I am a very strong supporter of reason: Jimmy Wales news
08 April 2009

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia was named by TIME magazine as one of the world's most influential people in 2006.

Jimmy WalesWales started Wikipedia in 2001 along with Larry Sangers and what began as a quest to begin an online community is one of today's most popular website and also the world's first free open encyclopedia.

In 2004, together with Angela Beesley, Wales started another venture-Wikia.

In India recently on a short visit Wales spoke to correspondent Manisha Rawat about his ventures and plans ahead.

The Wikipedia entry on you says that you are an objectivist. If yes, then how do you reconcile your objectivist stand with the collectivist nature of Wikipedia?
Yes, I do consider myself an objectivist. I am a very strong supporter of reason, of individual purpose and self esteem. But the concept of Wikpedia is something I have been passionate about. It is my art work.

I don't encourage people to sacrifice their own values in favour of Wikipedia. Instead, I request them to think about how Wikipedia is valuable to their life and how one could achieve some personal growth by working in Wikipedia. I believe that my philosophy is certainly compatible with my work.

What made you transform the concept of Wikis into an Encyclopedia?
I got this concept about a free encyclopedia many years ago. I had been thinking about collaboration, and communities on the web. My first project in 1999 was ''Nupedia'' which was a failure. I had just completed a PhD in Philosphy.

Larry Sangers created a top-down system where people had to apply for permission to write an article. This went through a seven-stage review process and for the volunteers it was no fun at all. So when Larry introduced the concept of Wiki to me, I decided to give it a try.

How do manage your volunteers that work for Wikipedia? What incentives or motivation are they given as they work?
We manage people by holding community discussions, through dialogue and healthy debate. Volunteers have fun while on work and get to meet other interesting and like minded people. The volunteers are also given common tools to solve problems to avoid conflicts in an organisation like this one.

The concept of ''crowd-sourcing'', which is making the world work for you for free- is a mistaken term. Things don't work out that way. The correct approach is to try to make people do what they want to do.

What happens when people use Wikipedia to express their own opinion or try to publicise their own ventures?
There are blogs where one can express their views however they wish. In fact, blogging companies go to any extent to protect the right's of their customers to be able to express their own views. Wikipedia is not really meant for that.

Neutrality and moderation are a great strength of the wiki process. Initially people had an impression, that online communities are a place where the loudest and angriest voices dominate. People were pessimistic about creating any good quality work. But it began to work quite the opposite in the Wiki process. There is a rising tide of people with a much more moderate tone. There are measured discussions and debates and if anything does go wrong, one of our Wikipedians intervenes so that the disputed article is finally written in such a way that it is acceptable to all. We call it the ''Edit War''. What is really important in this is collaboration and compromise. 

You switched from a non profit venture- Wikipedia to Wikia. What was the reason behind this?
Well, there is a limit to how much a non profit system can sustain one financially, so yes there was a financial incentive to foray into Wikia. Also, there were a lot of fun ideas that could be implemented only in profit systems.

We have an 'Uncyclopedia' that is a sort of parody of the encyclopedia but it does help people collaborate with one another and also find useful information on it. However, because of this image, the government doesn't give us any tax cuts or subsidies. So, if such ideas have to be implemented, they have to done so in fully profit systems. 

How do you screen classified information? Suppose information that is copyrighted or classified is brought into the community, how do you avoid such a situation?
Each time an article enters our community, a source must be declared. Most articles have a set of reliable sources. So when people don't or cannot declare their source, it comes to our attention, and if classified information is made public, it is automatically removed. Except of course, if someone makes a simple statement like ''Obama is the president of the United States'', which doesn't really need a source.

You talked about collaboration.  How do you think collaboration could help in knowledge sharing in future?
We are at the start of the century right now as far as collaboration goes. It could possibly help student teams to start small Wikis to discuss projects and ideas with like minded people. The presence of the Internet has greatly simplifies collaboration globally.

You know, in 1970s if someone in India wanted to start a business to export something to Europe manufactured in India, he would not know who to contact there. Now, he can just find out about interested business partners over the internet.

In this context, do you support the use of Intellectual Property Rights?
Collaboration makes sense to a certain limit, while Intellectual Propety Rights have their own place. In the US and Europe, Copyright Laws are in a mixed mess. The time frame of most copyrights extends to almost infinity due to which a lot of things don't come into the public. However, despite such shortcomings, I have no real objection to copyrights.

Just as a matter of interest, which are the active languages on Wikipedia (other than English)? How active are Indian languages?
The global distribution of Wikipedia is very uneven. German, French, Polish and Italian are clearly languages with large communities out there. In fact Wikpedia is ranked the most popular website in Germany as against 4th in the US.

In India, Telugu (about 42,000 articles) seems to be the most active language, even more than Hindi! Hindi (28,000 articles) with a speaking population of 280 million, on a per speaker basis, still has a long way to go.

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I am a very strong supporter of reason: Jimmy Wales