This month, Wikipedia officially celebrates 15 years as the internet’s free encyclopedia, cataloguing humankind’s achievements in real time and, more importantly, rescuing desperate students facing assignment deadlines.
In that time, it has hastened the end of Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia and supplanted Britannica as the dominant reference work in English. While the digital landscape has changed drastically over the past decade, Wikipedia has not, and still delivers that rare site that strives for neutrality and accuracy, all with no commercial advertisements.
It’s hard to overstate how influential Wikipedia has been, not just as a free alternative to traditional knowledge sources, but as a vanguard for maintaining and delivering up-to-date information. Each month, nearly 100,000 volunteers around the world actively contribute content to Wikipedia so that anyone may freely read, copy or redistribute its articles.
Dr James Heilman, a Canadian emergency room doctor and a volunteer Wikipedia editor, found that it was the most turned-to source of information on the internet during the height of the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In the Journal of Medical Internet Research, he noted, “Wikipedia appears to be the single most used website for health information globally, exceeding traffic observed at the National Institutes of Health, WebMD and the World Health Organisation.” With substantial editions in more than 100 languages, it has become a critical educational resource in emerging markets ignored by traditional publishers.