Friday, May 22, 2009

On the Wikipedia logo

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post on the Wikipedia logo with a few more comments.

Some time in 2000, I guess, there was a Nupedia logo competition. For some reason, I noticed this, and wanted to take part. My idea was a simple one: to create a large "N" filled with text. Which text? I had recently been reading Lewis Carroll's "Euclid and his Modern Rivals", so I chose part of the preface as the text:
In one respect this book is an experiment, and may chance to prove a failure: I mean that I have not thought it necessary to maintain throughout the gravity of style which scientific writers usually affect, and which has somehow come to be regarded as an ‘inseparable accident’ of scientific teaching. I never could quite see the reasonableness of this immemorial law: subjects there are, no doubt, which are in their essence too serious to admit of any lightness of treatment – but I cannot recognise Geometry as one of them. Nevertheless it will, I trust, be found that I have permitted myself a glimpse of the comic side of things only at fitting seasons, when the tired reader might well crave a moment’s breathing-space, and not on any occasion where it could endanger the continuity of the line of argument.

Of course, being interested in history of mathematics myself, I found Lewis Carroll very amusing.

I used the fisheye effect on this quote, thus turning the text into a circle. Then I added two vertical lines, thereby turning the circle into a "N".

I don't think I thought I'd win the competiton, and I didn't win it, either. I think I thought of the image I sent in more as a draft than as a finished logo. I can't have spent more than two hours designing it. I can't remember ever hearing anything more about this competition, and I (almost) forgot all about it.

We can still see an archived version of Logo Ideas for Nupedia from August 29th, 2000, including a link to my homepage at work at the time. (Feel free to compare it to my present page - I'm sorry to say that I haven't updated it much, although I have switched jobs.) However, in the archived version of on August 15th, 2000, we see that another one of the logos had been chosen. (Compare to the July 21st version for the previous "logo".)

However, according to Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales needed a logo for the new encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, and chose my logo from the Nupedia competition. According to the Wikipedia article, "it remained for the next eight months, until the end of 2001. It continued to be used after this time on Special Pages, such as search results." We can see how it was used in an archived page from September 25th, 2001.

Of course, the big "N" could not survive as a logo for long. In late 2001, a logo competition took place, in which the following logo won, created by The Cunctator:

Of course, it is superior to my logo, but it is also fair to say that it has retained the main idea. Of course, there is no longer a need for the vertical lines, and the text has changed into a quote from Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan, Part I, Chapter VI:
Desire to know why, and how, curiosity; such as is in no living creature but man: so that man is distinguished, not only by his reason, but also by this singular passion from other animals; in whom the appetite of food, and other pleasures of sense, by predominance, take away the care of knowing causes; which is a lust of the mind, that by a perseverance of delight in the continual and indefatigable generation of knowledge, exceedeth the short vehemence of any carnal pleasure.

Then in 2003, there was another logo contest, won by Paul Stansifer, which still had the circle full of text, but now a more international one. It has also turned into 3d, and looks much more professional:

This was quickly modified into the well-known "silver ball", created by David Friedland, where the text has turned into individual characters:

All of this took place without me paying attention. Nobody told me that my logo was being used (as far as I remember). Of course, the spam filters at the time seemed to find any non-Norwegian email very suspicious, so I may even have gotten a notice that was lost in that way.

Thus, it was only after someone did a lot of research (apparently done by Mosca) for the Wikipedia:Wikipedia logos page (on which parts of this posting is based) that I could suddenly find out about this as I was doing a Google search on my own name. (Which I do from time to time to see if someone has written something about my blogs or something like that.)

This, of course, made me surprised and proud. In this way, I (who have only very rarely contributed to Wikipedia) have a tiny part in the history of the encyclopedia. And although the logo I created was amateurish, I still think the main idea had some merit, so I'm not too ashamed of it.

The moral of the whole story is this: remember to Google yourself from time to time: you never know what will turn up!


  1. Anonymous19:41

    You also know that other languages used a similar logo, but just with different text? For example, Dutch Wikipedia used to use the first lines of the Max Havelaar :)

    -- user:Effeietsanders

  2. Thanks!

    Thanks to Internet Archive, we can have a look at those national logos:


  3. I had always wondered why it had those lines! It seems as though the idea of text on a sphere has a lot of staying power.

  4. Anonymous12:38

    I gotta tell you – yours looks a lot better than the 2003 winner, which is a visual mess. Be proud of it! The new Wikipedia one is indeed the best, but it's cool to know the history of where it came from, and that there was some real though behind it. Good job!

  5. This is great topic. I would like to many many thanks for this post.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Anonymous19:09

    I wonder if Paul Stansifer ever saw the puzzle globe on the CD album cover of "Do it yourself" by The Seahorses, from 1997.