Building the World's Biggest Encyclopedia

SAN FRANCISCO (03/10/2000) - The philosophy of the open-source movement is spreading within the industry. Now, a maker of a Web-based encyclopedia wants to apply its principles to share knowledge in general.

Officially opened on Thursday, the Nupedia Web site seeks to become "the world's largest encyclopedia," according to Larry Sanger, editor-in-chief.

Eventually, Nupedia will offer an online searchable database organized alphabetically and by topic, covering just about everything you could think of.

It carries no original material yet, but its organizers expect the site will be completely up and running within the next three to six months. For now, visitors who search the site for information will be referred to other Web sites as resources.

As an open-source project, Nupedia is open to all forms of contribution. The site's managers are seeking contributors and editors with expertise in, well, almost anything. The contributors will provide the diverse content, which will be offered free of charge to both consumers and businesses. Anyone is welcome to peruse Nupedia, and any other Web site may post Nupedia's content on its own. They need only to credit Nupedia as the source.

Aimed mainly at consumers, Nupedia considers Britannica its main competition.

Britannica, which has been around for more than 200 years, recently made all of its content free on the Web. Sanger acknowledges that Britannica is a mighty force to reckon with, but maintains Nupedia will be a contender.

"Eventually we're going to out-Britannica Britannica," he says. "By that, I mean we'll do all the things that they do, only we'll do them better and in more depth."

Building the Knowledge Base

To provide that depth of knowledge, Nupedia needs contributors. Sanger's current focus is amassing thousands of them within the next few months. So far the site has been contacted by such diverse experts as a nuclear physicist and an specialist in leech biology, according to Sanger.

Sanger is developing a system to assign specific topics to contributors, and to choose editors to review their work. Nupedia is also establishing a verification system to ensure that the expert contributors are, in fact, experts.

"We may require them to provide names and phone numbers of people we can contact, or Web sites where we can check their work," Sanger says.

Sanger, who expects to receive his Ph.D. in philosophy this spring, focused his studies in the theory of knowledge. He brings to Nupedia an understanding of how to organize knowledge and how to detect bias. Nupedia will enforce standards for impartial and thorough information, Sanger says.

Contributors will not be paid for their work, but Sanger does not expect that to be a deterrent. He cites the success of Linux and the Open Directory Project as similar efforts.

"If a contributor knows that they aren't simply writing for a company--if they know the public is getting the benefit of their work, there's a difference," Sanger says.

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