Everyone who uses the internet has read a Wikipedia page at least once in their lives. Wikipedia has played a large part in helping distribute information to people all over the world who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. Have you ever wondered where it all began?
Let’s take a look at the history of Wikipedia – from its origins over 20 years ago through the present day.
Origins Of Wikipedia
The world’s largest encyclopedia has humble beginnings in the late 1990s. It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time, it was unclear whether Wikipedia would have any success at all. Before we discuss Wikipedia itself, let’s take a look at the foundation that was paved for the world’s largest encyclopedia.
Origin Of Wiki
Understanding where the term ‘Wikipedia’ actually comes from is key to understanding the history of the website itself. Wikipedia was coined as a combination of the words wiki and encyclopedia. Most people will know what an encyclopedia is, but what does ‘wiki’ mean?
The word wiki is the Hawaiian word for quick or fast. Wiki sites use open-source software that allows for collaborative content creation. Wiki software has revolutionized the internet in a number of ways:
- Allows users from different places and backgrounds to contribute their knowledge to a website.
- People from different parts of the world can come together to work on the same page.
- Allows more people to have free access to knowledge.
- Decentralization of publishing power.
- Allows for more diversity in content creation.
- Due to the open-edit structure, information can be constantly updated.
The term ‘wiki’ is not strictly limited to Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Foundation. For example, sites such as WikiHow and WikiLeaks are not affiliated at all with Wikipedia – they just also use the same open-source wiki software to generate content on their website.
Years before the creation of Wikipedia, Ward Cunningham created the world’s first wiki-based website. On March 25, 1995, WikiWikiWeb was launched. At the time it was revolutionary as the internet’s first website that could be edited by anyone, not just the site creator.
Who Is The Real Founder Of Wikipedia
Wikipedia was co-founded by philosopher Larry Sanger and entrepreneur Jimmy Wales. Originally, Wales hired Sanger to help create Nupedia, an online encyclopedia that would be written by expert scholars, instead of the general public. Unlike Wikipedia, however, Nupedia lacked accessibility because it wasn’t based on open-source wiki software. The peer-review process for Nupedia was much more structured and extensive, much like professional encyclopedias.
Pretty quickly, they decided to go in a different direction by using wiki software to create a website that could be user edited. This meant anyone could make edits or create new articles without being held back by the more traditional structure of Nupedia, which had a challenging 7-step review process
The first Wikipedia edit was made on 15 January 2001, and the website quickly grew in popularity. The now-defunct Nupedia site went offline in 2003.
Whereas Nupedia was intended to be a profitable project, Wales went in a different direction for Wikipedia. In 2003, he founded the Wikimedia Foundation as a nonprofit organization to fund Wikipedia and its other free knowledge projects.
Larry Sanger left Wikipedia in 2002 and criticizes Wikipedia despite his hand in its creation. He has claimed that the site has a left-leaning bias. Jimmy Wales has tried to position himself as the sole founder of Wikipedia even though Sanger is often cited as a co-founder.
The Evolution Of Wikipedia
Wikipedia has changed dramatically since that first edit was made in 2001. As an open-source website, it is constantly evolving and has improved a lot throughout the years.
Credibility Of Wikipedia
Wikipedia was criticized heavily for being unreliable in the early 2000s but has taken steps since then to improve its credibility. Wikipedia now outlines guidelines for content publishing, which include:
- Proper referencing of facts from outside, third-party sources.
- Writing in a concise, clear, and specific manner.
- Articles must be written from a neutral point of view.
- Writers should not edit or create articles where there is a conflict of interest.
- Content must pass notability requirements.
- Wikipedia editors are encouraged to fact-check articles to ensure accuracy.
Wikipedia Through Time
The Mid To Late 2000s
The mid-2000s marked another pivotal time for Wikipedia. By the end of 2004, the site had expanded to more than 100 different languages with over a million articles.
In June of that year, Wikipedia was blocked for the first time by a foreign government. The Chinese government blocked their citizen’s access to Wikipedia for two weeks during the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. To this day, China’s government still blocks access to Wikipedia, and many other governments attempt to censor Wikipedia as well.
By 2005, the site had become the most popular online encyclopedia in the world when the English Wikipedia reached 750,000 articles. To this day, it is still the largest common knowledge resource that has ever been available in human history.
In the same year, Wikipedia started creating policies to combat vandalism on Wikipedia articles in response to the Seigenthaler Incident. During this incident, a random unidentified user made a hoax edit regarding the journalist’s involvement in the J.F.K assassinations, which went unnoticed for months.
The website continued to grow throughout the decade, reaching 14 million articles by 2009. In that year, the website crashed temporarily due to high traffic after the death of Michael Jackson.
Wikipedia’s growth did not stop in the 2000s. In April of 2010, Wikimedia as a whole reached its 1 billionth edit, just a few months shy of Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary. The English Wikipedia remains the largest version of the site, but growth continues in other languages on the platform as well.
In 2012, Wikipedia took part in a protest against two anti-piracy laws in the United States – the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act. For 24 hours, the English version of the site shut down, as co-founder Jimmy Wales believed these acts threatened free speech.
Justin Knapp won the Golden Wiki award in that same year for making over one million edits to Wikipedia articles. To this day, he still maintains the record for most contributions made to the platform.
In the middle of the decade, artist Michael Mandiberg attempted to print the entire English language version of Wikipedia for his installation Print Wikipedia. He managed to print around one hundred out of the thousands that would be required to print every piece of information.
Throughout the 2010s, the platform continued to expand through all of its language versions. Wikipedia has remained within the top ten most visited websites in the entire world. As a disseminator of information, the platform continues to have a major impact on public discourse and conversations about free speech. It has also positioned itself as a major source of news.
In more recent years, Wikipedia has continued to expand the number of articles hosted on the platform, despite falling to 11th place for online engagement in 2020. During the pandemic, Wikipedia worked with the World Health Organization to combat rampant misinformation about COVID-19.
In 2021, Wikipedia turned 20 years old and fell into 13th place for online engagement. Even still, the site continues to provide massive amounts of free content and knowledge to people across the world. The platform is maintained by mostly anonymous volunteer editors from all around the world. Anyone can still edit Wikipedia, and there are around 100,000 people who make regular contributions.
Wikipedia still runs on a nonprofit model, receiving funding from small donations from readers all over the world. In return, they give people free access to information at an unparalleled level, despite the decline in engagement.
Wikipedia is not without its flaws. At the end of the day, the knowledge hosted on Wikipedia is a reflection of our societal priorities and imperfections. However, the historical significance of this platform can not be overstated. There has never been a collection of knowledge so large in all of human history. Our current ability to find information about anything we want at a second’s notice was pioneered, in large part, by Wikipedia. When you want more information on all things Wikipedia, visit Wikipedia FAQ. We are a growing resource for all of the most frequently asked questions about Wikipedia.