Wikipedia/The history of Wikipedia

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As is often the case, Wikipedia is very much a product of its history. It has grown organically, with policies and guidelines emerging as required. As a result, understanding where Wikipedia has come from can do much to reveal how it works. Thus to get things moving we're going to cover a pocket history of Wikiepdia's early years.

Nupedia[edit | edit source]

Nupedia was the first online free content encyclopaedia developed by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, with Sanger serving as editor-in-chief. The precursor to Wikipedia, it followed the same ideal of producing an encyclopaedia that could be freely used by anyone. However, unlike Wikipedia, it used a variation of a traditional model for article development. Articles were assigned to experts in the field by editors, who then developed the work in combination with a lead reviewer. When ready, the article was submitted to peer review, followed by under going copyediting and a second review. After passing both processes it was sent back to the editor to be included in the encyclopaedia.

The process was long and complex, and the encyclopaedia developed slowly, with very few articles complete by the end of its first six months. As a way of improving the rate of growth, it was proposed that a Wiki be developed that would allow anyone to write articles. These articles would then be fed back into Nupedia's editorial process, allowing for more rapid growth. As there was a desire to keep a degree of separation between the two projects, the Wiki was named "Wikipedia" and installed on its own domain, going live in early 2001.

Wikipedia grew rapidly, and soon eclipsed Nupedia, both in terms of size and popularity. Nupedia continued to be developed, but it lost its editor-in-chief in December 2001, and the site was finally shut down in September 2003.

Wikipedia[edit | edit source]

It didn't take long for Wikipedia's rapid growth to become evident: Wikipedia had over 20,000 articles before its first birthday, and it doubled that number less than a year later. in 2006, five years after it was launched, the English Wikipedia reached the 1 million articles milestone. New versions of Wikipedia was also quickly formed – including the various language-specific Wikipedias. The German Wikipedia appeared just three months after the Wikipedia project was launched, and that was soon followed by Catalan, Japanese and French Wikipedias. (It is worth noting at these points that each of these is not a simple translation of the English Wikipedia, but a unique project in its own right, with its own set of policies, procedures, guidelines and articles). Today, the English Wikipedia is rapidly heading towards 4 million articles and has more than 130,000 active users, and across all of the Wikipedias there are over 20 million articles, with more than 280,000 active users.

Importantly, the various policies and guidelines which now form such a core part of working on Wikipedia grew slowly and out of necessity, rather than being planned and implemented well in advance of need. Thus understanding why policies and guidelines exist is often a matter of understanding why they were formed. For example, the checkuser rights, which allow a small number of selected individuals to check to see if the same person is abusing multiple accounts, appeared in 2005 in response to the Seigenthaler incident, when the biography of a living person. John Seigenthaler, was found to have been vandalised. Along with the checkuser permissions, the event also saw the creation of "semi-protected" status for some articles, limiting who can make changes. When founded, Wikipedia, like Nupedia, had few rules. But today the various policies are both numerous and complex. On the one hand this makes it harder for people to understand what they need to do, but on the other these haven't evolved to make things harder, but to respond to problems as they have emerged.

Currently Wikipedia is growing much slower than it was in the past, both in terms of articles and the number of contributors, with a decline in overall participation rates. In response the Wikimedia Foundation, which was founded in 2003 to manage the various projects, has engaged in a number of studies and practises to increase participation. These have included the Wikipedia Education Program, WikiLove and a number of the projects aimed at new editor engagement.

Further reading[edit | edit source]