Memory Alpha is a wiki encyclopedia for topics related to the Star Trek fictional universe. Conceived by Harry Doddema and Dan Carlson in September 2003 and officially launched on December 5 of that year, it uses the wiki model and is hosted by Wikia, Inc. on the MediaWiki software. Memory Alpha contains over 47,000 articles and 44,000 images in its English edition alone as of December 2019, making it one of the largest wiki projects. The site is also available in several other languages,including Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, Esperanto, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, and Swedish.
Memory Alpha aims to create a comprehensive database for all fans, but was not conceived as a wiki. Two concerns spurred its creation in 2003: many Star Trek references sources on the internet were incomplete, and the most promising often shut down. Doddema and Carlson christened their project Memory Alpha, after the Federation’s largest information archive, from the original series episode “The Lights of Zetar”.
The two decided on a wiki format, which allowed for more collaboration than other formats available. As Carlson said in the Charlotte Observer, “The idea I latched onto with the wiki concept is you can spread the work around. Everyone can pitch in and go in on their own special interest.” After experimenting with TikiWiki software, they switched to the MediaWiki platform, finding it less cumbersome. The platform of choice for Wikimedia Foundation projects proved to be, in their opinion, more stable and efficient, and they brought a testsite online on November 11, 2003. Memory Alpha officially launched on December 5 2003.
The site gained momentum in the following months, aided by a mention on the Star Trek fan site “TrekNation” on December 23. Memory Alpha reached 1,000 articles by January 12, 2004, but on March 23, the site’s database was accidentally erased during an upgrade of the MediaWiki software. Although this caused six weeks of work to be lost, the project expanded to include Dutch and German versions on April 10 and May 14 respectively. It remained stable until the following year, when the fees associated with hosting the site became more than the founders could afford.
In February 2005, Memory Alpha switched hosting servers and joined Wikia, a free for-profit wiki-hosting company started by Wikimedia Foundation board members Jimmy Wales and Angela Beesley. The site remained stable on Wikia, opening a Swedish site on May 5 and a French one on November 5. It also received several distinctions that year, such as the Ex Astris Excellentia award from Ex Astris Scientia, a Star Trek reference site, in September 2005, and it was featured as the Sci-Fi Channel’s Site of the Week for October 10, 2005. Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise writer/producer Mike Sussman joined the community that year as well.
Technical issues led the MediaWiki software to believe Memory Alpha was started on November 23, 2004, and despite the inaccuracy, this date was adopted ex post facto as Memory Alpha’s “birthday”.
The latter part of 2005 and early 2006 saw several new features added to the site. Among these was a peer review process, implemented on September 21, 2005 in response to questions about the process by which articles become featured.On November 20 of that year, Memory Alpha began a “Babel” program, inspired by and modeled after that of the Wikimedia Commons, to help users who speak the same language. Other recent innovations include an area for user projects, sometimes referred to as WikiProjects on other wikis, and coverage of fan films.
It is a resource used by mainstream journalists for information on Star Trek related issues. Blogger Will Richardson hailed the site in his 2006 book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms as “one of the most impressive [wikis] out there”.
On June 12, 2007, Memory Alpha reached a milestone of 25,000 articles with the creation of the article Robert Iscove.
Entertainment Weekly named Memory Alpha one of the 25 Essential Fansites in 2007. In comparing it to other Star Trek sites, the reviewer wrote, “Memory Alpha wins out for its handsome, intuitive presentation and its overwhelming mass”.
In April 2016 it became public knowledge that actor and writer for Star Trek Beyond, Simon Pegg, used Memory Alpha as a canon resource in writing of the film, even asking the community’s leaders to name and give etymology for a device in the film.