Jimmy Wales is an American Internet entrepreneur known for his role in the creation of Wikipedia, a free, open-content encyclopedia launched in 2001. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, holding the board-appointed "community founder" seat. In 2004, he co-founded Wikia, a privately owned, free Web-hosting service, along with Angela Beesley.
Together with Larry Sanger and others, Wales helped lay the foundation for Wikipedia, which subsequently enjoyed rapid growth and popularity. As Wikipedia expanded and its public profile grew, Wales took on the role of the project's spokesman and promoter through speaking engagements and media appearances. Wales has been historically cited as the co-founder of Wikipedia but he disputes the "co-" designation, asserting that he is the sole founder of Wikipedia. Wales' work developing Wikipedia, which has become the world's largest encyclopedia, prompted Time magazine to name him in its 2006 list of the world's most influential people.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, Wales attended a small private school, then a university preparation school, eventually attaining a bachelor's degree and master's degree in finance. During his graduate studies he taught at two universities.
Question: How will the next version of Wikia Search be different than the alpha version?
Jimmy Wales: Well, so a big part of what we’ve got-- the things that I just discussed about the ability to delete and add URLs very easily, that’s all there. One of the really neat features is what we’re calling annotating. There’s a preview mode where you can have your search results run down one side of the page, and then the preview of each website, you can click on it and get the preview up, and then you can highlight some text from the preview, and with one click you add it to the search result. And so just as an example type of search where I did this and thought it was kind of cool, is I searched for Sears phone number, and the page that we gave back was, well, it was the Sears main page, but it wasn’t really the right page. So I went and I found the phone number, or the link to get to the phone number and I clicked on that, and it put it right into the search result as an extra item. So those’re the kinds of things. And it’s all very Ajaxey [ph?] and cool and fun to play with. So that’s kind of the next version. We’ve also rewritten all of the social network stuff. I shouldn’t say we have rewritten-- we will have rewritten it all by the time we release to really more tightly integrate it with the Media Wiki software. The Wiki engine that we use. That was kind of-- it was kind of grafted on before, and it was-- I don’t know, we decided not to do it that way. So it’s sort of a bit of a rewrite there. But yeah.
Question: What’s the next hurdle?
Jimmy Wales: Oh, gee, I don’t know. I try not to think too far ahead. I think what probably the next hurdle will be actually we’ll have something that people can start using and participating in. And the next hurdle will be to very carefully monitor and watch and talk and communicate and really engage with the people who’re coming to take a look at it to say, “Okay, what’s working about this, what’s not working? And what do we do next?” A big part of it, a big intellectual challenge going forward is to say, “Look, we’re gonna have all these people doing these things on the website, how do we feed that back into the algorithm?” Because we’re still very much an algorithmic search engine. In other words, this isn’t just a web directory that people can edit. It’s really about having an algorithm, because if you don’t have an algorithm, you really have a hard time doing what they call long-tail searches. So you know, you type in a whole bunch of keywords because you’re looking for something very specific, well, you need an algorithm which can help you do that. And so striking the right balance there and figuring out, well, exactly how is all this user data gonna feed back into the algorithm, that’s a big thing for the next-- that’s gonna take years, you know?
Question: When will the final version be ready?
Jimmy Wales: Hard to say, because we’re not really sure even what to call “we’re done.” I think what I’m saying is right now if you look at the search results from Google, Yahoo! and Ask, they’re very, very similar in quality. There is a certain industry standard now. Sort of standard decent quality search results. To hit that level, I’m saying it’s gonna take us at least two years. Maybe I’m wrong; I hope I’m wrong. I hope we do it a lot faster. Maybe I’m also wrong and we’ll never do it. I also have hopes about that that we don’t have that problem. But it’s really kind of-- even the two years number is a number I just sort of made up intuitively off the top of my head. Just looking at our programming schedule and our roadmap, which doesn’t extend that far out, but then thinking about what is it gonna take to build a community? What is it gonna take to see things gohorribly wrong and correct things, and all those kind of things that naturally happen. At least two years.
Recorded on: 4/30/08