Tom Roston in OneZero:
Wikipedia was launched as the ugly stepsibling of a whole other online encyclopedia, Nupedia. That site, launched in 1999, included a rigorous seven-step process for publishing articles written by volunteers. Experts would check the information before it was published online — a kind of peer-review process — which would theoretically mean every post was credible. And painstaking. And slow to publish.
“It was too hard and too intimidating,” says Jimmy Wales, Nupedia’s founder who is now, of course, better known as the founder of Wikipedia. “We realized… we need to make it easier for people.”
Now 20 years later — Wikipedia’s birthday is this Friday — nearly 300,000 editors (or “Wikipedians”) now volunteer their time to write, edit, block, squabble over, and scrub every corner of the sprawling encyclopedia. They call it “the project,” and they are dedicated to what they call its five pillars: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia; Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view; Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute; Wikipedia’s editors should treat each other with respect and civility; and Wikipedia has no firm rules.