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|This essay contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. Essays are not Wikipedia policies or guidelines. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.|
Ten things you may not know about Wikipedia is a list of insights about Wikipedia specifically targeted at people who have limited or no prior experience with the project (such as journalists, new editors, and new readers). These explanations should not surprise experienced editors but will hopefully help the rest of the world to shape an informed opinion of our work.
If you're waiting for Wikipedia to be bought by your friendly neighborhood Internet giant, don't hold your breath. Wikipedia is a non-commercial website run by the Wikimedia Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in San Francisco. We are supported by donations and grants, and our mission is to bring free knowledge to everyone.
Wikipedia has taken a cue from the free software community (which includes projects like GNU, Linux and Mozilla Firefox) and has done away with traditional copyright restrictions on our content. Instead, we've adopted what is known as a "free content license" (specifically, a choice between the CC-BY-SA and the GFDL): all text and composition created by our users is and will always remain free for anyone to copy, modify, and redistribute. We only insist that you credit the contributors and that you do not impose new restrictions on the work or on any improvements you make to it. Many of the images, videos, and other media on the site are also under free licenses, or in the public domain. Just check a file's description page to see its licensing terms.
…and about 290 other languages. Granted, only about 100 of those Wikipedia language editions currently have more than 10,000 articles—but that is not because we're not trying. Articles in each language are generally started and developed independently from their equivalents in other languages, although some are direct translations. The Wikimedia Foundation is supported by a growing network of independent chapter organizations, already in over twenty countries, which help us to raise awareness on the local level. In many countries, including the United States, Wikipedia is among the ten most popular websites.
…you can only add to it, not change it. Wikipedia is a database with a memory designed to last as long as we can make it last. An article you read today is just the current draft; every time it is changed, we keep both the new version and a copy of the old version. This allows us to compare different versions or restore older ones as needed. As a reader, you can even cite the specific copy of an article you are looking at. Just link to the article using the "Permanent link" at the bottom of the left menu, and your link will point to a page whose contents will never change. (However, if an article is deleted, your permanent link will only work for administrators.)
Wikipedia has a set of policies and quality control processes. Editors can patrol changes as they happen, monitor specific topics of interest, follow a user's track of contributions, tag problematic articles for further review, report vandals, discuss the merits of each article with other users, and much more. What are felt to be our best articles are awarded "featured article" status, and problem pages are nominated for deletion. "WikiProjects" focus on improvements to particular topic areas. Really good articles may go into other media and be distributed to schools through Wikipedia 1.0. We care about getting things right, and we never stop thinking about new ways to do so.
It is in the nature of an ever-changing work like Wikipedia that, while some articles are of the highest quality of scholarship, others are admittedly complete rubbish. We are fully aware of what it is and what it isn't. Also, because some articles may contain errors, please do not use Wikipedia to make critical decisions.
Wikipedia is part of a growing movement for free knowledge that is beginning to permeate science and education. The Wikimedia Foundation directly operates eight sister projects to the encyclopedia: Wiktionary (a dictionary and thesaurus), Wikisource (a library of source documents), Wikimedia Commons (a media repository of more than ten million images, videos, and sound files), Wikibooks (a collection of textbooks and manuals), Wikiversity (an interactive learning resource), Wikinews (a citizen journalism news site), Wikiquote (a collection of quotations), and Wikispecies (a directory of all forms of life). Like Wikipedia itself, all these projects are freely licensed and open to contributions.
Articles in Wikipedia are not signed, and contributors are unpaid volunteers. Whether you claim to be a tenured professor, use your real name, prefer to remain pseudonymous, or contribute without registering, your edits and arguments will be judged on their merits. We require that verifiable sources be cited for all significant claims, and we do not permit editors to publicize their personal conclusions when writing articles. All editors must follow a neutral point of view; they must only collect relevant opinions which can be traced to reliable sources.
The Wikimedia Foundation is controlled by its Board of Trustees, which is required according to its Bylaws to have several members chosen from the Wikimedia community. The Board and Wikimedia Foundation staff do not usually take a role in editorial issues, and projects are self-governing and consensus-driven. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales occasionally acts as a final arbiter on the English Wikipedia. Wikipedia is transparent and self-critical; controversies are debated openly and even documented within Wikipedia itself when they cross a threshold of significance.
We want Wikipedia to be around at least a hundred years from now, if it does not turn into something even more significant. Everything about Wikipedia is engineered towards that end: our content licensing, our organization and governance, our international focus, our fundraising strategy, our use of open-source software, and our never-ending effort to achieve our vision. We want you to imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That is our commitment—and we need your help.