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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

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
31 mins ago - Economy & Business

The Fed could be firing up economic stimulus in disguise

Federal Reserve governor Lael Brainard at a "Fed Listens" event. Photo: Eric Baradat / AFP via Getty Images.

Even as global growth expectations increase and governments pile on fiscal spending measures central bankers are quietly restarting recession-era bond-buying programs.

Driving the news: Comments Tuesday from Fed governor Lael Brainard suggest the Fed may be jumping onboard the global monetary policy rethink and restarting a program used following the 2008 global financial crisis.

Democrats' hypocrisy moment

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Ray Tamarra/Getty Images

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be facing explicit calls to resign from President Biden on down, if you apply the standard that Democrats set for similar allegations against Republicans. And it's not a close call.

Why it matters: The #MeToo moment saw men in power run out of town for exploiting young women. Democrats led the charge. So the silence of so many of them seems more strange — and unacceptable by their own standards — by the hour.

Police officers' immunity from lawsuits is getting a fresh look

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly a year after the death of George Floyd, advocates of changes in police practices are launching new moves to limit or eliminate legal liability protections for officers accused of excessive force.

Why it matters: Revising or eliminating qualified immunity — the shield police officers have now — could force officers accused of excessive force to personally face civil penalties in addition to their departments. But such a change could intensify a nationwide police officer shortage, critics say.