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Wikipedia is fast becoming the number-one online resource for web surfers hungry for context about breaking news, in what must be a sad comment on the ability for traditional news media to keep its audiences well-informed.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia assembled in realtime, has reportedly experienced a 154 per cent hike in traffic during the last year, according to internet traffic watchers at Hitwise.

The Wiki-fiddlers' big-book o' facts appears to be benefiting from a happy coincidence of a lot of big-headline news combined with the apparent inability of so-called traditional news channels - both online and off-line - to satiate surfers' need for reference material. A high ranking in Google, boosted by the replication of the Wikipedia material, hasn't harmed the project either.

Wikipedia attracted 22.3 per cent of users searching for information about the Gaza Strip as Israeli troops closed down settlements and withdrew from the region. Wikipedia's market share numbers meant it drew five times more traffic than Google News, Yahoo News or the BBC and tied with CIA World Factbook for information on the strip.

Wikipedia tied as the second most visited site among US web users eager for details about Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II's successor. The top destination was Newadvent.org, the old-school Catholic encyclopedia that has resisted the temptation to go Wikipedia-style.

The service has also eclipsed Dictionary.com is the internet's number-one reference site.

Hitwise failed to make more information on Wikipedia traffic, specifically the number of page views, publically available.®

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