If Wikipedia were a real encyclopedia, it would be 1,908 volumes large [Image]


(Click above to enlarge.)

Take note by “real encyclopedia” I mean a traditional, printed encyclopedia like Britannica.

Wikipedia reader Tompw ran some calculations to try and see how many volumes it would take to print Wikipedia:

  • This shows 2,537 million words across 4.3 million articles (through July 2013), implying an average of 590 words per article.
  • Same source shows 19.83 GB (=20,498,960 B) across 2,537 million words, implying 8.08 bytes/word. ASCII uses 1 byte/character which in turn implies 8.08 characters/word. However, this includes wikimarkup, and 5 char/word plus one for space is standard, so 6 characters/word will be assumed.
  • There are currently 4,311,575 articles, which means 2,543,829,250 words, which means 15,262,975,500 characters.
  • One volume: 25cm high, 5cm thick. 500 leaves, 2 pagefaces per leaf, two columns per pageface, 80 rows/column, 50 characters per row. So one volume = 8,000,000 characters, or 1,333,333 words, or 2,259.9 articles.
  • Thus, the text of the English Wikipedia is currently equivalent to 1,907.9 volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
  • Sanity check: Encyclopædia Britannica has 44 million words across 32 volumes, or 1,375,000 words per volume. This would imply 1,850 volumes for WP.

These numbers obviously aren’t 100% accurate, simply due to the large and ever-growing size of Wikipedia but they should give you a good idea of how large the website is. What surprised me the most about this that Wikipedia isn’t that much larger than Britannica. In fact, it only recently became larger than Britannica.

[via Wikipedia]

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  • Netpilot

    @Ashraf “What surprised me the most about this that Wikipedia isn’t that much larger than Britannica. In fact, it only recently became larger than Britannica.”

    TL;DR: That’s a complete misinterpretation. Tompw’s calculations estimate that Wikipedia (WP) is currently between 57.8 and 59.6 times the size of the entire Britannica (EB).

    In bullets 1 through 4, Tompw goes through almost a dozen calculations to arrive at a general, estimated printing density of 1,333,333 words per volume (wpv).

    In bullet 5, he concludes that based on that printing density, WP would be 1.907.9 volumes.

    In bullet 6, he does a head-check by noting that EB actually has 1,375,000 wpv, which agrees favorably to his earlier-derived 1,333,333 wpv.

    At EB’s actual printed density, WP would be 1850 volumes.

    So if printed, WP would be between 1850 and 1907.9 volumes.
    It is a fact that EB is 32 volumes.
    Simple division concludes that WP is between 57.8 and 59.6 times the size of EB.

    Footnote: I enjoy reading your articles. You usually don’t make blunders like the sentence I quoted at the beginning of this comment. I’ll just chalk it up to your being busy, tired, and/or distracted because of the new web site. ;-)

  • Mikerman

    [@CJ Cotter] Having said that, I remember reading a study which concluded that Wikipedia was in the neighborhood of as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica, if not more accurate (I can’t recall which)–pretty astounding.

  • J.L.

    Actually you read it wrong. I don’t know what’s the exact difference (padding?) between point 5 and 6, but WP means Wikipedia and the last printed set of Encyclopædia Britannica (made in 2010) only has 32 volumes.

  • jayesstee

    I once saw an advertisement:
    “Complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica for sale.  Hardly used, no longer needed – wife knows everything.”

  • CJ Cotter

    You wrote, “These numbers obviously aren’t 100% accurate….” That’s OK, neither are the Wikipedia articles.