The Origin and History of Wikipedia

Wikipedia is simply an electronic encyclopedia representing the collaboration of a unique online community of thinkers and writers. These thinkers and writers vigorously utilize this democratic method of user input designed to cater to all groups and dedicated to providing balanced opinions and articles with the sole purpose of informing.

On January 10, 2001, Larry Sanger presented to the public the idea of using a wiki to develop encyclopedic content. Larry Sanger had been hired in 2000 to be Editor-in-Chief for Nupedia, an open-content, peer-reviewed encyclopedia styled the “free encyclopedia.” Jimmy Wales, the founder of Nupedia, set Sanger’s proposal to use a wiki to create encyclopedic content into motion. On January 15, 2001, Wikipedia was created; at that time it was simply a wiki-based website to be used for writers contributing content to Nupedia. Collaboration would take place at the wiki site and then be submitted to Nupedia for peer review. Wales and Sanger were scarce prepared for the swift expansion of Wikipedia with the result that the Nupedia project was placed on the backburner and all efforts put to the Wikipedia venture.

A clear understanding of a wiki (pronounced, weekie) will help to explain the unique opportunity provided the online community of users who contribute to Wikipedia and other wiki projects. Indeed, Wikipedia defines a wiki as “a type of website that allows users to easily add, remove or otherwise edit all content very quickly and easily, sometimes without the need for registration.” Speed is a key element of the wiki process. Wiki is actually a short form of wiki wiki from the native language of Hawaii; it is most often used to describe something “quick” or “fast.” The term was coined by Ward Cunningham after the wiki wiki or quick shuttle buses at Honolulu Airport.

The first wiki site was begun March 25, 1995 by Ward Cunningham as an automated supplement to the Portland Pattern Repository. The Portland Pattern Repository provided solutions to recurring problems found in computer programming. Patterns are the recurring solutions found in the problems of program designs. The wonder of the creation of the wiki, however, is that it promotes the contribution of content from non-technical users.

Wiki contributions are known as “open editing; the ease of interaction and operation make it an effective method for collaborative writing. This ease of contribution also lends itself to the possibility of vandalism – all wiki editors are, of course, not well-intentioned. Wikis were designed with a philosophy of simplifying the correction of mistakes; it did not ensure that mistakes could not or would not be made. The wiki communities guard the sites zealously and jealously; mistakes are corrected often within minutes of being posted.
Wiki sometimes refers to the wiki engine or collaborative software that facilitates the operation of these wiki sites. Documents are written collectively using a web browser; a simple markup language is used – a simplification of the process of creating HTML pages. Each individual change is recorded over time which allows for a history of all changes that have been made and instant reversion back to any prior page in a site’s history. A single page in a wiki is called a “wiki page” while the entire body of pages and hyperlinks are known as “the wiki.”

The English language Wikipedia is currently the world’s largest wiki. An encyclopedia is a comprehensive written compendium that contains information from all branches of knowledge or a specific branch of knowledge. Wikipedia articles contain both encyclopedic and almanac-like material. Almanac material may contain lists, tables and charts. From its explosive take-off in 2001 it Wikipedia grew to 150, 000 articles by August 2003. In just one month it grew to 300,000 articles in various languages and by 2005 there were over 600,000 articles. The year 2006 saw Wikipedia reach the one million article mark; as of this writing Wikipedia contains 1,136,686 articles. Wikipedia is currently found in 215 languages.

Wiki is sometimes interpreted as the backronym for “What I know is.” This cleverly describes the knowledge contribution, storage and exchange function of the Wikipedia project. Thousands of individuals and groups have contributed to Wikipedia, indeed, anyone is allowed to contribute. In order to contribute to the project one must have some encyclopedic knowledge to add and understand how to edit a page. The glory of the Wikipedia is that instructions and directions for editing and contributing are imbedded into the site itself.
Wikipedia is owned by Jimmy Wales’ Wikimedia Foundation.

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