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This article is from:

All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License: 


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nupedia logo
Nupedia logo

Nupedia was a Web-based encyclopedia whose articles were written by experts and licensed as free content. It was founded by Jimmy Wales and underwritten by Bomis, with Larry Sanger as editor-in-chief. Nupedia lasted from March of 2000[1] until September of 2003, and is mostly known now as the predecessor of Wikipedia.

Nupedia was not a wiki. It was characterized by an extensive peer-review process designed to make its articles of a quality comparable to that of professional encyclopedias. Nupedia wanted scholars to volunteer content for free. Before it ceased operating, Nupedia produced 24 articles[2] that completed its review process (three articles also existed in two versions of different lengths), and 74 more articles were in progress.


Nupedia was always a free content encyclopedia. Initially the project used a homegrown license, the Nupedia Open Content License. In January 2001 it switched to the GNU Free Documentation License at the urgings of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. However, Stallman also started the GNUPedia project at the same time, which led to concerns about possible competition between the projects. One issue for GNUPedia participants was that, in spite of Nupedia's use of a free content license, the extensive formal peer review ran counter to the culture and philosophy of the free software movement.

During this same time period, Nupedia started Wikipedia as a side project to allow collaboration on articles prior to entering the peer review process. This attracted interest from both sides, as it provided the less bureaucratic structure favored by GNUPedia advocates. As a result, GNUPedia never really developed and the threat of competition between the projects was averted. As Wikipedia grew and attracted contributors, it quickly developed a life of its own and began to function largely independent of Nupedia, although Sanger initially led activity on Wikipedia by virtue of his position as Nupedia editor-in-chief.

Besides leading to discontinuation of the GNUPedia project, Wikipedia also led to the gradual demise of Nupedia. Due to the collapse of the internet economy at that time, Jimmy Wales decided to discontinue funding for a salaried editor-in-chief in December 2001[1], and Sanger resigned from both projects soon thereafter. After his departure, Nupedia increasingly became an afterthought to Wikipedia (of the Nupedia articles that completed the review process, only two did so after 2001). As Nupedia dwindled into inactivity, the idea of converting it into a stable version of approved Wikipedia articles was occasionally broached, but never implemented. It has been said that the Nupedia website was shut down on September 26, 2003, but a few pages were still available at . However, since then, the domain has ceased to contain Nupedia and now contains an automatically generated search listing from . Nupedia's limited content has been assimilated into Wikipedia[1].

Nupedia's Original HTML logo
Nupedia's Original HTML logo

The editorial process

Nupedia had a seven-step editorial process, consisting of:

  1. Assignment
  2. Finding a lead reviewer
  3. Lead review
  4. Open review
  5. Lead copyediting
  6. Open copyediting
  7. Final approval and markup

The bar to become a Nupedia contributor was relatively high, with the policy stating, "We wish editors to be true experts in their fields and (with few exceptions) possess Ph.D.s." However, the reviewers evaluating drafts of an article generally would have no special expertise in the article's subject. Reviewers were identified by screen names, and although there was a facility that allowed reviewers to post their bios, many did not; thus, the expert writing the article was often obliged to modify it based on comments from effectively anonymous reviewers, with no way of knowing their qualifications. The process was also different from Wikipedia's because the expectation was that reviewers would give criticisms, but not do any actual editing on the articles themselves. Because the number of participants in Nupedia was so small (many orders of magnitude smaller than the number of participants in the mature stages of Wikipedia), there was generally no dialogue between people with knowledge of the article's subject.

Software development

Nupedia was powered by NupeCode collaborative software. NupeCode is free/open source software (released under the GNU General Public License) designed for large peer review projects. The code was available via Nupedia's CVS repository. One of the problems experienced by Nupedia during much of its existence was that the software was lacking functionality. Much of the missing functionality had been mocked-up using underlined blocks of text that appeared to be hyperlinks, but actually were not.

As part of the project, a new version of the original software (called "NuNupedia") was under development. NuNupedia was implemented for testing purposes at SourceForge, but never reached sufficient development to replace the original software.


  1. ^ a b Poe, Marshall (September 2006). The Hive. The Atlantic. Retrieved on 2007-01-01.
  2. ^ Rand, Matt (2004-12-13). Extreme Blogging. Forbes. Retrieved on 2007-01-01.

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
  • Earlier versions of Nupedia (from the Internet Archive)
  • The Early History of Nupedia and Wikipedia: A Memoir Part 1 and Part 2 from Slashdot


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