Educational Research in Wikipedia


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Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone. It was formally launched on 15 January 2001. Initially it was created as a complement and 'feeder' to the expert-written English-language encyclopedia project 'Nupedia', in order to provide an additional source of draft articles and ideas. It quickly overtook Nupedia, growing to become a large global project, and originating a wide range of additional reference projects. As of 2008, Wikipedia includes several million freely usable articles and pages in hundreds of languages worldwide, and content from millions of contributors.

[edit] Background
The concept of gathering all of the world's knowledge in a single place goes back to the ancient Library of Alexandria and Pergamon, but the modern concept of a general purpose, widely distributed, printed encyclopedia dates from shortly before Denis Diderot and the 18th century encyclopedists. The idea of using automated machinery beyond the printing press to build a more useful encyclopedia can be traced to librarian Charles Ammi Cutter's article "The Buffalo Public Library in 1983" (Library Journal, 1883, p. 211–217), Paul Otlet's book Traité de documentation (1934; Otlet also founded the Mundaneum institution, 1910), H. G. Wells' book of essays World Brain (1937) and Vannevar Bush's future vision of the microfilm based Memex in As We May Think (1945). Another milestone was Ted Nelson's Project Xanadu in 1973.
With the development of the web, many people attempted to develop Internet encyclopedia projects. Free software exponent Richard Stallman described the usefulness of a "Free Universal Encyclopedia and Learning Resource" in 1999.[1] His published document "aims to lay out what the free encyclopedia needs to do, what sort of freedoms it needs to give the public, and how we can get started on developing it." The Free Software Foundation encourages people "to visit and contribute to the site".[2] One little-acknowledged predecessor was the Interpedia, which Robert McHenry has linked conceptually to Wikipedia.

[edit] Formulation of the concept
Wikipedia was initially conceived as a feeder project for Nupedia, an earlier (now defunct) project founded by Jimmy Wales to produce a free encyclopedia.[3][4][5] Nupedia was founded upon the use of highly qualified contributors and an elaborate multi-step peer review process. Despite its mailing-list of interested editors, and the presence of a full-time editor-in-chief, Larry Sanger, a graduate philosophy student hired by Wales,[6] the writing of content was extremely slow with only 12 articles written during the first year.[5]

The Wikipedia logo used until late 2001

The logo used from late 2001 until 2003
Wales and Sanger discussed various ways to create content more rapidly.[4] The idea of a wiki-based complement originated from a conversation between Larry Sanger and Ben Kovitz.[7][8][9] Ben Kovitz, a computer programmer and regular on Ward Cunningham's wiki (the WikiWikiWeb), introduced Sanger to wikis over dinner on January 2, 2001.[7][8][9][10] Wales first stated, in October 2001, that "Larry had the idea to use Wiki software",[11] though he later claimed in December 2005 that Jeremy Rosenfeld, a Bomis employee, introduced him to the concept.[12][13][14] Sanger thought a wiki would be a good platform to use, and proposed on the Nupedia mailing list that a wiki based upon UseModWiki (then v. 0.90) be set up as a "feeder" project for Nupedia. Under the subject "Let's make a wiki", he wrote:

No, this is not an indecent proposal. It's an idea to add a little feature to Nupedia. Jimmy Wales thinks that many people might find the idea objectionable, but I think not. (…) As to Nupedia's use of a wiki, this is the ULTIMATE "open" and simple format for developing content. We have occasionally bandied about ideas for simpler, more open projects to either replace or supplement Nupedia. It seems to me wikis can be implemented practically instantly, need very little maintenance, and in general are very low-risk. They're also a potentially great source for content. So there's little downside, as far as I can determine.

