Still not a solid entry in a bibliography, Wikipedia is a highly useful place to find answers to your pressing questions—and it’s definitely a mainstay of contemporary life. The website at the top of your search results was launched January 15, 2001, as a side project to the first web-based encyclopedia, Nupedia.

Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales co-created Nupedia in 2000. In Nupedia, the idea was there—create an online encyclopedia carefully edited by experts—but the will was not. The dedication to expert review made the writing process slow and tedious, and in the first year, Sanger and Wales collected no more than two dozen entries.

An American Library Association “internet review” of Nupedia commented: “The project editor, Dr. Larry Sanger, believes that Nupedia will someday rival Britannica Online but Britannica subscribers should not view the current version of Nupedia as an alternative. Instead of considering Nupedia as an extensive resource at this time, academic librarians might view it as a new method of disseminating information. Additionally, librarians and faculty may want to consider participating in this unique venture.”

Unfortunately, librarians did not

As Sanger and Wales explored options for generating more content, they decided to add a wiki feature to the site and call it “Wikipedia” to differentiate it from Nupedia. Wikipedia took off, leaving Nupedia in the dust. Within two weeks, the site had 600 articles, and within a year, more than 20,000.

Twenty years later, the English version of Wikipedia offers nearly 6.3 million articles on anything under the sun. In 2015, artist Michael Mandiberg began exhibiting his art installation “Print Wikipedia,” which encompasses 7,473 hardbound volumes of Wikipedia content at a specific moment in time.

By 2003, Nupedia was abandoned, and Sanger and Wales have famously parted ways in the years since. Sanger has publicly viewed his co-creation with skepticism, but Wales and Wikipedia keep publishing on.

Photo: PREMIO STOCK / Shutterstock

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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