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January 16, 2002
Free Encyclopedia Project Celebrates Year One
By Michael Singer

My how time flies when you are on the Net.

Such is the song of contributors over at free online encyclopedia as the collaborative project is celebrating its one year anniversary today.

The San Diego-based organization marked the occasion Wednesday by reporting more than 20,000 articles on its site. Quite a feat considering Wikipedia announced 10,000 articles in September 2001. Organizers claim that number doubled in the last four months.

As an open project, going to Wikipedia means that anyone with an Internet connection can visit the website and edit an article without signing up. The site is an offshoot of its more academic sister project, Nupedia, but has long since overtaken it in terms of size.

Wikipedia is not only free to read, it is free to distribute. It is released under the GNU Free Documentation License, which ensures that anyone may reuse the entries on the site in any way they wish, including commercially, as long as they too preserve that right in their own versions.

Many participants are attracted to the notion that they are contributing to a completely free resource that can be used worldwide.

Internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales and philosopher Larry Sanger helped found Wikipedia. Wales has supplied the financial backing and other support for the project, and Sanger, who earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Ohio State in 2000, has led the project.

The two attribute Wikipedia's success so far to the presence of a strong core group of contributors who together maintain community standards of quality and neutrality.

"Participants all keep a watchful eye over the 'Recent Changes' page," says Wales. "They edit each others' work constantly. It seems surprising that it works very well, but it does."

At present, nearly 200 people are working on the project daily, from all around the world; organizers estimate that the project has had well over a thousand contributors. The success of such an open project, staffed by such a large and diverse body of writers, is a puzzle: how can so many people with so many different backgrounds collaborate with such little oversight? Project organizers say that it is partly because the participants can edit each others' contributions easily, and partly because the project has a strong "nonbias" policy; this keeps interaction relatively polite and productive.

"If contributors took controversial stands, it would be virtually impossible for people of many different viewpoints to collaborate," says Sanger. "Because of the neutrality policy, we have partisans working together on the same articles. It's quite remarkable."


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