Wikipedia, like Nupedia, is supported by free software exponent Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation; Stallman is one of people who articulated the usefulness of a "free universal encyclopedia" (see his essay online,"[The Free Universal Encyclopedia and Learning Resource]") before Wikipedia and Nupedia were founded.
There are three essential characteristics of the Wikipedia project, which together define its niche on the World Wide Web and indeed which make it entirely unique, so far.
First and foremost, the Wikipedia project is self-consciously an encyclopedia--rather than a dictionary, discussion forum, web portal, etc. See encyclopedia as well as what Wikipedia is not.
The project is also essentially and self-consciously a wiki--which allows for general public authorship and editing of any page. For information on the wiki format, see the WikiWiki article. Wikipedia is the first serious general encyclopedia to be developed using this format. While Wikipedia has altered, for purposes of creating an encyclopedia, much of the original culture which surrounds WikiWikiWebs, it continues to retain the community-managed and -built aspect to nearly all WikiWikiWebs.
Also essential to the project and its success is the fact that it is open content. Open content text and media are licensed by the copyright holder to the general public, permitting anyone to redistribute and alter the text free of charge, and guaranteeing that no one be able to restrict access to amended versions of the content. The participants' understanding that their efforts will be freely distributable is one of the main incentives they have to participate.
Wikipedia's participants commonly follow, and enforce, a few basic policies that seem essential to keeping the project running smoothly and productively. The following are just a few of those policies; for more information, please see Wikipedia policy.
First, because we have a huge variety of participants of all ideologies, and from around the world, Wikipedia is committed to making its articles as unbiased as possible. The aim is not to write articles from a single objective point of view--this is a common misunderstanding of the policy--but rather, to fairly and sympathetically present all views on an issue. See neutral point of view page for further explanation, and for a very lengthy discussion.
Second, there are a number of important naming conventions with which participants familiarize themselves.
Third, Wikipedians use so-called "/Talk" pages to discuss changes to the text--rather than, with a few exceptions, discussing the changes within the text itself. See the page about talk pages as well as the editing policy page.
Fourth, there are a number of kinds of entries which are generally discouraged, because they do not, strictly speaking, constitute encyclopedia articles. See what Wikipedia is not.
Fifth, there are a variety of rules that have been proposed and which have varying amounts of support within the Wikipedia community. The most widely-supported rule is: "If rules make you nervous and depressed, and not desirous of participating in the wiki, then ignore them entirely and go about your business." It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that the wiki is as well-disciplined and good-natured as it is. See the rules to consider page for more information.
Wikipedia has been built by scores--probably hundreds, as of September 2001--of volunteer scholars, hobbyists, students, and generally-knowledgeable people from around the world who happened to show up at the website and who, seeing the activity and the ease of article-creation, felt inspired to donate some of their knowledge. Participants in the project are called Wikipedians. Numbers of participants have dramatically increased since its inception, and the number of extremely highly-educated participants is growing as well.
There is no editor-in-chief per se, and two people who founded and are paid, by Bomis, Inc., to work on and manage the encyclopedia, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, like to think of themselves as mere participants who are charged with seeing to it that the project does not stray from the path on which it is already travelling. Other Bomis employees who have done some work on the encyclopedia include Tim Shell, one of the co-founders of Bomis, as well as programmers Jason Richey and Toan Vo.
Wikipedia had its origin in a conversation between two old Internet friends, Larry Sanger, editor-in-chief of Nupedia, and [Ben Kovitz]?, a computer programmer and polymath, on the evening of January 2, 2001, in San Diego, California. Kovitz is (or was) a [[Ward's Wiki]] regular. When Kovitz explained the basic wiki concept to Sanger over dinner, Sanger immediately saw that the wiki format would be an excellent format whereby a more open, less formal encyclopedia project could be pursued. For months prior to this, Sanger and his boss, Jimmy Wales, president and CEO of Bomis, Inc., had been discussing various ways to supplement Nupedia with a more open, complementary project.
So it did not take much for Sanger to persuade Wales to set up a wiki for Nupedia. Nupedia's first wiki went online on January 10. There was considerable resistance on the part of Nupedia's editors and reviewers, however, to making Nupedia closely associated with a website in the wiki format. Therefore, the new project was given the name "Wikipedia" and launched on its own address, Wikipedia.com, on January 15.
The project has received large numbers of participants from being mentioned, three times, on the tech website Slashdot--there were two minor mentions March 5 and March 30, and then a prominent feature (also featured on the community-edit tech website Kuro5hin?) on July 26. Between these relatively rapid influxes of traffic, there has been a steady stream of traffic from other sources--especially from Google, which alone daily sends hundreds of new visitors to the site.
The project passed 1,000 pages around February 12, and regularly passed other milestones in ensuing months. In the first eight months of its existence, over 9,000 encyclopedia entries were created--a rate of over 1,000 articles per month. This rate has more or less steadily increased since the inception of the project.
For further history, see the archives of the Wikipedia Announcements page.
More essential information about Wikipedia can be found in the Wikipedia FAQ.
In 1993, a project called interpedia? was being discussed, first on a high-traffic mailing list, and then on its own usenet newsgroup comp.infosystems.interpedia (see ). This was intended to be a distributed internet encyclopedia which would allow anyone to contribute by writing web pages and submitting them to the central catalog of all interpedia pages. There was some disagreement about whether all pages should be in HTML, plain text, or whether all formats should be allowed. Another point of discussion was whether outside internet resources not specifically written for the interpedia could become part of it by simply including them in the catalog.
Articles did not have to be neutral: several independent "Seal-of-approval" (SOAP) agencies were envisioned which would rate interpedia articles based on criteria of their own choosing; users could then decide which agencies' recommendations to follow.
The project never left the planning stage and died; it was taken over by the explosion of the web and the emergence of high-quality search engines.
We need someone to research and write something about the history of other attempts to make free encyclopedias online. Wikipedia is the first completely free (in the "libre" sense) online encyclopedia to achieve any significant size, but it's not the first attempted free online encyclopedia, not by a long shot.
The rest of this article is an introduction to Wikipedia for participants. A more complete introduction can be found at Welcome, newcomers.
We invite everyone to contribute. If you're visiting Wikipedia for the first time, welcome! Just pick a topic, write an article. Click on the "Edit text of this page" link at the bottom of every page to edit a page; for more information, see our editing instructions. The articles don't have to be long; a little bit in the early stages will help a lot. You can do so anonymously or give yourself credit. If you see an error, you can instantly edit an article to fix it.
Let's discuss the mechanisms of Wikipedia on Wikipedia policy (and in particular see the naming conventions page), and see the Wikipedia FAQ for answers to many questions. See also tips on contributing to Wikipedia.
You might be wondering: just why is Wikipedia so great, anyway?
If you've got a minute, think about publicizing Wikipedia. Think about leveraging effort--in the time it takes you to write two decent articles, you might be able to get ten people on board who can write ten decent articles apiece.
If you think that the system here is a little too chaotic and unregulated--and you can write authoritatively on some subjects--try the Nupedia [Chalkboard], which has more rules, but the same wiki format. A formal, peer-reviewed project is [Nupedia], but Nupedia often lacks Wikipedia's instantaneous feedback mechanisms.