Wikipedia Man: A Chat with founder Jimmy Wales


Were you ever an encyclopedia man? Or were you one of the many who felt encyclopedias held outdated, biased information?
I have always loved encyclopedias from the time when I was a child. Yes, the older encyclopedias were sometimes biased and sometimes outdated, but even so, they were the best we had available at the time.

Rumor has it that you are a space and science aficionado… true or false?
True! I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, which was where NASA did the science for the creation of the rockets. I remember as a small child sometimes the windows would rattle because we lived close enough to where they tested the rockets. That was a great inspiration to me.

Was ‘’ an overnight sensation or a progressive journey of ideas?
A progressive journey to be sure, although it did grow quite quickly!

As much as interactivity adds appeal to most online endeavors, did you not fear that the flexibility of information powered by your site’s main slogan (“edit this page”) would lead to ultimate chaos?

I wasn't sure about all the details at the start, but I was confident that we could create something important and worthwhile.

What part of history would you edit?
I can tell you that it is quite simple: I would erase all conflict rooted in religious faith.

In a 2006 Time Magazine interview you were defined and celebrated as ‘a champion of Internet-enabled egalitarianism’. What do you think it means today?

Well, I am not necessarily as "egalitarian" as many people may suppose. I am passionate about the capability of ordinary people, and do not think that knowledge is the province of only the elites. But I also think that what matters is what people actually do know and can contribute usefully.

What are some of the challenges you face on a daily basis in order to maintain the
consistency of your product?
For me, the way my personality works, I don't really think in terms of "challenges". I simply do my work and try to have fun. I suppose the most interesting work has to do with editorial policy and community governance - thinking about how to help a large and diverse group of people work together to do something of value while having a lot of fun in the process.

What are you working on with regards to Wikipedia to make it more ‘accessible’ to the public’s intervention?
We are keenly interested in usability - in making sure that Wikipedia is easy to edit by people who have knowledge to share. This improves a constant program of improving the editing tools and monitoring tools.

Has the rate of flow of information coming into your website increased or decreased over time?
It has increased, although it varies in different parts of the world.

You are soon to celebrate 10 years of utter ground-breaking success with Wikipedia. Aside from all the entrepreneurial achievements, what will you be truly celebrating this time?
will be celebrating life and reason. Just imagine what we are able to accomplish so long as we believe in reason and the power of the individual to do good, and work together in harmony opposed to violence of all kinds. That's the real meaning of my work.

How do you feel the online market has developed over the past 5 years?
It continues to grow more global, every year. In 10 years time, the next billion people will come online. Anyone who fails to understand that the world will be even more global in 10 years, will be lost to history.

Do you have a Facebook account? Have you watched The Social Network?

Yes, I do, and yes I did. About the movie Social Network, I just have to say, knowing several of the people who are portrayed in the movie, that it is an absolute work of fiction. If you want to know Mark Zuckerberg or Sean Parker, don't imagine you'll learn much from that movie. It's total nonsense.

As part of our magazine’s entertainment identity, I cannot help but ask you whether you would sign a movie contract about your personal journey?
Only if they turn it into a Bollywood style musical. I am joking. Yes, I would be fine with that.

Who supported your idea from day 1? Who was skeptical?
Lots of people supported, lots of people were skeptical. My view is that we should work with the people who support us, and don't worry about the others.

So many young, web-obsessed entrepreneurs have attempted to formulate groundbreaking ideas online without really achieving much success. What do you reckon is the ultimate key to succeeding online?
Persistence. My failures taught me much more than my successes.

At dinners you can overhear people discussing the potential and gradual death of ‘print’. What’s your prophecy?
Print is a great technology. It isn't going away. No batteries!

Have you been to Egypt before?
Yes, I have been to Cairo and Sharm el-Sheikh.

How important is traveling for your business?
I travel constantly, all over the world. I consider it critical to my work.

What’s the one technology you cannot live without?
The Internet!

What are you plans for 2011? Both professional and personal?
That's a very big question. My primary focus in 2011 professionally will be the growth of across the world, and the growth of in the developing world. My primary focus personally will be on my family, as always.

Will you be celebrating New Year’s Eve in Florida or…?
I will be in London for New Year's Eve.

If you had one guaranteed wish for Christmas, what would it be?

That everyone reading this will make one useful contribution to Wikipedia in Arabic!