What would we do without Wikipedia? The open, multilingual encyclopaedia, just a click of the mouse away, is the answer to all our questions. A quick research read-up, a way to learn something new or simply a means of killing time. And because Wikipedia is built by the people, for the people, and because anyone is welcome to add information, cross-references or citations, it is unique. t2 talks to Jimmy Wales, the man behind the phenomenon.
When you first started working on Wikipedia in 2001, did you ever think it would get so big in the span of seven years?
Not really (laughs). At the time, I remember I looked at the top 100 websites and I thought how big it must be to be a part of it. I had no idea that Wikipedia would grow to be one of the biggest.
What is the one lesson Wikipedia has taught you?
The most amazing thing is to find out that people can be very helpful. As you know, Wikipedia is written collaboratively by contributors around the world but the number of people who do damage to Wikipedias content is very small. Its hard to measure how many edits are made because a lot of people make one small edit like fixing a comma or something. But its less than one per cent.
How many Indian contributors are a part of Wikipedia? What percentage of content on Wikipedia would be Indian content?
There are quite a few — at least 200 very active contributors in India (the global count is 75,000). Indian languages have been a point of growth for us, in particular Kannada, Bengali and Tamil. The growth of the Hindi Wikipedia has been smaller and despite being the largest-spoken language in the nation, it has struggled to some extent. Earlier we found that a lot of Indians who were writing in Indian languages were from outside India — the Hindi Wikipedia had 90 per cent of its contributors from outside India previously but now its different. Most are from within India.
How many languages is Wikipedia available in now?
Wikipedia is available in more than 150 languages. Actually the number is over 250 but some of those languages have only a few articles so I wouldnt like to include them till they are further developed. Bengali ranks 60th with 17,720 articles while Telugu has 40,000 articles… a lot of languages are growing quickly.
How is Wikipedia financially supported? Do the contributors really do it all for free?
We have a charity fund that supports the website, we get donations from the general public and some grant money. Wikipedia runs on a broad-based volunteer system.
How do you ensure quality of data?
Its a very complex system. There is a community management division and people are elected as administrators. They block unwanted articles or prevent damage. There are a lot of little proven techniques to self-monitor the quality. People part of community management can be involved to whatever degree they want but if I had to give one number, in the English Wikipedia (which is the largest), there are more than 1,000 active administrators.
Whats the next big thing online?
Thats a good question. I think that were at the beginning of this collaborative culture and thats definitely the next big thing. Other than encyclopaedias, whats also new is Wikia — building the rest of the library as I call it. There are more than 6,000 different communities on humour, fiction, how-to guides and the World of Warcraft, a popular video game.
Social networking is also about collaborative culture. Are you thinking of developing a social networking site?
There are a lot of important things being learnt in social networking. Its about how to give people the tools to come together. What I am currently working on is a new search engine, search.wikia.com that is again open to editing by the public. It also has a social networking part but the search engine is in its early stages.
Will there ever be video in Wikipedia?
There is a little bit here and there. Video is a small part for a number of reasons — the kind of information people are looking for in an encyclopaedia is text but of course it helps when there are illustrations and videos. But its not a central part of it.
Are you in collaboration with Google or Apple?
No, but in Apples newest operating system, Leopard, theres a dictionary programme that includes Wikipedia content. But thats about it.
Lastly, what will you talk about at Global Brand Forum in Singapore on August 14 and 15?
I will talk about the future of Internet and how it impacts brands. I shall tell my story, about how I built brand Wikipedia using new tools.
Jimmy Wales was born in Alabama, United States on August 7, 1966. His father, Jimmy, worked as a grocery store manager while his mother, Doris, and his grandmother, Erma, ran a small private school where Wales received his early education. After eighth grade, Wales attended Randolph School, a university-preparatory school. Wales received his bachelors degree in finance from Auburn University and then did his Ph.D finance programme. He taught at universities during his postgraduate studies, but did not write the doctoral dissertation required to earn a Ph.D.
Wales married his second wife, Christine, in late March 1997 in Monroe County, Florida. They are currently separated and have a daughter named Kira. Wales had a brief relationship with Canadian journalist Rachel Marsden that began after Marsden contacted Wales about her Wikipedia biography. After accusations that Wales relationship constituted a conflict of interest, Wales announced in March 2008 on his Wikipedia user page that there had been a relationship but that it was over and that it had not influenced any matters on Wikipedia. In return, Marsden, who claimed to have learned about the break-up by reading about it on Wikipedia, turned to eBay and listed for auction a T-shirt and sweater which she claimed Wales left behind at her apartment.
Source: Wikipedia. Some parts have been edited
As on July 7, there are 2,453,251 articles in English and more than 75,000 active contributors working on more than 10,000,000 articles in more than 250 languages.
Bengali Wikipedia started in January 2004. As on July 13, 2008 it is the 60th largest Wikipedia with 17,720 articles, 7 administrators, 2,584 registered users and 333,969 edits.
Hindi Wikipedia started in July 2003. As on July 13, 2008 it is the 55th largest Wikipedia with 20,494 articles, 18 administrators, 4,870 registered users and 21,7702 edits.
According to Alexia.com, Wikipedia is number 10 on Indias top websites.
Jimmy Waless user page on Wikipedia is also open to edit!