Strategic Plan/Background and Context

Point of Departure

Wikipedia was founded in 2001 as "an effort to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet." [1] Less than a decade later, Wikipedia has become the fifth most visited internet site globally and is the most used reference source in the world, attracting over 350 million visitors a month.[2] In some countries (notably North America, Europe and Japan) between 30% and 50% of all Internet users use Wikimedia; 20%+ is not unusual in many others.[3]

The Wikimedia movement has spawned over 730 free knowledge projects in over 270 languages and dialects. Their production, by massive collaboration within a volunteer community of nearly 100,000 active contributors per month, has ushered in an era of online collaboration unprecedented in history. They have also created vital and dynamic resources, including English Wikipedia which now has more than three million articles.

Over time skepticism over the Wikimedia model has transformed into acceptance and considerable earned trust. Reviewers in medical and scientific fields such as toxicology, cancer research and drug information comparing Wikipedia to other encyclopedias and professional sources report that Wikipedia's depth and coverage are of a very high standard, often comparable in coverage to physician databases and considerably better than well known reputable national media outlets. Media outlets report that Wikipedia often acts as the main "clearinghouse" for information on cutting-edge major world news such as the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, election candidate biographies [4] and the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.[5] Wikipedia articles are widely cited as references in journals[6] and have been used as evidence in trademark and higher court rulings in multiple countries.[7] The 2010 American Customer Satisfaction Index, listing major social websites for the first time, cites Wikipedia as being "at the top [of the category]" and "more satisfying than most of the ACSI-measured news and information websites" at 77%, ahead of Facebook, MySpace and Youtube.[8] Policies relating to privacy, infrequent interface changes, and non-commercialization are especially appreciated.[9]

As we celebrate our tenth anniversary in the coming year, this is an ideal moment to reflect on our shared accomplishments and commit to a shared path forward. Wikimedia is and will remain a decentralized movement comprised of readers, contributors (editors, developers, donors, and other volunteers), the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikimedia chapters, advisers and like-minded organizations, each playing different formal and informal leadership and support roles. This plan captures our common aspirations and priorities and articulates the work we will undertake to achieve these over the next five years.

Strategy the Wikimedia Way

In July 2009, we launched our first-ever strategy development project designed to result in a five-year strategic plan for the Wikimedia movement. From the outset, we believed that an open and participatory process would result in a smarter, more effective strategy. Just as Wikipedia is the encyclopedia anyone can edit, we wanted the strategy project to invite participation from anyone who wanted to help. We designed the strategy project, encouraging broad participation from collaborators around the world. Our vision was of productive strategy development through a spirit of collaboration.

The strategy project received over 900 proposals from people inside and outside the Wikimedia movement, identifying problems they wanted to help solve or new efforts they hoped Wikimedians would undertake. Overall, more than 5,000 accounts were created as people logged on to observe, and more than 1,000 people from around the world contributed. Their discussions and analysis are recorded in the Wikimedia strategy wiki designed for this process, which now includes more than 700 pages and (insert "count of" words/megabytes) of research, analysis, stories, interviews, debates and discussions. Nearly 2,000 people responded to the call for volunteers to participate on task forces to delve into greater depth on key strategic issues. More than 65 detailed interviews were conducted with subject-matter-experts, editors, Wikimedia's Board members, Advisory Board members, and Wikimedia Foundation staff; over 1,200 responses were received to a survey of past editors. In addition, real-time group conferences were held nearly every week of the project in various time zones both formally and informally by means of Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Hundreds of Wikimedians participated in this venue as well. This document, the culmination of the strategic planning process, was authored by the same collaborative approach.

Our Aspirations and the Challenges Ahead

Wikimedia's strategic plan anchors on our movement's vision: a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. Our movement has achieved a tremendous amount to date, however we are still young and our vision leaves much ground to cover.

