Advances in information technology in the late 20th century led to changes in the form of encyclopedias. The development of the World Wide Web led to many attempts to develop internet encyclopedia projects. An early proposal for a web-based encyclopedia was Interpedia in 1993 by Rick Gates; this project died before generating any encyclopedic content. Free software proponent Richard Stallman described the usefulness of a “Free Universal Encyclopedia and Learning Resource” in 1999.
Wikipedia was initially conceived as a feeder project for the Jimmy Wales founded Nupedia, an earlier project to produce a free online encyclopedia. Wales hired a full-time editor-in-chief, Larry Sanger, a graduate philosophy student. Wales and Sanger discussed various ways to create content more rapidly. The idea of a wiki-based complement originated from a conversation between Larry Sanger and Ben Kovitz, a computer programmer and regular on Ward Cunningham’s revolutionary wiki “the WikiWikiWeb”. He explained to Sanger what wikis were, at that time a difficult concept to understand. Sanger thought a wiki would be a good platform to use, and proposed on the Nupedia mailing list that a wiki based upon UseModWiki be set up as a “feeder” project for Nupedia. Wales set one up and put it online on 10 January 2001. There was considerable resistance on the part of Nupedia’s editors and reviewers to the idea of associating Nupedia with a wiki-style website. Sanger suggested giving the new project its own name, Wikipedia, and Wikipedia was soon launched on its own domain, wikipedia.com, on 15 January. The oldest article still preserved is the article UuU, created on Tuesday 16 January 2001, at 21:08 UTC. The existence of the project was formally announced and an appeal for volunteers for content creation was made to the Nupedia mailing list on 17 January.
As of December 2014, Wikipedia includes over 34 million freely usable articles in 288 languages that have been written by over 50 million registered users and numerous anonymous contributors worldwide. According to Alexa Internet, Wikipedia is the world’s seventh-most-popular website in terms of overall visitor traffic. Wikipedia’s total worldwide monthly readership is approximately 495 million.