How long would it take to read Wikipedia?

Wikipedia has become the de facto encyclopedia on the Internet. A traditional encyclopedia spans many textbook volumes which would take any normal person ages to read. Few people would likely engage in such an endeavor. However, since Wikipedia is readily accessible: should you take up the challenge?

Wikipedia is continuously being changed and updated. Consequently, reading all of it would take an infinite amount of time, as when you would have finished reading, you would have to go back to re-read the changed articles. Hence, we need to change our initial question to: How long would it take to read a snapshot of today’s Wikipedia? But we aren’t there yet, there’s one more thing left to specify. Since Wikipedia is multi-lingual, we have to pick a language. While some articles are translated from English into various languages, there are quite a few that have no English counterpart and are language, culture or even region specific. Let’s focus only on the English portion of Wikipedia.

The English Wikipedia consists of about 4 million articles, counting only the content pages. That’s roughly an estimated 3000 volumes of Encyclopædia Brittanica. It’s heavily consulted as this collection of articles gets viewed almost 3000 times every second. However, let’s not get distracted: our goal is to find out how long it would take to read Wikipedia. For this we first have to find out how fast people read. Although this greatly varies from person to person, and some Wikipedia articles may be more difficult to read than others, we will have to pick a reasonable value. It turns out that the average American adult can read about 300 words per minute.

So, how many words does Wikipedia consist of? Although no recent exact numbers are available, a quick extrapolation reveals that all articles combined form about 2500 million words, that’s about 625 words per article on average. Each article would take a little over two minutes to read for an average adult. Reading all of Wikipedia would take about 140 000 hours, which is 5800 days, or almost sixteen years. That’s assuming that you’re reading 24 hours a day! Reading a standard eight-hour workday seems more reasonable. In that case it would take you thrice as long: 48 years, but you’d still have time to do other things, and most importantly: time to sleep.

Thus, right now it would (still) be possible to read Wikipedia in a lifetime: if you start reading when you turn 18, you would have reached about pension-age (66) when you would be finished. Nevertheless, Wikipedia continues to grow, albeit at a slower rate than it used to: the word count is increasing with about two percent per month. Hence, if you still want to actually do this: I suggest you start reading now. However, perhaps your time is better spent some other way 🙂

Source: Wikipedia Statistics

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