Wales set one up and put it online on January 10, 2001.[15]

[edit] Founding of Wikipedia
There was considerable resistance on the part of Nupedia's editors and reviewers to the idea of associating Nupedia with a wiki-style website. Sanger suggested giving the new project its own name, Wikipedia, and Wikipedia was soon launched on its own domain, wikipedia.com, on January 15, 2001.
The bandwidth and server (located in San Diego) used for these projects were donated by Bomis. Many current and past Bomis employees have contributed some content to the encyclopedia: notably Tim Shell, co-founder and current CEO of Bomis, and programmer Jason Richey.
The first edits ever made on Wikipedia are believed to be test edits by Wales.[citation needed] However, the oldest article still preserved is the article UuU, created on 16 January 2001, at 21:08 UTC.[16]

This is the UuU edit, the first edit that is still on Wikipedia to this day, as it appears today using the Nostalgia skin.
The project received many new participants after being mentioned three times on the Slashdot website,[citation needed] with two minor mentions in March 2001.[17][18] It then received a prominent pointer to a story on the community-edited technologies and culture website Kuro5hin on July 25.[19] Between these relatively rapid influxes of traffic, there had been a steady stream of traffic from other sources, especially Google, which alone sent hundreds of new visitors to the site every day. Its first major mainstream media coverage was in the New York Times on September 20, 2001.[20]
The project passed 1,000 articles 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. On August 30, 2002, the article count reached 40,000. The rate of growth has more or less steadily increased since the inception of the project, except for a few software- and hardware-induced slow-downs.[dubiousdiscuss]

[edit] Namespaces and Internationalization
Early in Wikipedia's development, it began to expand internationally, with the creation of new namespaces, each with a distinct set of usernames. The first domain reserved for a non-English Wikipedia was deutsche.wikipedia.com (on 16 March 2001),[21] followed after some minutes by catalan.wikipedia.com[22]; for about two months the latter was the only one with articles in a non-English language.[23][24] The French Wikipedia was created on 23 March 2001,[25] and was followed in May 2001 by a wave of new language versions, namely Chinese, Dutch, Esperanto, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.[26] These languages were soon joined by Arabic[27] and Hungarian.[28][29] In September 2001, an announcement pledged commitment to the multilingual provision of Wikipedia,[30] notifying users of an upcoming roll-out of Wikipedias for all major languages, the establishment of core standards, and a push for the translation of core pages for the new wikis. At the end of that year, when international statistics first began to be logged, Afrikaans, Norwegian, and Serbian versions were announced.[31]
In January 2002, 90% of all Wikipedia articles were in English. By January 2004, less than 50% were English, and this internationalization has continued to increase. As of 2007, around 75% of all Wikipedia articles are contained within non-English Wikipedia versions.

[edit] Development
In March 2002, following the withdrawal of funding by Bomis, Larry Sanger left both Nupedia and Wikipedia. Initially amicable, by 2004 differences between Sanger and Wales had driven a wedge between them, centering upon Sanger's criticism of Wikipedia's approach, his role in Wikipedia's success, and their views on how best to manage open encyclopedias (see #Early roles of Wales and Sanger). Both still supported the open-collaboration concept, but the two differed on how best to handle disruptive editors, specific roles for experts, and the best way to guide the project to success.

A Screenshot from the main page, September 28th, 2002.
Wales, a believer in communal governance and "hands off" executive management,[citation needed] went on to establish self-governance and bottom-up self-direction by editors on Wikipedia. He made it clear that he would not be involved in the community's day to day management, but would encourage it to learn to self-manage and find its own best approaches. As of 2007, Wales mostly restricts his own role to occasional input on serious matters, executive activity, advocacy of knowledge, and encouragement of similar reference projects.
Sanger advocated a "two tier" expert-led culture and more "hands on" executive management, with final editorial control by chief editors closer to the traditional model. He returned briefly to academia, then after joining the Digital Universe Foundation, went on to found Citizendium, an alternative open encyclopedia which uses real names for contributors in order to reduce disruptive editing, supports the specific recognition of experts, and is governed by a system of top-down management, including himself or agreed-upon editors or committees. He has stated that he intends to leave in a few years, when the project and its management are established.[32]

[edit] Organization
The Wikipedia project has grown rapidly in the course of its life, at several levels. Individual wikis have grown organically through the addition of new articles, new wikis have been added in English and non-English languages, and entire new projects replicating these growth methods in other related areas (news, quotations, reference books and so on) have been founded as well.
Respectively, Wikipedia itself has grown, with the creation of the Wikimedia Foundation to act as an umbrella body and the growth of software and policies to address the needs of the editorial community. These are documented below.

