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« Academia and Wikipedia | Main | Taggle: A proposed Google for Folksonomies »

January 4, 2005

Reagle on the Wikipedia

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Posted by Clay Shirky

As if on cue, I got a pointer from Joseph Reagle to his recent paper on the Wikipedia. It’s a fascinating piece, largely concerned with disagreement and dispute resolution among participants, but relative to the current debate about the Sanger piece, this bit of history jumped out at me:

Wikipedia is the populist offshoot of the Nupedia project started in March of 2000 by Jimbo Wales and Larry Sanger. Nupedia’s mission was to create a free encyclopedia via rigorous expert review under a free documentation license. Unfortunately, this process moved rather slowly and having recently been introduced to Wiki, Sanger persuaded Wales to set up a scratch-pad for potential Nupedia content where anyone could contribute. However, “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, Wikipedia.com, on January 15 [2001]”


Wikipedia proved to be so successful that when the server hosting Nupedia crashed in September of 2003 (with little more than 23 “complete” articles and 68 more in progress) it was never restored.

The idea of a Wikipedia, but vetted, runs aground on the simple math of relative growth. The ‘filter, then publish model’ of Nupedia, for all its considerable virtues, is simply inadequate to deal with rapid growth (only 23 articles completed!). The characteristics of the Wikipedia’s success are in its ability to grow with minimal constraints, even when that means that the whole is a work in progress.

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