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Wikipedia is the name of an open content, WikiWiki encyclopedia that uses MediaWiki software.

The main and original Wikipedia is in English (American, British, or other, depending on the participant), but there are a number of Wikipedias in other languages as well, the most active of which, as of January 2002, is the German-language Wikipedia, followed by the Polish-Language Wikipedia.

The main english site can have between 25 - 30 edits per minute at busy times, has extensive help pages and a great community vibe. With an easy log-on process, automatically generated watchlists and a feature rich editing interface contributing to Wikipedia can be a good rush. Wikipedia has as RSS feed and a RDF feed at for the English Wikipedia (substitute de, fr etc. for other languages).

Wikipedia, like Nupedia, is supported by free software exponent Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation; Stallman is one of the 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.

The particular version of wiki software that originally ran Wikipedia was UseModWiki (also used by the infoAnarchy wiki), for which Clifford Adams is responsible.

In January, 2002, Wikipedia began running on PHP wiki software, which was specifically written for the Wikipedia project by Magnus Manske.


Essential characteristics of the project

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. 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 aspects of them.

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.

A few commonly-followed policies

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 should 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. Concerns which seem to span many articles may require a more general treatment at which tries to track what is going on here.

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.

Wikipedia's personnel

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 or were 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.

Larry's job was to oversee Wikipedia (and Nupedia); with the advice of everyone, it was his responsibility to make final, fair decisions on issues where community consensus cannot be reached.

Funding ran out for his position, leading to his resignation, but he still contributes occasionally.

Jimmy and Wikipedians as a whole have taken over some of Larry's former responsibilities.

Other current and past 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.

A brief history of Wikipedia

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,, on January 15 (now known as Wikipedia Day).

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, 2001, and 10,000 articles around September 7.

In the first year of its existence, over 20,000 encyclopedia entries were created--a rate of over 1,500 articles per month. The rate of growth has more or less steadily increased since the inception of the project.

Until January 2002, Sanger was employed by Bomis as editor in chief of Nupedia and unofficial leader of Wikipedia. Funding ran out, and Sanger resigned from both positions in March 2002. As of March 20, 2002, Wikipedia has reached the 27,000 article mark, according to its front page article counter.

In July 2004 the Chinese government began censoring the Chinese version of Wikipedia.

For further history, see the archives of the Wikipedia Announcements page. More essential information about Wikipedia can be found in the Wikipedia FAQ. Content from this page has been adapted from an original article from Wikipedia, licensed under the FDL.