New wiki-based community - How did Wikipedia get rolling?
July 23, 2007 1:50 PM   Subscribe

New wiki-based community - How did Wikipedia get rolling?

And please don't link me over to a "One day Jimmy Wales had an idea" article. That's not what I need.

What I'm looking for here is:

1. Who wrote the first thousand or so Wiki articles?
2. Were they all Jimmy's friends?
3. How did he/they get Wikipedia to viralize? (Paging Seth Godin)

I and a partner are in the process of developing a wiki-based community catering to a very specific business niche. We're in this for love, but there could be money down the road.

In order for it to be the best resource possible, what are your suggestions for growing such a community?

posted by SlyBevel to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Wikipedia's first thousand or so articles were copy-and-pasted from a public domain Encyclopedia Britannica from the early 20th century. Early wiki editors worked on improving and updating those core articles in addition to adding new ones.
posted by CRM114 at 2:07 PM on July 23, 2007

Here's a rather detailed writeup on Wikipedia's origin from Larry Sanger.
posted by cortex at 2:37 PM on July 23, 2007

There was also an influx of more recent public domain articles at the beginning, typically from U.S. government sources.

I have no idea how to grow the community you want, but I know that mentions from slashdot helped give the wikipedia membership a couple of huge bumps at the beginning.
posted by Tuwa at 4:57 PM on July 23, 2007

Larry Sanger himself wrote the first couple hundred articles, on topics in philosophy, for the nascent NuPedia. As he did so a small cadre of friends followed his lead. The public-domain Britannica import came later.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:49 PM on July 23, 2007

Best answer: I think 1. is largely Larry Sanger and the core group of writers who had been recruited to write Nupedia. There was a mailing list and a lot of very serious effort by people who had felt the Nupedia bureaucratic process hampered progress on building an encyclopedia. See Wikipedia's Oldest Articles.

2. Jimbo is definitely there in the earliest stages, e.g. his first recorded edit to the Thomas Edison article. I guess you could say they were all close in the early days, but there were various ways that the mailing list was advertised including USENET and other mailing lists such as GNU (recall that the "Nu" in Nupedia was deliberately referencing the GNU project). MediaWiki was written with the help of GNU programmers.

3. Viralize? They didn't. It languished. People did the odd thing like mass-dump US geographic data into it or the 1911 encyclopedia. Eventually it began attracting google hits. Look at the Alexa history (click "max") and you'll see that it took years before there was significant growth. It was really only the beginning of 2006 when it began getting significant attention (or the end of 2005 when page views began shooting up). It took 15 months to climb from the 1000th-ranked site to the 100th-ranked one.

I also found in the process of answering this great essay:
Wikipedia's heritage: vision, pragmatics, and happenstance

Speaking to the second part of your question, I think the most important things you can do are

a) seed content. you need incoming search-engine traffic.
b) recruit core users and give them as much carte blanche as you dare.
c) have a blog or a mailing list operate to keep the community alive.
d) juice it with some social network features, so the users interact more often.
e) when the media come calling make sure that you point them to your users, so they get some ego-boo
posted by dhartung at 10:18 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Dhartung, thank you.

We have a blog, and have been wondering if it will be of any real value after the wiki launch. Your answer (c.) above is extremely timely.

The fact that Wiki's rise took so long is a little disheartening, but it seems that they could have done things better, and anyway, it's not 2005 anymore. Uh...right?
posted by SlyBevel at 10:28 PM on July 23, 2007

Best answer: You need to check out Meatball Wiki, which is a community dedicated to asking and answering exactly these sorts of questions.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:26 AM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: Take a look at Wikipedia fork Citizendium, as it is starting maybe it can help following it.
posted by zouhair at 6:19 AM on July 25, 2007

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