Irish Examiner

Interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales for The Irish Examiner

Thanks to Jimmy Wales…

An easy one to start with. Why did you start Wikipedia? (Why was
Wikipedia started?)

I always had a passion for encyclopedias and knowledge in general, and
with the growth of the free software movement, which most people know as
open source software, I came to understand that it would be possible for
large groups of people to collaborate on the Internet to do amazing
things.  Hence the original concept of a free encyclopedia written by
volunteers.

 Did you have any idea how big it would get? I mean when the idea first popped up did you think it would be one of the most visited sites on the planet?

I was always very optimistic.  I remember looking at a list of the top
websites on the Internet back at the start of Wikipedia and seeing an
encyclopedia/reference site ranked at around #50.  I thought that if we
did a really great job we might make it into the top 100 or even top 50.

Now Wikipedia is the 5th most popular website in the world.

Did you ever contemplate allowing advertising on the site? You would
probably make a fortune.

Not really, no.  In the early days I didn’t know what kind of business
model we would have, but we’ve never seriously contemplated putting
advertising on the website.

We are a humanitarian project with the goal to give a free encyclopedia
to every single person on the planet in their own language.  It is my
hope that by doing this, we will have a major impact on peace, health,
prosperity and all the other things that really matter to a flourishing
life on earth.

I read an article in TIME magazine dating from 2009 which suggested
that entries to the site and editing has slowed down. Do you think that
was inevitable ?

Well, it isn’t true that editing has slowed down.  But of course it is
inevitable – once you saturate the market and everyone already knows
about Wikipedia, you can’t continue to double in traffic every year.

Leading on from that do you think Wikipedia (not necessarily in its  current state as such but overall) will last? Again the reason I ask is because there was some suggestion in the TIME article that it may not last much longer. But surely there are always new things to add and although it is growing at a slower pace surely it can last as long ashumans are around?

I think anyone with any sense looking at the overall situation in the
world will see that it is more likely that Wikipedia will last than that
TIME will last.  But I only think that quietly to myself, since it might
be rude to point it out, haha.

I think as long as people have a desire to know, and as long as people
have a desire to share, then Wikipedia or a successor will thrive.  It
is my ambition that the Wikimedia Foundation, the charity I set up to
own and operate Wikipedia, will continue to operate in a fashion
designed to ensure longterm sustainability, mostly through sticking to
the core values that have put us at the center of people’s hearts online.

Does it annoy you that Wikipedia has a reputation for beingunreliable? I read last month (can’t remember where sorry) that Wikipedia’s accuracy was nearly as high as a well respectedEncyclopedia? Why is it not trusted as much as say something that has CAMBRIDGE emblazoned across the top of it? Is it anything to do with snobbery?

I think if you ask the general public where they get information, they
will tell you Wikipedia.  I’m happy with our position of trust.

At the same time, we are never satisified.  We always want Wikipedia to
be better.  When, as happened a while back, we see a research study (in
Germany) comparing us to a respected traditional encyclopedia – and we
win – our first response is not to celebrate but to study the results
and see why we lost any points at all.

Staying on the issue of reliability, I’m sure you remember the Irish
student Shane Fitzgerald putting up fake quotes on the biography of
 Maurice Jarre in 2009 and the quotes were used by some papers. What do
you think of that in general? Did you laugh,cry or sort of think:
 ‘That’s their problem it’s nothing to do with us’

I was very sad about it.

Do you think journalists should use Wikipedia?

Yes, but there is a right way and a wrong way to use Wikipedia.  The
wrong way is to look in Wikipedia and then write your article.  The
right way is to look in Wikipedia and understand enough to ask
intelligent questions.

 And finally. What has Wikipedia done for society?

We have really only just begun our work.  My dream for Wikipedia is to
give a free encyclopedia to every single person on the planet, in their
own language.  Right now we are extremely successful in some of the
major languages of the world – particularly the languages of the wealthy
countries of the world.  But I won’t rest until we have really
transformed society by bringing knowledge to everyone.

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