Just How Powerful Is Wikipedia?

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According to comScore Wikipedia is the 9th most popular site on the web. Quantcast has them in the 8 spot. So does Alexa, and Compete has them coming in at number 10. They’re the second most downloaded search engine addon for Firefox (after IMDB), and Google Trends shows that Wikipedia has a higher search volume than even perennial web search favorite, Paris Hilton. Clearly, Wikipedia is popular. But just how much control does it have over public perception? In the information saturated age we live in, the place we first turn for answers to most questions is no longer the library or dead tree encyclopedia: for many (most?) of us, it is now the Internet. And the place that over 70% of us try first for answers is Google. Just how often is Google sending us to Wikipedia to get those answers? I read on Slashdot the other day, that shortly before US presidential hopeful Senator John McCain (R-AZ) announced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, someone — presumably from the campaign — went to work on editing her Wikipedia page. The same thing apparently happened to Democratic Vice Presidential choice Senator Joe Biden’s (D-DE) Wikipedia page as well. Is having a clean, accurate, or positive Wikipedia entry really that important? Well, with 70% of the US using Google (and that number is similarly high is many countries around the world) to find information, it would definitely be important if Google was very often sending us to Wikipedia. So I decided to look into it. My friend Kelli Shaver
whipped up a PHP script to check a list of search terms in Google to see if a Wikipedia link appeared on the first page of results. We ran the Long Top 1000 list from Wordtracker through the script first. The Long Top 1000 list contains the top thousand most searched for keywords over the past 130 days taken from a database of about 300 million searches. Unfortunately, the list has a ton of adult-related search terms, and Wordtracker’s “remove offensive content” filter is more or less useless. Even so, we found that an amazing 50.2% of the top 1000 searches had a Wikipedia result on the first page. (That’s 502 out of 1000 for the math challenged.) We theorized that many of the “no” results likely came from the large number of porn terms on the list, and a cleaner list of family friendly terms might favor Wikipedia even more. Next we ran the Lycos Top 50 terms through our script. The results were even more staggering. From the Lycos list, just a single search term didn’t have a Wikipedia link in the top 10 results (the first page). The lone hold out? “Dragonaball” … and we’re pretty sure that was a typo on Lycos’ part and should have been “Dragonball” — for which Wikipedia appears in the #2 spot on a Google query. So for the top 50 search terms, Google thinks Wikipedia is authoritative on every single one of them. For the top 1000 searches, Google sends us to Wikipedia 50% of the time — and possibly more if you discount all the searches for adult content. What does this mean? It means that Wikipedia is one of the most powerful sites on the web in terms of shaping public perception. Because Google favors it so heavily, the entries on Wikipedia have become supremely important and relevant. It also means that a link from Wikipedia might be worth its weight in gold.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Power of Wikipedia

How does Wikipedia compare to other search engines like Lycos?

Wikipedia is not a search engine like Lycos or Google. It is an online encyclopedia that provides information on a wide range of topics. Unlike search engines that index web pages, Wikipedia hosts content that is created and edited by its users. It is a collaborative platform that allows anyone to contribute and improve the content.

How reliable is the information on Wikipedia?

The reliability of Wikipedia is a subject of debate. Since it is user-edited, it is susceptible to errors and bias. However, Wikipedia has a community of volunteers who monitor and correct inaccuracies. It is always recommended to cross-verify the information with other reliable sources.

Can Wikipedia be considered as a primary source of information?

Wikipedia is a secondary source as it compiles information from primary and other secondary sources. It is a great starting point for research but should not be the only source of information due to its user-edited nature.

How does Wikipedia manage to stay up-to-date?

Wikipedia is constantly updated by its community of users. This allows it to stay current with recent events and developments. However, the accuracy of these updates depends on the reliability of the sources used by the contributors.

Is Wikipedia’s content influenced by its users?

Yes, Wikipedia’s content is created and edited by its users. This democratic approach allows for a wide range of information to be covered. However, it also means that the content can be influenced by the users’ perspectives and biases.

How does Wikipedia handle controversial topics?

Wikipedia has guidelines for handling controversial topics. It encourages a neutral point of view and requires that all information be backed by reliable sources. Disputes are resolved through discussion and consensus among users.

Can anyone edit Wikipedia?

Yes, anyone can edit most Wikipedia articles. However, some sensitive topics and high-traffic pages are protected to prevent vandalism and misinformation.

How does Wikipedia prevent misinformation?

Wikipedia has a system of checks and balances to prevent misinformation. Edits are reviewed by other users and those that are not backed by reliable sources are often removed. However, the system is not foolproof and errors can slip through.

How does Wikipedia rank in search engine results?

Wikipedia often ranks high in search engine results due to its large amount of content and the number of external sites linking to it. However, its ranking can vary depending on the search terms and the search engine used.

Is Wikipedia a non-profit organization?

Yes, Wikipedia is run by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization. It relies on donations to operate and does not run advertisements.

Josh CatoneJosh Catone
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Before joining Jilt, Josh Catone was the Executive Director of Editorial Projects at Mashable, the Lead Writer at ReadWriteWeb, Lead Blogger at SitePoint, and the Community Evangelist at DandyID. On the side, Josh enjoys managing his blog The Fluffington Post.

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