The strategy process was launched with a brainstorming of the important opportunities and risks facing Wikimedia and its mission. Many Wikimedians participated - submitting proposals, contributing data and research, and engaging in extensive discussion. This initial work helped crystalize the set of key issues that require our collective attention and investment.

Extending our Reach toward Every Human Being

Wikimedia aspires to be accessible and available to every human being. Together our online resources currently reach approximately 6% of the global population and ~30% of Internet users worldwide.[10] To date, Wikimedia has achieved great success among Internet users in many parts of the world, particularly in the Global North.[11] The reach of Wikimedia's projects - and in particular Wikipedia, which accounts for 96% of all page views from the over 350 million unique monthly visitors - has grown exponentially since its inception nine years ago.


But individuals' ability to access and use Wikipedia around the world is not uniform; there are large numbers of Internet users around the globe, particularly in countries with large and rapidly growing online populations such as China and India, where access is lower than the global average.[12] Given the rapid expansion of Internet connectivity around the world, we believe it will be increasingly possible to reach these populations so that Wikimedia can truly be the global resource it aspires to be. In the coming years, a key challenge for Wikimedia will be to replicate its earlier successes by engaging a growing readership in all parts of the globe.

As we look forward to providing greater access to Wikimedia projects, mobile and offline solutions will be increasingly required. The mobile phone has and will continue to grow at a faster rate than computer-based Internet. Forecasts indicate that there will be 6.5 billion mobile subscribers by 2015. Further, Internet-enabled handsets will grow by an average of 29% to almost 900 million by 2015. [13] For many in the Global South, the mobile phone will likely be the first (and, potentially, only) point of access to the Internet. Despite the strong growth of mobile and continued growth of Internet usage to over two billion people, over four billion are unlikely to gain access to an Internet connection within five years and will therefore require offline products with requisite distribution capabilities to enable them to benefit from the knowledge available in our projects.

Cultivating a Healthy, Global Community of Volunteers

Wikimedia's editing community is the lifeblood of the Wikimedia projects, and its continued health and growth is critical to the projects' future. Over the past nine years, the Wikimedia community of editors expanded dramatically, but in recent years, it appears that the Wikimedia editing community has plateaued at about 100,000 active and 12,000 very active contributors.[14]


Wikimedia's editorial processes are unique, so it is not clear whether those numbers will prove sufficient to sustain mature Wikimedia projects. While it is not known how many active contributors are needed to maintain mature projects such as English or German Wikipedia, which now have over 3M and 1M articles respectively, nor how many are needed to build a project like Hindi Wikipedia, which today has fewer than 55K articles, it is highly probable that the editor base as it stands will not be sufficient to build new projects, particularly those in non-European languages, or to replicate the success of existing large projects. A contributor plateau raises important questions about the health of the community and our positioning for future growth across our projects. During this planning process, others raised questions about the health of our community in terms of our diversity, our openness to newcomers, and a culture that seems to eventually burn-out some of our best contributors.


Compared to the global population, the Wikimedia community is disproportionately male and young (50% are under age 22), indicating that large segments of the world population are underrepresented in our ranks. In addition, survey data indicates that real barriers to entry existed for newcomers wishing to participate. The ex-editor survey and extensive discussion by the community health task force validated the need for focus on community health going forward.

There has been sustained and intensive dialogue within the community about its health throughout the strategy development process. The task force on community health was a center for rich analysis and discussion of the various issues the community is facing. There was a general consensus that work is needed to make Wikimedia a welcoming place for newcomers (especially those unfamiliar with its ways but interested in adding to it), to mentor and support new editors and nurturing a strong personal connection with our vision, to find better ways to wrestle with difficult editorial arguments that too often have devolved into mean-spirited fights, and to find new and meaningful ways to recognize and reward excellent contributions in the projects.

In Pursuit of the Sum of all Knowledge with Quality

Wikimedia has always taken quality seriously, aspiring to create and distribute an encyclopedia of the highest quality.[15] As increasing numbers of people rely on Wikimedia projects for critical information, the importance of content reliability, accuracy and completeness has never been greater.

