On 18 January 2016 at 13:34, Andrew Lih <andrew....@gmail.com> wrote:

> There’s an excellent profile of Magnus Manske in the Wikimedia blog today.
> It’s hard to think of people more important to the movement than Magnus has
> been since 2001.

> https://blog.wikimedia.org/2016/01/18/fifteen-years-wikipedia-magnus-manske/

Since some people are reporting problems accessing the page. here it
is (but you miss out on the lovely photo of a younger Magnus!):


The world and the Internet have been permanently altered in the last
fifteen years: Altavista and Lycos, for instance, were the popular
search engines of the day, and “Googling” something had three more
years to come about. The concept of social media was nearly

It should come as no surprise, then, that when Magnus Manske started
editing Wikipedia in 2001, the encyclopedia was a very different
place. Its home page in November 2001, now utterly dated, boasts of
having 16,000 English-language articles—and the contributors could
only dream of getting to 100,000. There were no images on the front
page, only black text and blue hyperlinks.

Manske told the blog that he vividly remembers this original front
page: “Back in 2001, Wikipedia was the new kid on the block. We were
the underdogs, starting from a blank slate, taking on entities like
Brockhaus and Britannica, seemingly eternal giants in the encyclopedia
world. I remember the Main Page saying ‘We currently have 15
not-so-bad articles. We want to make 100,000, so let’s get to work.’
‘Not-so-bad’ referred to stubs with at least one comma.”

“It was a ghost town, with just about no content whatsoever.”

Still, humor was not lost on the pioneering editors who were working
towards a seemingly impossible and unattainable goal. When the subject
of replacing the Wikipedia logo came up—at this time, there was no
world-famous Wikipedia ‘globe’ logo; in its place was a quote from
Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan—one contributor referenced the infinite
monkey theorem: “A million monkeys. A million typewriters. Wikipedia.”

At that point in time, even MediaWiki—the software that underpins
Wikipedia and other wiki sites around the word—didn’t exist. However,
the site’s growth posed problems for the original UseModWiki code, as
it could not scale up to meet the demand. Manske coded a replacement
for UseMod, which he called Phase II. It introduced a number of
innovations that Wikipedia editors still use today, such as
namespaces, watchlists, and user contribution lists.

However, even Manske’s code had to be rewritten a year later, as
Wikipedia was growing explosively. That original goal 100,000 articles
would have put Wikipedia in the same category of Brittanica; Manske
said that based on Wikipedia’s initial growth, they thought they would
hit 100,000 in ten years—and “even that seemed overly optimistic.”

In reality, it took only two. “Once we hit exponential growth, it all
became a blur; suddenly, the rocket was off the ground. We tried our
best to hold on and stay on course. Two months ago we passed five
million articles, fifty times the number we hoped for.”

In the succeeding fifteen years, Manske has seen several life
changes—in 2001, he was just another a biology student at the
University of Cologne. His work on Wikipedia since then has heavily
influenced his life. His current job in population genetics actually
sprung out of it: “During my PhD, I got an email from a professor in
Oxford who wanted to run a wiki in his lab, and he somehow heard that
I am the man to talk to. He invited me over to the UK to give a brief
talk and answer some questions, which I did. He then realized I was in
biology and would be looking for a post-doc soon, and he was starting
a group in Cambridge.”

Wikipedia has too. The blog asked Manske for his thoughts on where
Wikipedia is today:

“ While it is fine to grow a little conservative in order to protect
our common achievement that is Wikipedia, I think we should be more
open and enthusiastic for new possibilities. A prime example is the
site itself. People love the site not just for its content, but also
for its calm, ad-free appearance, an island of tranquility in the
otherwise often shrill web; the calm and quiet of a old-fashioned
library, a refuge from the loud and hectic online world.

But we have gone from slowdown to standstill; the interface has
changed little in the last ten years or so, and all the recent changes
have been fought teeth-and-claw by the communities, especially the
larger language editions. From the Media Viewer, the Visual Editor, to
Wikidata transclusion, all have been resisted by vocal groups of
editors, not because they are a problem, but because they represent
change. For these editors, the site has worked fine for years; why
change anything?

To some degree, all websites, including Wikipedia, must obey the Red
Queen hypothesis: you have to run just to stand still. This does not
only affect Wikipedia itself, but the entire Wikimedia ecosystem. Our
media handling is antiquated to say the least; video inclusion in
article is only now starting to pick up, many years after sites like
YouTube have become as ubiquitous as Wikipedia itself. Other great
projects, like Wikisource and Wikiquote, remain in their own little
niche, hampered to a large degree by the lack of appropriate
technology. Wikidata, the only radical new technology in the recent
WikiVerse, was spawned by [Wikimedia Deutschland/Germany], not WMF
proper, and remains poorly understood by many Wikipedians.

A lot has changed since 2001. Wikipedia is a success. We are no longer
fighting with our back at the abyss of failed start-ups; we have a
solid foundation to work from. But if we wall our garden against
change, against new users, new technologies, new approaches, our work
of 15 years is in danger of fading away. An established brand name
only carries so far. Ask IBM. Ask AOL. Right now, we are in an ideal
position to try new things. We have nothing to lose, except a little

Ed Erhart, Editorial Associate
Wikimedia Foundation


It has a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported license There's a
comment thread, there, too.

Andy Mabbett

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