The "Wikipedia" logo is seen on a tablet screen on Dec. 4, 2012 in Paris
Lionel Bonaventure—AFP/Getty Images
January 15, 2015 9:00 AM EST

These days the real challenge would be finding someone who doesn’t use Wikipedia all the time. But, back in 2003, when TIME first mentioned the word in its pages, the challenge in writing about Wikipedia was explaining what it was.

Wikipedia had launched on Jan. 15, 2001 — that’s 14 years ago Thursday — and contained a mere 150,000 entries when TIME explained that “To contribute to, an online encyclopedia, all you need is Web access.” The 113-word blurb continued:

Still, even two years later, in 2005, it was obvious that not everybody got the point. That was when TIME profiled Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and discovered that many potential users, misunderstanding his product and his role, made a major mistake: they thought that he had written every page. As TIME reported:

At that point, Wikipedia’s 1.5 million entries included 500,000 in English.

Today’s article count? On its birthday, the encyclopedia boasts about 4.7 million entries in English alone — and that’s perhaps the only statistic in the world for which citing Wikipedia isn’t, as TIME once put it, a recipe for chaos.

Read more: A Brief History of Wikipedia

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Write to Lily Rothman at

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