Research has shown the projects' quality is generally high. An early study into vandalism by IBM researchers in 2003 (two years following Wikipedia's establishment) found that even then, "vandalism is usually repaired extremely quickly—so quickly that most users will never see its effects"[16] and concluded that Wikipedia had "surprisingly effective self-healing capabilities".[17] An oft-cited early study in Nature two years later found that by 2005 Wikipedia's science entries matched Britannica's in terms of accuracy (average 2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia) with the two having a similar rate of "serious errors".[18] By 2010 reviewers in medical and scientific fields such as toxicology, cancer research and drug information reviewing Wikipedia against professional sources found that Wikipedia's depth and coverage were of a very high standard, often comparable in coverage to physician databases and considerably better than well known reputable national media outlets. Myriad studies document the reliability of other specific content, from Military History to current events.[19] As of 2010 Wikipedia articles are cited as references in journals (614 cites in 2009)[20] and have been used as evidence in trademark and higher court rulings in multiple countries. While today it is not clear to readers the extent to which the information they are viewed has been scrutinized and vetted, there are nascent activities within Wikimedia's community to more systematically rate the quality of content; the challenge will be to create systems that scale to enable quality assessment of the 30M+ (and growing) number of articles our communities have authored.

As Wikimedia aspires to be globally relevant and accessible, our long term challenge will be to provide a high quality experience in the native language of every single human being. This is not true today. As a crude example, the sheer number of articles available to the 550M people whose primary or secondary language is Hindi is less than a half percent of the number of articles available for German speakers, whose population is a third the size.[21] The challenge for the coming years will be to continue to build a strong contributor base that can build on the breadth, depth and quality of content across the projects, with a particular emphasis on building contributor bases for projects that are not yet at a minimum standard of comprehensiveness. In addition, there are new areas of content and new sources of content (such as museum archives) that are starting to be tapped for knowledge to strengthen the projects.

Securing a Platform for Growth and Permanence

Wikimedia has grown rapidly to become the fifth most-visited website in the world, and yet it does not have the technological, operational, and financial infrastructure commensurate with this status. The growth in both the usage and influence of Wikimedia projects make reliability of infrastructure increasingly critical. The Wikimedia movement must invest in innovation to keep pace with technological change. Given the relatively small number of paid developers working on MediaWiki software, the software used for these projects has not kept pace with the general development of web applications and the web platform. For example, while it is easy to read a Wikipedia article, participatory interactions of virtually all kinds are difficult. There are limited tools to support on-site networking, dialogue, and task management. Even the reader experience is fairly austere, with limited tools for topic exploration, visualization, and search. This user experience has improved with the implementation of a grant funded usability (UX) team project, but this is a relatively recent and only a first step. The software interface - designed for an earlier era - is widely agreed to be one of the major limiting factors on participation and quality of experience.

When Wikimedia's project websites were first developed, people connected to the Internet primarily through personal computers, but we are now also seeing a proliferation of small mobile devices, including mobile phones, smartphones, e-readers, and netbooks. People everywhere are increasingly using these devices to connect to the Internet, and those who we seek to reach in the Global South are often connecting solely through them. Currently, Wikimedia is heavily optimized for the personal computer; unless Wikimedia can improve its accessibility and usability on mobile platforms, specifically by developing ways to enable participation via mobile devices, it risks being significantly less useful to information seekers and contributors in the future.

Investment in infrastructure is an ongoing process that began when the Wikimedia Foundation hired its first staff in 2005. The organization providing the infrastructure that undergirds Wikimedia's projects is still relatively small. As of June 2010, the Wikimedia Foundation had 35 full-time staff and a budget of $10M. By design, the assets and efforts of the Foundation will remain a small percentage of the overall activities of the Wikimedia movement in the projects; however, the Foundation needs to play a more proactive role in systematically assessing needs and making mission-critical investments that will sustain, protect, and grow the projects and Wikimedia's impact going forward. Achieving these goals will require increased support, including financial contributions, from a growing number of people who identify as part of this community and movement.

