Jimmy Wales on Expanding Wikipedia’s Global Reach
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 do you plan on making Wikipedia more globally accessible?
Jimmy Wales: Well, one of the things that we’ve done-- last fall we did something called Wikipedia Academy in South Africa, it’s a pilot project. Basically what we did was we went to Seta [ph?] City Campus, which is a free university, and we held an all-day seminar for the students there to teach them how to edit Wikipedia in their own language. And we were pleased with the outcome. But that was just one day. That wasn’t really enough. That was a pilot thing. So we’re hoping to do a lot more Wikipedia Academy events in the coming year. We haven’t really fixed a schedule for that yet. Got a really great guy, Frank Schulenburg [ph?] from Germany. Big guy in German Wikipedia who organized the original German Wikipedia Academies. He’s leading the project. And so hopefully that will be something we can do. But a big part of it is raising awareness. Letting people know. So I’m still traveling quite a bit to lots and lots of different places just to meet with volunteers, speaking conferences, and usually when I go somewhere, then there’s some press coverage locally that I’m there. And that’s often the first time that a local newspaper will have mentioned that there is a Thai language version, and so people read that and they say, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” You know? If they’ve even heard of Wikipedia at all, but often people-- it’s really common now, you know, like I was in Japan even recently. Now Japan-- Japanese Wikipedia’s huge. It’s one of the big projects. I was in Japan recently and had an interview with a reporter who seemed to know quite a bit about Wikipedia, and toward the end of the interview she said, “Well, when do you think you’ll launch a Japanese version?” I said, <gasps> “There’s a huge Japanese Wikipedia, I don’t know what you’re talking about, right?” So it’s interesting how that awareness sometimes slips by. People really think of it as an English phenomena, which it very much is not.
Question: Why do people think that?
Jimmy Wales: I think it’s just because English Wikipedia is really big. But it varies from place to place. I can’t imagine how anybody could have fought this in Japan, right? That’s kind of a little baffling to me. But in Thailand, for example, the project there is fairly small. I think 30,000 articles, but I don’t remember off the top of my head. It’s been a while since I was there. It’s kind of small, and so a lot of the people who are using the internet are using the English Wikipedia or they’re just not using Wikipedia. If they’re searching and working only in Thai, they may not have yet have come across it, because it’s still a very young project. It’s just part of the natural evolution, you know, that we’re-- you know, the rate of adoption over the internet is lower in a lot of these place, and a lot of people are still just now coming online for the first time, and discovering Wikipedia for the first time. So a lot of it’s just awareness more than anything else.
Recorded on: 04/30/2008
Wales addresses the misconception that Wikipedia is only in English.
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