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: Who are you?
Jimmy Wales: My name is Jimmy Wales.
Question: Where are you from and how has that shaped you?
Jimmy Wales: Originally I’m from Alabama. I grew up in a very Southern kind of household. And there are very friendly people there. So I’m a very friendly person, and I think that’s had a big impact on my work because I tend to be pretty good with not trying to always win every argument and things like that. I just sort of try to bring a lot of people together to talk.
Question: Who was you greatest influence when you were young?
Jimmy Wales: Well I went to a very unusual school. My mother and my grandmother ran a small private school. There were only like four kids in my class all the way from kindergarten up through the eighth grade.
And it was a very Montessori-influenced school, so that had a pretty big impact because we had a lot of free time at the school to study whatever we wanted. So I spent lots of time reading the encyclopedia and really kind of an eclectic approach to learning things – not very structured.
Question: When did technology spark your interest?
Jimmy Wales: I don’t know. When I was growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, this is where the space and rocket center was. This is where all of the German rocket scientists came after war and started designing rockets for NASA, for the moon landing and all that.
And so as a kid growing up, the town was really kind of “Rocket City USA” and really into technology. And that really appealed to me as a kid growing up.
Question: What did you think you would be doing professionally when you were growing up?
Jimmy Wales: I don’t know. I have no idea. Scientist, I think.
Recorded On: Aug 10, 2007