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History of Wikipedia: Facts, Details, and More

Everyone knows what Wikipedia is, regardless of their age. If you think to yourself what is one of the most famous websites, then Wikipedia has to come up in your name.

If you were there during the initial days of the internet with access to it, then you must be aware of the impact of Wikipedia. But, Wikipedia wasn’t the first ever online encyclopedia of information. The first ever online wiki was the WikiWikiWeb developed by Ward Cunningham.

While we all jump straight to Wikipedia today for our research papers and even general information, do you know how it came to be? The origins of Wikipedia come from another online encyclopedia project. The project was known as Nupedia and was funded by Bomis.com. Bomis.com was owned by Jimmy Wales, Michael Davis, and Tim Shell. But, if we have to credit someone for being the main driving force in the development of Wikipedia is Larry Singer. 

In the year 2000, Larry reached out to Jimmy to learn more about the free, online collaborative encyclopedia. Just after talking, Larry was hired by Jimmy and thus began the journey toward Wikipedia as we know it today. Their combined efforts led to the birth of the most ambitious project ever. Building an online library of knowledge, that’s free for everyone.

The history of Wikipedia is fascinating as well as inspiring. Let’s dive into it. 

Initial Days of Wikipedia

In 1996, Jimmy Wales, a prolific bond trader moved to San Diego to build his organization “Bomis  Inc.”, it was supposed to be a Web Portal company.  In March 2000, Wales founded Nupedia, an online encyclopedia by handing Larry Sanger the lead.

Nupedia was also organized like another online encyclopedia with a board of experts. It also had a very lengthy approval process. By the end of January 2001, less than 2 dozen articles were finished. It was decided to replace Nupedia with an open-source encyclopedia based on Wiki software. 

January 15, 2001, marked the date when Wikipedia was born. But it wasn’t a separate entity, it was a feature of already existing Nupedia. Seeing the growth of Wikipedia, it was relaunched as an independent website just a couple of days later. 

In jus the first year, Wikipedia had over 20,000 articles in 18 languages including Dutch, French, Polish, German, Hebrew, Chinese, and Esperanto. Seeing the success of Wikipedia, in 2003, the board decided to terminate the Nupedia website and all its articles moved into Wikipedia. 

Anyone who knows anything about Wikipedia will probably give all the credit to Jimmy Wales. But, I think one of the biggest contributors to the success of Wikipedia is because of Larry Sanger. Larry Sanger was responsible for developing the policy of Nupedia, he programmed Nupedia, and then later handed the day-to-day policy enforcement to Wikipedia. 

In 2005, Larry wrote a personal memoir about his role in the development of Wikipedia. If you want a different insight into the history of Wikipedia, then you should read that memoir. 

In the memoir, Larry has described how Jimmy hired him and allowed him to develop policies and procedures that would suit his vision of the online information library. 

Throughout the memoir, it became clear that Larry wasn’t eh visionary behind the project, but just a mechanic to make the vision come true. 

Keep in mind that Wikipedia wouldn’t have happened without Nupedia. The early goal of Nupedia was to develop a platform that was respected in the academic community. 

Both Jimmy and Larry agreed on some core policies that remain the foundation of Wikipedia rules and regulations. Any topic that was controversial in nature would receive a dedicated space on the website named “Press”. Secondly, the articles won’t be signed by just one author. The articles will be the collaborative property of multiple authors.  This made sure that any single author does not receive the credit for articles. 

The goal behind this was that any collaborative article would become an authority on any particular topic. An article that was made by multiple authors and covered all sides of a topic would be the absolute truth about the topic. 

The collaborative editing process that was approved by Larry and Jimmy remains constant to this day.

The Problem With Weak Procedures

The collaborative information process worked smoothly as contributors would submit articles to the Nupedia Advisory Board. But standing in their way was the super complicated 7-step approval process. Any article or information had to go through these steps before publication in the encyclopedia. This was the first stage of a process that had to go through multiple changes. Those developing the process saw that the system is broken. 

The process was so complicated that the first article went through the system in July 2000. By the end of 2001, the website approved only 25 articles. Over 150 articles were still in review. 

To boost this growth, Jimmy launched Wikipedia as a place where contributors could publish their content without having to go through the complicated review process. 

After this, Wikipedia grew like wildfire. This sudden growth forced Larry to spend more time on Wikipedia. Plus, the growing volume of content forced everyone to spend less and less time on Nupedia. 

The growth of Wikipedia wasn’t just words. By the end of January 2021, there were over 600 articles, and by the end of May, there had been 3,900 published articles in Wikipedia. Every single one of these articles was continuously edited and updated by the new users. 

This constant growth of Wikipedia can also be credited to  Google. As Google started crawling Wikipedia articles and showing them on top of basically every search result, it caused more and more users to go to the website. 

As more users became aware of Wikipedia, more users wanted to publish an article or contribute to an article. 

Growth of Problem Contributors

With that growth rate, it’s obvious some people tried to take advantage of Wikipedia. Larry had to deal with tons of internet trolls and anarchists that would have impacted the credibility and reputation of Wikipedia. This even caused Wikipedia to lose valuable customers. 

In the words of Larry “There were many more who quietly came and quietly left. Short of removing the problem contributors altogether – which we did only in the very worst cases – there was no easy solution, under the system as we had set it up.”

In 2002, Larry was laid off as the entire technological process burst wide open. He left the project for what he called, “a fundamental philosophical disagreement about how the project should be run.”

The challenges that Wikipedia faces are the same for any other website today. Websites and online forums have to censor offensive content while making sure users get the information they came for. Regardless of the type of website that is online, there are people that will try to mess up the content. 

What Does the Future of Wikipedia Hold?

These challenges with Wikipedia did not show up until the growth of the website. If you go to the Wikipedia foundation page, the foundation was approved as a non-profit “Adult Continuing Education” foundation. All those who donate to the foundation can deduct the donation from their income taxes. This is applicable to all US residents. 

Everyone knows that Wikipedia has kept growing over the years. But there are some astonishing facts that most don’t know. Wikipedia celebrated its “one billionth edit” on April 16th, 2010. In 2012, there were 4 million articles on Wikipedia, with a user base of 17 million users. 

Wikipedia is still going strong with the help of donations. According to a report, Wikipedia had $24 million in donations in 2011. While that number is currently going down, the future of Wikipedia still looks strong. 

Milestones Achieved By Wikipedia

  • Wikipedia’s first 100 pages were published in just 4 days 15th January to 19th January 2001. 
  • In the first year itself, Wikipedia had over 20,000 entries submitted. 
  • On January 15, 2001, a “Philosophy” page was created and it’s the first page that is not Wikipedia-related.
  • Wikipedia has been edited a total of 1.016 billion times since its birth. 
  • Currently, Wikipedia has 53.2 million pages. These pages include: take pages, redirects, etc. Only 6.2 million of these pages are content specific. 
  • In February 2021, Wikipedia started ranking in 13th position in Alexa’s top 50 most popular global sites. 
  • 86.64% of Wikipedia’s traffic comes from organic search results. 
  • As of 2021, there are 319 versions of Wikipedia in different languages. 
  • There are over 40 million registered English users in English Wikipedia. 
  • 84% of Wikipedia editors are male.
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