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A computer-screen view of a portion of the Wikipedia entry for the University of Minnesota

While there are certainly more extensive and creatively written sources of information about the University of Minnesota (see www.umn.edu) you can even find out a thing or two about the world-class research university on Wikipedia.

New information on Wikipedia

Much of the content for online encyclopedia is generated by a small percentage of people; 'vandalism' is relatively rare

By Rick Moore

November 16, 2007

For six years, it's been an online information source for a new generation--an encyclopedia by the people and for the people. In fact, Wikipedia has grown at a rate few might have imagined. As of September, there were nearly 8.3 million articles in 253 languages available to users worldwide via the Web (according to Wikipedia, of course). If a newcomer to Minneapolis were looking for the lowdown on anything from Bob Dylan to Hiawatha to St. Anthony Falls, information is just a few keystrokes away.

The site's articles are written collaboratively by volunteers from around the world, and for the most part, entries can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet.

Some ongoing University of Minnesota research has revealed some interesting facts about Wikipedia that may fly in the face of some commonly held perceptions and perhaps misconceptions. According to computer science and engineering professor Loren Terveen, although anyone can make additions and changes to a Wikipedia article, a relatively small number of people are making the bulk of the contributions. Only one-tenth of 1 percent of all the people who edit Wikipedia are responsible for nearly half the site's content.

"The good aspect [of that] is you need to have people who are really committed--people who learn the rules [of writing encyclopedia entries]," says Terveen. "On the other hand, the more people you have in a system, you could say the more robust the system is, because if people leave, you don't lose-you still have people who can step up and fill their shoes."

By the numbers

According to its site, the name Wikipedia's is a portmanteau (see Wikipedia entry for "portmanteau") of the words wiki (a type of collaborative website) and encyclopedia. It is operated by the not-for-profit Wikipedia Foundation.

You think your Web site gets decent traffic? Check out these numbers: Depending on time of day, Wikipedia receives between 10,000 and 35,000 page requests per second, and has more than 100 servers set up to handle the traffic. It currently ranks among the top 10 most-visited Web sites worldwide. As of November 3, 2007, the English edition of Wikipedia had more than 2,075,000 articles consisting of about 902 million words.

The other major finding of the research should allay some fears that people have about the site--that entries are often the victim of "vandalism, where people come in and they modify pages maliciously," he says.

The study estimated a probability of less than one-half of 1 percent (0.0037) that a viewer would find an article to be in a damaged or inaccurate state. The chances of encountering vandalism on a typical page view increased over time, although the researchers identified a break in the trend around June 2006, late in the study period. They attributed this to the increased use of anti-vandalism bots.

Terveen says that Wikipedia, in general, is very resistant to vandalism. "What we were able to do is show that over 40 percent of all incidents of vandalism were fixed within one page view," he says. "That means that before more than one person could have been affected by that, somebody fixed it."

The results of the study by computer science and engineering professors Terveen and John Riedl and doctoral students Reid Priedhorsky (project lead), Jilin Chen, Tony Lamm, and Katie Panciera are reported in the paper, "Creating, Destroying and Restoring Value in Wikipedia." The paper was published in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Group 2007 Conference proceedings.

And, of course, the gist of the results has been incorporated into the current Wikipedia article on Wikipedia.