With the recent celebration of Wikipedia's 10th year anniversary it is interesting to reflect upon how lousy we are at predicting technological trends. In my book Good Faith Collaboration I argue that Wikipedia was an imperfect realization of a long pursued vision of a universal encyclopedia. So, was the launch of Wikipedia then an intentional fulfillment of a century's old dream? Not quite. I think it is more accurate to think of Wikipedia as a happy accident: it started as an experimental "feeder" project for the struggling Nupedia project, a project it soon outpaced beyond even its founders' expectations.
Thanks to the recent fortuitous discovery of a log of edits (i.e.,
diffs) from the first months of Wikipedia -- content that was thought to be lost to bit rot -- it is now possible to explore what the nascent site was like. Using these log files, I reconstructed the first 10,000 contributions to the English Wikipedia. There are a lot of silly and half-baked articles. Popular topics seemingly include philosophy, geography, the Dewey Decimal System, Ernest Hemingway, the United States (and its Constitution), Isaac Asimov, the Japan Constitution, Metallica, statistics, and a huge collection of articles on Atlas Shrugged. However, today there are over 260 language editions/versions of the encyclopedia, three of which exceed 1 million articles. The largest, the English Wikipedia, has 3,540,518 articles. It has come a long way in ten short years.