[edit] Historical overview by year
Articles summarizing each year are held within the Wikipedia project namespace and are linked to below. Additional resources for research are available within the Wikipedia records and archives, and are listed at the end of this article.
2001
The Nupedia project is started with Larry Sanger running the daily operations and formulating many of the initial policies. The Wikipedia.com and Wikipedia.org domain names are registered on January 12, 2001[33] and January 13, 2001,[34] respectively, with the latter being brought online on January 13, according to Alexa; project formally opens Jan 15 ('Wikipedia Day'); the first international Wikipedias are created (March-May: French, German, Catalan, Swedish); "Neutral point of view" (NPOV) policy is formally formulated; first slashdotter wave arrives July 26. The first media report about Wikipedia appears in August 2001 coincidentally by the newspaper Wales on Sunday.[35]
2002
Year 2002 sees: the end of funding from Bomis and the departure of Larry Sanger; the forking of the Spanish Wikipedia to establish the Enciclopedia Libre; and the creation of the first portable Mediawiki software (went live Jan 25). Bots are introduced, Jimmy Wales confirms Wikipedia would never run commercial advertising, and the first sister project (Wiktionary) and first formal Manual of Style are launched. A separate board of directors to supervise the project is proposed and initially discussed at Meta-Wikipedia.
2003
Mathematical formulae using TeX are introduced; English Wikipedia passes 100,000 articles (the next largest, German, passes 10,000); the Wikimedia Foundation is established; Wikipedia adopts its jigsaw world logo; and the first Wikipedian social meeting is organized. The basic principles of Wikipedia's Arbitration system and committee (known colloquially as "Arbcom") are developed mostly by Florence Devouard, Fred Bauder and other key early Wikipedians.
2004
The worldwide Wikipedia article pool continues to grow rapidly, doubling in size in 12 months, from under 500,000 articles to over 1 million (English Wikipedia was just less than half of these) in over 100 languages. The server farms are moved from California to Florida; Categories and CSS style configuration sheets are introduced; and the first attempt to block Wikipedia occurs (China, June 2004, duration 2 weeks). Formal election of a board and ArbCom begin - Devouard is the only person elected who was instrumental in ArbCom. She and others begin to criticize balance and focus problems and lead efforts to fill in articles in neglected areas. The first formal projects are proposed to deliberately balance content and seek out systemic bias arising from Wikipedia's community structure.
2005
Multilingual and subject portals are established; the first quarter's formal fundraiser raises almost US $ 100,000 for system upgrades to handle growing demand; Wikipedia becomes the most popular reference website on the Internet according to Hitwise; China again blocks Wikipedia (October); English Wikipedia passes 750,000 articles. The first Wikipedia scandal occurs, when a well known figure is found to have a vandalized biography which had gone unnoticed for months (the "Seigenthaler incident"). In the wake of this and other concerns,[36] the first policy and system changes specifically designed to counter this form of abuse are established. These include a new Checkuser privilege policy update (checkuser is a Mediawiki tool that assists in sock puppetry investigations), a new feature called semi-protection, a more strict policy on biographies of living people and tagging of such articles for stricter review, and restriction of new article creation to registered users only.
2006
English Wikipedia gains its 1½ millionth article; the first approved Wikipedia article selection is made freely available to download; "Wikipedia" becomes registered as a trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation; The congressional aides biography scandals come to public attention: multiple incidents in which congressional staffers and a campaign manager are caught trying to covertly alter Wikipedia biographies, the campaign manager resigns.
Jimmy Wales indicates, at Wikimania 2006, that Wikipedia has achieved sufficient volume and calls for an emphasis on quality, perhaps best expressed in the call for 100,000 feature-quality articles; A new privilege "oversight" is created allowing specific versions of archived pages with unacceptable content to be marked as non-viewable; Semi-protection against anonymous vandalism, introduced in 2005, proves more successful than anticipated, with over 1,000 pages semi-protected at any given time; Wikipedia is rated as one of the top 2006 global brands.[37]
Wales leaves his formal role to focus on Wikia and other projects. He and Larry Sanger publicly clash over project philosophy and co-foundership. Sanger accuses Wales of facilitating "trolls" and indirectly of being one himself; Wales more directly claims "trolls" are responsible for re-asserting Sanger's claims of co-foundership, which Wales now disputes.
2007
Wikipedia continues to grow, with some 5 million registered editor accounts;[38] the combined Wikipedias in all languages together contain 1.74 billion words in 7.5 million articles in approximately 250 languages;[39] the English Wikipedia gains a steady 1,700 articles a day,[40] with the wikipedia.org domain name ranked at around the 10th busiest on the Internet (See Wikipedia Statistics); Wikipedia continues to garner visibility in the press and to slowly but steadily gain traction as a tertiary source both in serious legal decision-making and as a source of collated information on current events; the Essjay controversy breaks when a prominent member of Wikipedia is found to have lied about his credentials; Citizendium launches publicly; a trend develops that the encyclopedia addresses people whose notability stems from being a participant in a news story by adding a redirect from their name to the larger story, rather than creation of a distinct biographical article.[41]
2008
In January, the English Wikipedia exceeds 2,172,800 articles revised by over 193,207,500 edits, giving a solid ratio of about 88.9 saved revisions per article.[42] Various WikiProjects in many areas continue to expand and refine article contents within their scope. In April, the 10 millionth Wikipedia article was created, an article within the Hungarian Wikipedia.

