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Welcome to Part Two of my series on the early history of the Esperanto Wikipedia. On my last blog post on Finding the Esperanto Wikipedia, I explained what lead me to discover the existence of the then-empty Esperanto version of Wikipedia. Today I’ll explain the role of La Enciklopedio Kalblanda in quickly giving the Esperanto Wikipedia a strong foundation and a big head start to develop our content.
So, I got to thinking… it would be cool to have an encyclopedia written entirely in a language which is no one’s native language! Little did I know then that there are already 200-2000 native Esperanto speakers according to Ethnologue. In any case, before the Internet, there would’ve been no way to make an entire encyclopedia in Esperanto. Even if you could somehow coordinate the effort of writing such a massive beast, it would be impossible to sell since it would mean shipping 20+ heavy volumes around the world! But now, it’s possible to write history together, like no one has done before, in a language not belonging to any country… the possibilities are endless!
Sounds great. Now, let’s look at the situation. We’ve got a blank page. Where can you start?! I mean, you also have to remember that I just started learning the language earlier that year. I was hardly in a position to start writing such a serious project in it! Then, I remembered that a while ago, I ran across a guy who had been writing his own Esperanto encyclopedia online. Since 1995, Stefano Kalb had been writing his own encyclopedia called La Enciklopedio Kalblanda (The Kalb Land Encyclopedia, yeah cute name). In 6 years, he managed to amass a collection of 139 articles, mostly written by himself. That’s dedication!
Surely he would be interested in donating his articles to Wikipedia to fulfill his dream of a truly international encyclopedia. I contacted him, explained this crazy Wikipedia thing to him and after hearing the usual criticisms, I tried to convince him that it really worked. He seemed skeptical and said he’d think it over and get back to me. A week later, he agreed that Wikipedia looks very promising and seems like the best way to accomplish his dream of a true Esperanto encyclopedia.
On November 15, 2001, we converted his article about Modernismo from HTML to wiki markup. The Esperanto Wikipedia was born! We then spent the next three weeks converting all of his articles to Wikipedia. Two weeks in, we noticed that we have a strange creature on our hands: many articles, but no structure. At that point, I decided to devote myself to translating the English front page index into Esperanto. One week later, we had all 139 articles of the Enciklopedio Kalblanda and a welcoming homepage for people to start contributing.
This leaves one more problem… the site doesn’t support Esperanto letters! That will be covered in the next part of this series, Unicoding the Esperanto Wikipedia.