Pew just released a compelling report on Wikipedia usage among US Internet users. In summary, a third of us have used Wikipedia, and the site's audience skews young and well-educated. According to an eMarketer article on the report, more US Internet users visit Wikipedia in a typical day than buy something online, use dating sites, book travel online, use chat rooms, or participate in an auction. In addition to offering a massive amount of content – 5.3 million total entries, 1.6 million of which are English – Wikipedia is a darling of the search engines, particularly Google, thanks to its dependence on internal and external hyperlinks.
Pretty astounding stats for an online encyclopedia. Despite past headlines on the reliability and accuracy of Wikipedia content, Internet users seem to have little problem with using Wikipedia as a first-stop reference site for a wide range of topics. Are there meaningful takeaways for online businesses? Yes and no. Wikipedia's success owes as much to page ranking algorithms and consumer dependence on search engines as to the quality of its content, but I hope that this news helps to further legitimize user-generated content for web businesses still wary of the risks of sharing control with their customers. These customers don't lack for options for online content on every conceivable subject (or product), but a growing number of them side with the opinions of the masses rather than the advice of experts.
Additionally, the Pew report lists the top 10 educational and reference websites ending March 2007, based on visits tracked by Hitwise. Wikipedia's #1 ranking is secure, with almost 25% of traffic for the educational and reference category, but #2 and #4 are Yahoo! Answers and Answers.com, respectively. Is it a coincidence that both sites thrive on user-generated content as well?