When I teamed up with William Beutler (aka The Wikipedian) to create Eloqua’s Grande Guide to Wikipedia, I expected to pick up a few tidbits about the 10-year-old site.  Little did I know that I would find myself repeatedly stunned by the faulty assumptions and myths that dominated my admittedly limited understanding of the crowdsourced encyclopedia.

But William’s fondness for Wikipedia became contagious.  All he wanted to do is share his passion for the site and the community that supports it.  (And we hope this enthusiasm is reflected in the contents of the Guide.)  Which brings me to the first surprise discovery:

1. Wikipedia is not inherently hostile to outsiders and topical experts. Sure, individual editors may be haughty and territorial.  But those antics aren’t limited to Wikipedia.  They are human foibles, and inconsistent with the values of the broader Wikipedia community.  In fact, most Wikipedian’s embrace newcomers because they know that fresh volunteers are vital to the long-term success of the project.  There’s even a checks-and-balances system.  If an editor gets all high-and-mighty on you, you can go to Wikipedia’s Help Desk to ask for a second opinion.  The same holds true if you are an expert.  There’s no bias against your credentials, promise.

But this wasn’t the only surprise.  In fact, it wasn’t even the biggest shocker.  Following are four more “wow” discoveries I encountered in the process of editing and publishing the Grande Guide to Wikipedia:

2. Wikipedia is governed by 150+ rules and guidelines; yet none prohibit from editing articles about yourself. Ok so before you rush off to create an article about your toddler, you need to realize that editors generally discourage self-interested editors from contributing to pages about themselves or their company.  Hey, don’t blame Wikipedia or its editors.  Blame the nitwit companies who have violated the spirit in the past with their marketing gobbledygook.  Think Wikipedia would have lasted 10 years if it was filled with self-aggrandizing fluff?  So go ahead and try to contribute content to your own page (assuming users would benefit from the additions or corrections), just be sure to adhere to Wikipedia’s guidelines when doing so.  And be sure to cite reliable, neutral sources.

3. Wikipedia is not losing contributors. For a while, I had this sinking feeling that Wikipedia was, well, sinking.  That is, I thought that the number of people contributing to the site was declining.  But for the life of me, I had no idea where that notion came from.  Turns out, I didn’t imagine it.  William pointed out that in 2009 the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages.”  Citing a “generous” interpretation of a hotly debated study, the story speculated that there were fewer Wikipedia editors than in the past.  Turns out, it’s just not true.  In small windows of time, the number of contributors may vary, but on balance, the number of editors has been very stable.  There are currently more than 35,000 active Wikipedia editors and nearly 2,000 active administrators.

4. It’s got its own language. Maybe this wasn’t such a shocker.  But the complexity and scope of the language was.  Seriously, it nearly qualifies as a foreign language.  Here’s just a sampling of the terms that we define in our guide: Article vs. page, discussion vs. talk, editor vs. user, reference vs. citation, history, infobox, navbox and “reverts” for good measure.  If you like new word, you’ll love this resource.

5. It is more massive than the average person realizes. Sure Wikipedia often appears on the first page of Google queries for companies, people and industries.  But it’s more than an SEO gold mine.  It’s even more than omniscient.  Wikipedia is omnipresent. There are more than 3.6 million articles on Wikipedia, and it’s growing at a rate of 1,000 new articles per day.  If you look at all language editions of Wikipedia, the article total exceeds 18 million.  The most active topic is military history (followed by chemicals, United States, football (the soccer kind), pharmacology and video games.  (Pharmacology?)  Oh and the single most edited article of all?  George W. Bush.

Author: Joe Chernov, VP of Content Marketing, Eloqua