20 years of Wikipedia

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Logo Wikimedia Belgium

Wikipedia is a project that is theoretically impossible, yet it works. It is based on the principle that articles are systematically improved. No one determines the content and everyone contributes. Each volunteer works independently, unpaid and in complete freedom without formally knowing each other.

Quote open Engaging people in free knowledge
— Motto of Wikimedia Belgium
Quote close


The English Wikipedia was started on 15 January 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger as an experiment. It is based on the collection and dissemination of free knowledge. Within a month 1000 articles were written.

Soon all major languages followed. The Dutch-language encyclopedia began on 19 June 2001. It was the fourth largest (in number of articles) in 2015. Since then, it has dropped to sixth place, as the Swedish and Cebuano received many botched updates. The English language remains the most extensive in number and breadth of articles, topics and references. Small language communities such as Breton, Catalan, Finnish, Luxembourgish, Norwegian, Welsh have relatively the most volunteers - 60 per million - language users.

In 2003 the project was handed over to the Wikimedia Foundation, as it became too large to be funded by a private company in terms of infrastructure, staff, management and complexity. The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) owns the servers, the trademarks and the logos. It is ultimately responsible for the project, with each volunteer retaining copyright, attribution and responsibility for the piece of text or media files that each person has contributed.

Other projects exist: Wikitionary exists since 1 May 2004 and is a polyglot dictionary describing all words in all languages in the local language. [Wikimedia Commons]] is since 5 June 2006 the central media server that stores all pictures, videos and audio recordings. The media server is common to all projects to avoid duplication. [Wikidata]] is since 29 October 2012 the open database with as a first objective the linking of all Wikipedia pages across languages. The second objective is to structurally document and model all objects and knowledge on earth. The third is to describe all media files (SDoC). In addition, there are a dozen other projects such as Wikibooks, Wikisource and Wikiversity.

The MediaWiki application is available as an open source software. It has been developed over 20 years for Wikipedia, and the other Wikimedia projects, but also for general use as a MediaWiki server for institutions, organisations and companies. Magnus Manske is the main developer, but has also developed several other tools.

Wikimedia relies on 100,000 volunteers worldwide to write its encyclopaedia and related projects. In principle, no one is paid to write for Wikipedia.


There are 39 national chapters and 139 Wikimedia user groups around the world on particular (global) themes, collectively called Wikimedia Foundation affiliates. In addition, there is the Wikimedia community, the informal grouping of Wikimedia volunteers who write on Wikipedia or its related projects. All those involved can apply for a project or annual grant from the Foundation.

Wikimedia Netherlands was founded on 27 March 2006. Germany, France and the United Kingdom are the largest countries in Europe and have paid employees. Wikimedia Belgium was founded on 27 September 2014 and is run entirely by volunteers.

Meanwhile, Wikimedia Belgium has 117 members and we work with museums, libraries, universities, colleges and cultural organisations to promote and educate about all Wikipedia-related projects.

In December 2019, we established the Friends of Wikimedia Belgium Fund to receive tax donations through the Koning Boudewijnstichting.

We also collaborate with countries that share a common language: Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Luxembourg is not yet represented. Because we have many foreign members, the common language is English, as well as many international contacts.

The global Wikimedia Endowment was launched in January 2016 to gather 100 million USD over 10 years to perpetuate the Wikimedia operations, independent from individual gifts.

The pillars of Wikipedia[edit]

In order to make Wikipedia work smoothly, the following principles were applied from its creation; these foundations have not been changed since...

  1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia (with only generally important content - it's not a blog, not a personal communication channel)
  2. It takes a neutral point of view (never write about yourself, let all opinions be heard)
  3. The content is available under a free licence, the Creative Commons Share-alike licence, with total respect for copyright (no plagiarism)
  4. It will be built collaboratively, with respect for conventions and for the other volunteers (collaboration)
  5. Everybody gets the necessary freedom (no hard rules; creativity is encouraged)

Strategy 2030[edit]

Are we there? No, there is still a lot to do. Many subjects are not yet described, or only in a one-sided way. Languages, cultures, subjects, ages and gender are not uniformly represented.

What has happened in the last 5 years?

At the end of 2015, the community received the Erasmus Prize for intercultural contributions to humanity (somewhat overshadowed by the attacks in Paris and Brussels). Basically, it is individuals who receive this prize. This time it was the community of Wikipedians.

A beacon in the fake news world?

There are many hot topics that are nevertheless described in a neutral way.

We are working on the Strategy 2030 with the following emphases: being universal, multicultural, diversity, inclusiveness, co-responsibility.

Projects by Wikimedia Belgium[edit]

Projects Institutions Partners
  • Universities and colleges
  • Museums
  • Libraries
  • Archives

Wikimedia Belgium has organised an annual photo competition since 2011: Wiki Loves Monuments and Wiki Loves Heritage.

Due to corona, there are temporarily no physical activities anymore; until now we organise our projects via videoconferences.

Did you know?[edit]

That you can find the author of every piece of text? Because the complete history of every article is kept up to date.

You can find the original author of every article. Others then continue to write.

You can find out for every author to which articles they contributed, or which photographs they took.

There is an occasional discussion between Dutch and Flemish volunteers? Not just about words, but also about whether certain Flemish topics are important enough to describe on Wikipedia.

You can become a member of Wikimedia Belgium for free if you actively contribute to Wikipedia or one of the other projects.

There are more than 15 Wikimedia projects.

There are 5 data centres for Wikipedia and the other projects: San Francisco (California), Carrollton (Texas), Ashburn (Virginia), Amsterdam and Singapore. This limits latency, the network delay when pages and images are downloaded. The Foundation insists on having its own data centres for reasons of privacy and independence. There is an extensive system of caching and replication.[1]

You can use all 91 million Wikimedia Commons images yourself. Provided that you respect the CC BY-SA license and the attribution.

Wikidata is probably the largest free database.

80% of the volunteers contribute without being a member of the association. Being a member of the association allows to participate in the activities, or international conferences; now in times of corona only via video-conferencing.

Most volunteers use a pseudonym (neutrality, anonymity). A pseudonym also allows contact with other volunteers and the formation of informal communities.

20-35% of the edits, depending on the language, are made by anonymous volunteers (without logging in, via IP address). Although in theory this can improve privacy, this is not always the case (proxy servers). Anonymous contributions were allowed from the beginning under the motto "anyone can edit anything".

20-35% of the edits, depending on the language, are done by bots (automatically by programmed scripts and automated tools).

Vandalism is mainly undone by bots and also manually by volunteers. Vandalism is indirectly encouraged by also allowing anonymous edits.

You can follow the changes in real time. This is also what Google Search does to index all the changes online.

In 2019, there were about 500 Belgians writing on the Dutch Wikipedia and 1400 Dutch (measured by IP subnet, including anonymous edits). There are 35 administrators who have extensive rights.

The content of the same article in different languages is independent and different. You may translate articles if you mention the source. This is even encouraged.

There are +80 people who write on Wikipedia every day. It is a pleasant pastime for them, where they can make their knowledge available to the public.

Women are underrepresented, both as volunteers and as subjects of articles. Therefore, we have a project Women in Red (because of the red link for a missing page).

Wikidata, the free database, is the fastest growing project based on an RDF (Resource Description Framework) and a Linked Open database model|, Wikibase.

Another very important project is SDoC (Structured data on Commons) for describing media files, also a Wikibase project.

Many institutions and universities make their media files available under a CC BY-SA license.

Read more[edit]

Local Dutch Meta General


  1. https://diff.wikimedia.org/2018/04/24/new-data-center-singapore/