Berlin, Jan 12 (Agencies): An encyclopedia financed by readers donations, where the information can be entered, updated or edited by the users comprising a large section of majority of the age groups, where information is updated from one minute to the next has indeed become an indispensible tool for millions of users.

Ten years ago when online companies vanished almost as quickly as they appeared, nobody thought that a reliable encyclopedia could go online - without going bankrupt within a few months.

Wikipedia went online in January 2001 and since then it has been continuously climbing the ladder of success.

It is the story of success over conventional wisdom.

The two guys who founded the encyclopedia were an unusual duo to start with. Jimmy Wales, born in 1966, ran the Bomis.com online portal, which got its revenues through men's entertainment such as sport, gossip and naked babes.

From those revenues, he steered start-up capital for Wikipedia. Otherwise, he gave Larry Sanger a free hand. The two men became acquainted via online philosophical discussions.

Sanger, a philosopher born in 1968, became editor of Nupedia, from which emerged Wikipedia.

Even Sanger did not believe that thousands of users could write an encyclopedia. Strict standards applied to Nupedia, Wikipedia's predecessor. In principle, anybody could contribute. But they had to be qualified experts in their field. And the editors generally had advanced degrees in those fields, Sanger stressed in those days.

Each entry underwent seven checks - more than with a scientific journal. The first entry - on atonality - was only uploaded after seven long months of preparation. Just over 20 entries were available that first year.

"There must be a way to make it easier for users to participate," Sanger said later.

Wiki software came to the rescue by providing a free-accessible system which allowed the user to access and edit web pages. All that was needed was a browser.

To prevent entries from getting mixed up with Nupedia, Wales got a separate domain name. Thus, Jan 15, 2001, Wikipedia was born.

It was only supposed to be a test. But within a month, there were already 600 entries, which was more than what Nupedia had. To the astonishment of the founders,the entries rose to 20,000 within a year.

Increasingly, Wikipedia entries topped Google search lists for any given subject. More and more people started turning to it for information. It was not always reliable, not always well-written. But it was there, instantly, at the click of the mouse.

Conventional encyclopedias could not compete.

By that time, Sanger was no longer the editor. He had left Wikipedia in 2002 in a dispute over quality control.

Wales remained - and since then is viewed as sole founder of the encyclopedia. But his company Bomis pulled out.

In 2003 Wales founded the Wikimedia Foundation, moving all intellectual property rights and domain names pertaining to Wikipedia to the new foundation, whose purpose is to establish general policy for the encyclopedia and its sister projects on a donor-funded basis.

The big question then and now is why thousands of authors spend their own time crafting entries which do not bear their own names and which later on may be totally rewritten by someone else - or deleted at reader’s discretion.

“There is a certain appeal in compiling knowledge without the limitations of copyrights,” says Christian Stegbauer, a German sociologist who has written a book on the phenomenon called 'Raetsel der Kooperation' (The Riddle of Cooperation).

“Wikipedia authors are not so much interested in getting fame as they are in achieving a certain degree of respect within the Wikipedia community,” says Stegbauer, a professor of empirical social research at the University of Erfurt.