Interview with keynote speaker Jimmy Wales
Many Internet monuments from the early 21st century have disappeared from public memory but Wikipedia (born in 2001) is still standing, taller than ever. The encyclopaedia and its sister sites now rank as the fifth most visited web property in the world, and Wikipedia has become the place to go to find information about anything from obscure music to who’s the head of state in Bhutan.
This fall, Jimmy Wales – the founder of Wikipedia – will make his first appearance in Sweden when he keynotes at the Internet Days. He will tell us the story of how Wikipedia became one of the largest encyclopaedias in the world: there are now over 28 million articles, and the Swedish site alone has over a million.
Furthermore, he wants to talk about how wikis next will begin to transform businesses.
– Businesses are starting to use the same collaborative tools that Wikipedia employs, and it’s worth learning from the monumental success of the Wikipedia model, he explains.
• When you set out to create Wikipedia, where did you look for ideas and inspiration? Were there any similar sites at that time?
– There were no similar sites, really, but there was a similar deeper idea in the world of free software, which many people know as “open source” software. Programmers were coming together to collaborate using free licenses to build all the really amazing software that forms the backbone infrastructure of the Internet, and they were doing so in large part as volunteers, using free licensing to share their work. This was a huge inspiration for Wikipedia.
• When did you realise that this was going to be huge?
– Before Wikipedia, I had a previous project called Nupedia which was a much more traditional attempt to build a free encyclopedia. When I launched the open editing platform of Wikipedia, we had more work done in 2 weeks than we had done in nearly 2 years with Nupedia. That was a good sign that we were on to something good.
• What would you say were the main reasons that Wikipedia became such a success?
– The vision of Wikipedia is to give a free encyclopedia to every single person on the planet, in their own language. That’s an exciting big vision that continues to inspire people today. It was a big part of our success – doing something bold and worthwhile.
• The Wikipedia blackout in January 2012 was a very strong statement against the copyright proposals known as SOPA and PIPA (*), and may very well have played a part in stopping them. In retrospect, how do you look at that event today?
– It was an amazing success. Up to that point, these kinds of battles were viewed as some kind of big industrial struggle between “Silicon Valley” and “Hollywood”. We showed that the users of the Internet matter, that this is about culture and knowledge, not just about money. Freedom matters for everyone and breaking the Internet on behalf of Hollywood is always going to be destructive.
• More broadly, what are your thoughts on Internet activism and its role within the political system?
– I think it will continue to increase, because at the end of the day, the Internet is just a communications tool. It’s the most effective way to organize for positive change.
Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia and in 2003 he handed it over to Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit foundation he set up for this purpose. He has a permanent seat on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees but he no longer owns the site. The Foundation has since then launched a number of related open wiki sites, such as Wikimedia Commons, Wikibooks and Wikiquotes, although Wikipedia remains its flagship.
(*) SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) were two proposals put forth in the US Congress. They caused huge protests both in the US and internationally for being too far-reaching, and were eventually withdrawn.
Keynote: 25 November, 9.00
Topic: A Wiki Future
Work: Founder of and spokesperson for Wikipedia, member of the Board of Trustees for Wikimedia Foundation.