Saturday, 11 August 2012

How big is Wikipedia?

The thing I would most miss if it ceased to be a presence on the internet is Wikipedia (not a link to Wikipedia's front page).  I typically consult it several times a day on all sorts of topics, serious and trivial. When I was a boy, the biggest printed books were sets of encyclopedias. They came in several volumes with the topics arranged alphabetically. So quite diverse topics could be found next to each other. I seem to remember that we had two different sets of encyclopedias at my primary school. Strangely, they were rarely consulted. They were not in the school library – we did not have one. Neither were they in a classroom. One might have expected one set in each of the top two classes for the older children to consult, perhaps but no. Rather they were on display on a purpose-built stand at each end of the junior school corridor.
I first came across Wikipedia in 2005 when I was working in Austria. It started in 2001 and somehow I had missed it for it's first four years. I cannot remember how I discovered it. It may have been through an American colleague. I have never heard anybody ask how big it is though. I have read about iPhone apps that can download an entire copy for offline use, so one could say that Wikipedia is as big as an iPhone – or as small as an iPod. More seriously though, what would it be like if it were printed and bound in hardback volumes like those of my youth?

Fortunately, some people – clearly out of range of my hearing – have asked the same question and have made some estimations. Fittingly, there are even Wikipedia pages on the subject.

The current diagram of the 1695 volumes in 9 stacks can be found at: Wikipedia – Size in volumes.

The image is not downloadable but here is a screen clipping from the page, much reduced in size.

There are, of course, a number of assumptions and caveats, so please see:
Wikipedia – Size Comparisons

Importantly, Wikipedia does not delete old versions of a page. So, there is much more to it than is immediately accessible. The diagram for the 7129 volumes in 36 stacks can be found at: Size of all Wikipedia versions. Be sure to scroll all the way to the right.

NB It is interesting, how they are filling the shelves from the bottom to the top in this figure.

I came across the following at digital inspiration on the page entitled 'Wikipedia as a Printed Book – Seriously!' This is a 5000 page book which was taken in turn from the person who produced it: Rob Matthews.
Sally 6/5/9 117 Sally 6/5/9 126
Matthews does not really give much description. It appears to be a collection of featured articles rather than the whole of Wikipedia. It is very interesting nonetheless.

Another question - one that is impossible to answer in that it is not reasonable to ask it - is when will Wikipedia be full? Computer storage can be increased indefinitely and there will always be something new to add. However, the rate of new article additions seems to be slowing. Is there an asymptote for the number of (sensible) articles that can be written?