Wikipedia, founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, is today’s most famous example of distributed collaboration. Wikipedia developed out of the failure of Nupedia, the creators’ original idea for a freely distributable online encyclopedia, co-authored by collaborating scholars. Due to the excruciatingly slow process of drafting and publishing an article on Nupedia, the site lacked progress, and the decision to institute a wiki format did not sit well with Nupedia’s advisory board. However, the idea for an open platform of general reference remained, and thus Wikipedia.com (later changed to Wikipedia.org) was born.
Wikipedia is based on Ward Cunningham’s 1995 model of a user-editable website, the wiki. He believed groups of people who want to collaborate also tend to trust one another, and therefore the resulting flexibility of role (a product of mass amateurization) would function harmoniously despite the lack of formal oversight or editorial control. This assumption was proven correct by the increasing number of wiki-users, also combatting the problem of speed that resulted from highly structured work environments. Read the rest of this entry »