is accessed by 1.5 billion unique devices every month and read more than 15 billion times every month. 
  • Roughly 89% of articles on Wikipedia are in languages other than English. 
  • Most vandalism (edits that do not meet Wikipedia’s reliability and neutrality standards) is addressed within five minutes on Wikipedia. 
  • Wikipedia is supported by nearly 7 million donors, with the average donation being about $15.

Between the lines: In a world where basic facts are often the subject of partisan disagreement, Wikipedia has emerged as the rare site that is widely trusted across ideological lines and is also a go-to for populating information panels on Google and other major search and portal sites.

  • "We're about building a shared understanding of the world together," Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said on a conference call with journalists. "We want to bring everyone together for a thoughtful discussion and debate, to understand the world, to learn before having an opinion. And we know how to have difficult conversations on hard topics.”

Yes, but: Wikipedia has plenty of notable weak spots, including the lack of diversity among those who edit pages.

  • That translates to a fair amount of blind spots, especially for people of color, trans people and those from other underrepresented groups.
  • And, while generally a reliable source of information on many topics, it can be unreliable at any given moment on any topic. Its strongest virtue — that anyone can edit it — can also be its biggest weakness.

Go deeper

D.C.-Beijing tensions are shifting markets

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. markets stand to lose $2 trillion in value if D.C. and Beijing drift further apart.

Why it matters: Political chasms are showing up in new securities regulations that put companies and investors in a bind. The rules are also another reflection of how much relations between the world’s largest economies have cooled, even as they remain economically interdependent. 

47 mins ago - Health
Axios Investigates

Documents reveal the secrecy of America's drug pricing matrix

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

American businesses spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year on prescription drugs, and the bills keep getting bigger. But some of the companies promising to help rein in those costs prevent employers from looking under the hood.

Why it matters: Documents provided to Axios reveal a new layer of secrecy within the maze of American drug pricing — one in which firms that manage drug coverage for hundreds of employers, representing millions of workers, obscure the details of their work and make it difficult to figure out whether they're actually providing a good deal.

Congress' chip-funding pause raises alarms

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Despite bipartisan support in the Senate, a plea by the Commerce Secretary and growing desperation from industry officials, Congress still can't get a key bill that funds the U.S. chip business over the finish line.

Why it matters: With the global chip shortage continuing to crimp the economy, the semiconductor industry has ramped up pressure for funding of U.S.-based manufacturing facilities as one remedy.