Since the Internet's early days, there has been much speculation over the future of the encyclopedia. For the most part, it seemed the boundless potential of the information revolution would largely improve the existing format--making encyclopedias more comprehensive, interactive, and accessible. But some of the more interesting advances in recent years have entailed enlarging not only the realm of information resources but the sphere of information producers.
The Wikipedia is the largest and best-known of today's online encyclopedias. Its mission is to "put the sum of all human knowledge in the form of an encyclopedia in the hands of every single person on the planet for free," according to one of its founders. But whereas old-fashioned encyclopedias required the Herculean, aristocratic labor of scholarly minds to assemble their content and bring their volumes to completion, the Wikipedia is thoroughly democratic: Anyone with access to the Internet, both expert and layman alike--even an elementary school student--can contribute to and edit Wikipedia's content.
The idea for the Wikipedia emerged from an earlier effort to create a free Internet encyclopedia called Nupedia. At the time of its demise, Nupedia's content comprised a paltry 23 articles and some 60 more unfinished entries. Nupedia's co-founders Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger attributed this poor showing to the cumbersome process of review by credentialed experts with specialized knowledge, the preferred method of encyclopedia-makers past. So they rolled the dice on a new peer-review model based on Web software called "wiki," which allows multiple users not only to contribute to but also to edit a common pool of information. It enables people to collaborate on the creation of massive amounts of information-rich content in ways never before possible.
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