[edit] History by subject area

[edit] Hardware and software
Main article: Mediawiki
The software that runs Wikipedia, and the hardware, server farms and other systems upon which Wikipedia relies.
In January 2001, Wikipedia ran on UseModWiki, written in Perl by Clifford Adams. The server has run on Linux to this day, although the original text was stored in files rather than in a database. Articles were named with the CamelCase convention.
In January 2002, "Phase II" of the wiki software powering Wikipedia was introduced, replacing the older UseModWiki. Written specifically for the project by Magnus Manske, it included a PHP wiki engine.
In July 2002, a major rewrite of the software powering Wikipedia went live; dubbed "Phase III", it replaced the older "Phase II" version, and became MediaWiki. It was written by Lee Daniel Crocker in response to the increasing demands of the growing project.
In October 2002, Derek Ramsey started to use a "bot", or program, to add a large number of articles about United States towns; these articles were automatically generated from U.S. census data. Occasionally, similar bots had been used before for other topics. These articles were generally well received, but some users criticized them for their initial uniformity and writing style (for example, see this version of an original bot-generated town article, and compare to current version).
In January 2003, support for mathematical formulas in TeX was added. The code was contributed by Tomasz Wegrzanowski.
June 9, 2003 - ISBNs in articles now link to Special:Booksources, which fetches its contents from the user-editable page Wikipedia:Book sources. Before this, ISBN link targets were coded into the software and new ones were suggested on the Wikipedia:ISBN page. See the edit that changed this.
After 6 December 2003, various system messages shown to Wikipedia users were no longer hard coded, allowing Wikipedia administrators to modify certain parts of MediaWiki's interface, such as the message shown to blocked users.
On February 12, 2004, server operations were moved from San Diego, California to Tampa, Florida.[43]
On May 29, 2004, all the various websites were updated to a new version of the MediaWiki software.
On May 30, 2004, the first instances of "categorization" entries appeared. Category schemes, like Recent Changes and Edit This Page, had existed from the founding of Wikipedia. However, Larry Sanger had viewed the schemes as lists, and even hand-entered articles, whereas the categorization effort centered on individual categorization entries in each article of the encyclopedia, as part of a larger automatic categorization of the articles of the encyclopedia.[44]
After 3 June 2004, administrators could edit the style of the interface by changing the CSS in the monobook stylesheet at MediaWiki:Monobook.css.
Also on 30 May 2004, with MediaWiki 1.3, the Template namespace was created, allowing transclusion of standard texts.[45]
On 7 June 2005 at 3:00AM Eastern Standard Time the bulk of the Wikimedia servers were moved to a new facility across the street. All Wikimedia projects were down during this time.

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