that first day 10 years ago


English - US
The anniversary celebrations have had me thinking back to the day ten years ago when the forums went live.

I had started the WordReference dictionary website in 1999, but it was a failure at first. The market for online advertising burst soon afterwards, just like everything internet-related, and nobody was interested in online dictionaries. It wasn’t until 2004, five years later, that the site finally had enough visitors and revenue for me to be able to quit my day job and devote myself to improving WordReference.

During those early years, online forums had become popular, and it seemed to me that they might complement the young WordReference dictionaries nicely. Who hasn't looked up an entry in a translation dictionary and still been confused? But on a discussion board, people could ask these questions and receive answers from native speakers, on another continent. The forum discussion thread would then become part of the dictionary, enriching it for other users. That was the basic concept in the beginning, and it remains the organizing principle of the WordReference forums to this day.

I prepared some forum software and tested it carefully with friends and family. We would start with just two languages, English and Spanish, and see if the forum idea was viable. As the platform neared readiness, my technical concerns gave way to a new worry: What if the questions came flooding in with no one but me to answer them? The place would be a ghost town. I extracted promises from my bilingual friends that they would visit the site during the first few days to lend a hand.

What actually happened was remarkable, and totally unexpected. Right from the first days, users who found the site were ready and willing to answer questions. There were lots of people who really wanted to help others, just waiting for somebody to ask something. It was an amazing start.

A few months later, we added some moderators. And shortly after that, we even created some real rules. The WordReference forums have grown incredibly over the last decade, but the spirit of helping others is stronger than ever. WordRefrence is people helping people through their understanding and love of language.

  • swift

    Senior Member
    Spanish – Costa Rica (Valle Central)
    You know, Mike, from time to time, a bunch of people who happen to interact in the same place, living at the same historical moment, can realise that they could commit themselves to the pursuit of a common goal. I think this is what happened at the very beginning of the forums.

    I'd say the most remarkable aspect of the forums' activity is that all members voluntarily agree to participate. We're here because we want to help other people, and it takes a great deal of empathy to do that. We can all relate to the newbie who's struggling to figure out the difference between creo que está bien and no creo que esté bien. I think everyone's curiosity has been piqued by etymology, regionalisms and idioms. And we all have spent hours or even days investigating a particular topic to try to shed some light on the understanding of a piece of literature which contains a particularly intriguing phrase. :)


    Senior Member
    Hello, Mike.

    You have worked very hard and been rewarded for your efforts by the success of this amazing forum. Not only am I helping others from across the world, I am making quite a few foreign friends. I am also learning something new virtually every time I'm 'on board'.

    So, many thanks. It is a privilege to be a member of the forum. Long may it continue!

    With all good wishes,


    Moderesa de Beagá
    Português/ Brasil
    Furthermore we are such weirdos that we even get addicted to answering questions like it was something vital.
    Great to know the ''genesis'' of the forums.


    Senior Member
    USA English
    I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of thanks you have already received. WordReference is to my mind the perfect example of the wonderfully human dimension the Net can offer. It has brought together a community of language-loving people who would not otherwise have been in contact with each other. The mindfulness movement and others have highlighted, and rightfully so, the dangers of the Net, but they generally do so without acknowledging the kind of genuinely generous exchange that a site such as the one you created can foster. Many was the time when Archijacq bailed me out with the translation of some obscure term, and many more still when I found myself marveling at the sparkling brilliance of égueule (whom I never got up the nerve to invite for a drink). And so on.
    Thanks so much for having had the idea, brought it to fruition, and for remaining true to its mission. harrythelm


    Senior Member
    Italy - Italian
    Where are the little hearts? Where are the kissing smilies?

    Thank you again, Mike, for that brilliant idea! :)


    Thank you, Swift :D
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