Wikimedia has only recently engaged actively in raising funds to support the projects and enable investments to growth and sustain the projects. Over the past three years, the Foundation, in partnership with chapters, have managed successful community appeals. In 2009/10, over 250K community members contributed to the appeal. Continued community giving is the best way to sustain the projects, maintain an efficient fund raising platform and ensure the independence and long term sustainability of Wikimedia.

Next Page: What we believe


  1. Jimmy Wales quote from foundation-l
  2. According to comScore, there were 375 million visitors in April 2010.
  3. See Wikimedia penetration. Indication statistics - Canada 45-50%; France 36-39%; Japan, Europe generally (including Germany and UK) and USA approx. 25-40%; Mexico 19-35%; Australia, Russian Federation, Argentina 15-27%; India, Taiwan, South Africa 10-20%.
  4. On Wikipedia, Debating 2008 Hopefuls' Every Facet, Washington Post, 17 September 2007; Page A01 – " the same time, it's hard to find a more up-to-date, detailed, thorough article on Obama than Wikipedia's. As of Friday, Obama's article – more than 22 pages long, with 15 sections covering his personal and professional life – had a reference list of 167 sources."
  5. This article was accessed 750,000 times in two days, with newspapers published local to the shootings adding that "Wikipedia has emerged as the clearinghouse for detailed information on the event." Source: Wikipedia emerges as key source for Virginia Tech citing the New York Times [1], stating: "Even The Roanoke Times, which is published near Blacksburg, Va., where the university is located, noted on Thursday that Wikipedia 'has emerged as the clearinghouse for detailed information on the event'."
  6. See ScienceDirect for more information [2]
  7. For example the 2007 Formula One trademark case.
  8. - "Given the popularity of the four measured social media sites, each boasting hundreds of millions of users worldwide, the first round of ACSI scores offered some surprises. At the top is Wikipedia—the massive, multilingual, user-produced encyclopedia run by the Wikimedia Foundation. With an ACSI score of 77, Wikipedia is more satisfying than most of the ACSI-measured news and information websites. Like Google, Wikipedia’s user interface has remained very consistent over the years, and its nonprofit standing means that it has not been impacted by commercialization and marketing."
  9. - "[O]ur research shows that privacy concerns, frequent changes to the website, and commercialization and advertising adversely affect the consumer experience."
  10. Includes personal computer use only; January 2010 comScore:
  11. For the purposes of our discussion, the Global North includes the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Japan and Australia-New Zealand. The Global South represents Asia ex-Japan, Central and South America including Mexico, Africa and Eastern Europe and Russia , where levels of literacy, education, free speech and leisure are high.
  12. More data on reach by country can be found here. A summary table that compares countries/regions with the greatest untapped potential of Internet users can be found here. For the purposes of this analysis, a region was defined as a group of countries that shared a common language and are in close geographic proximity.
  13. See more detail on mobile reach here
  14. Active contributors are editors who make 5 or more edits in a month; very active contributors those who make more than 100 per month.
  15. [3]
  16. history flow: results IBM Collaborative User Experience Research Group, 2003
  17. Fernanda B. Viégas, Martin Wattenberg, Kushal Dave: Studying Cooperation and Conflict between Authors with history flow Visualizations. Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems, 575–582, Vienna 2004, ISBN 1-58113-702-8
  18. Jim Giles, 2005. “Internet encyclopedias go head to head,” Nature, volume 438, number 7070 (15 December), pp. 900-901, and at
  19. See Reliability of Wikipedia for a more detailed description
  20. See ScienceDirect for more information [4]
  21. See Wikimedia penetration by langage.