What is Jimmy Wales' basic life story

Interview with Jimmy Wales from the Wikimedia Foundation

Item status: Done 21:40, Dec. 13, 2005 (CET)
Please do not make any further changes to the content, but rather write a follow-up article.

Saint Petersburg (United States), 12/11/2005 - While this wasn't an interview with a vampire, it proved hugely difficult to get a live interview with Jimmy Wales from the Wikimedia Foundation. It took more work and planning than ever before. Four co-authors from four different Wikinews language editions (including the Swedish, Dutch and Polish editions) conducted an interview with "Jimbo" on the Wikinews IRC Channel, which - sandwiched between a magazine interview and an interview with a cable news source - took place.


Jimmy Wales in France

Part of the interview ran on the Wikinews IRC channel because Wikinews was one of the main topics of the interview. The project is just over a year old, with the English and German editions officially opening their pages in the first week of December 2004. Since then the project has published more than 13,000 articles in 16 languages; recently there are also editions in Hebrew, Russian and Japanese.

The project has always been accompanied by defamation and the questions asked of Jim Wales reflect some of the most widespread criticisms.

Wikinews: Wikinews appears to be primarily geared towards chewing back what has been chewed up by major online news sources. Was this the Wikinews vision?
Jimmy Wales: I would not use this expression 'regurgitating' which sounds pretty negative, and prefer to speak of 'synthesizing' which is a more subtle, more important process. That has always been part of Wikinews' core vision, even if we wanted to achieve a lot more at the right time.
The Wiki movement appeared to be geared towards local competence; People work on topics that they are experts in and that interest them. Why is there so little local news on Wikinews when one would have to assume that this is where Wikinews' strengths lie?
The wiki principle derives great benefits from local knowledge, but 'local' in an epistemological sense, not necessarily in a geographical sense. For example, I personally know a lot more about world news, which is related to subjects I am interested in, and could do a lot more in those areas than about local politicians in the region where I live.
Do you think Wikinews or any of the Wiki projects will turn out to be a meritocracy?
I hope so. :-) Although it is sometimes inherent in the wiki process to produce egalitarianism or anarchy, the wiki input tool is in a certain sense neutral to social structures. Put simply, it turns out that users who do quality work end up having more influence than other users who do poor work. In this sense, it may be a mericoratie, but it is informal.
The “Current Events” section is not “encyclopedic” enough to be at home on Wikipedia! The contents of many Wikipedia projects have been moved to “Wikibooks” and “Wikisource”, shouldn't the “Current Events” section also be moved to Wikinews in the same way?
I don't have a firm opinion about it. Lexicon articles on ongoing events differ in many ways from news articles on ongoing events. I suppose we should allow some parallel work and Wikinews should be advertised in a more prominent place on the Wikipedia homepage. But that's a big internal community discussion that people who know more about it than I should have.
All projects of the Wikimedia Foundation currently use the free MediaWiki software, which was specially designed for the Wikipedia project. This makes it an excellent tool for a collaboratively developed online encyclopedia, but it may not be as perfect for other forms of knowledge bases like Wikisource or Wikinews. For Wikinews, the creation of a Dynamic Page List was an important software enhancement that allowed lists of current articles to be dynamically created as they are published, so that the latest news appears on the main page.
When Wikinews was launched a year ago, the need for new functions quickly arose. Dynamic Page Lists have been critical to Wikinews, and several other tools should be developed as the need arises. The situation is similar in other projects (e.g. Wiktionary), maybe planning to develop a project-specific software package should precede the creation of new projects?
I really think we could do a lot better if we could anticipate the software needs of new projects, but it's also important to understand that many of the needs are not obvious a priori. Sometimes we have to try to do things for a while before we really have an understanding of where the trouble spots are.
The Associated Press changed their copyright on the articles to include writing, “You are not allowed to rewrite this article.” Does Wikinew's influence on how other news sources share their information?
I believe that mainstream news sources pay a lot of attention not only to Wikinews but to all citizen journalism movements. I think a lot of forward-thinking business people understand that a fundamental change has occurred and they want to find out how to allow more leverage from the community (i.e. citizen journalism in the previous sentence) while still getting the most out of the old models.
I had dinner with Don Graham last Friday and he is an example of someone who does not react with shock and horror to the new media, but rather with a passionate interest in watching what trends are emerging and how to adapt to them.
Could you elaborate on "the best of the old models"?
Well, to deepen "the best of the old models" - one thing that occurs frequently is that in traditional journalism you have a mechanism that is based on reputation and trust .), a mechanism that sometimes breaks, but mostly works. Citizen journalism needs to find ways to develop the same reputation mechanisms. Internet diaries (blogs) do this - to a certain extent.
What do you think Wikinews users can get certifications / (accreditations) to use in the field?
It sounds cool to me, even though I'm sensitive to concerns that people have raised about it. That's something I want to explore further this month to see how it works in practice so far and what users feel about it.
Have you received any reports back on this so far? Like, for example, experiences that people have had?

Fundraising campaigns by the Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation reached out to its members to cover basic and operational costs as well as ongoing capital costs, which seemed to be growing at the same rate as Wikipedia's popularity: exponentially. From the first fundraising campaign in December / January 2003/2004 (which raised about $ 30,000 after a server disaster) to the fundraising campaign in the fall of 2005 (which raised $ 244,000), every fundraising campaign usually achieved its goals in a very short time frame.

“We'd like to cover two quarters,” said Florence Nibart-Devouard, member of the Wikimediastiftung's donation management team.

The draft budget for the first quarter of 2006 alone envisages costs in excess of $ 400,000. And the target plans put the total annual spend at nearly $ 3.2 million. But apart from the main goal of covering the budget for two quarters (via donations - translator's note), the foundation has not yet set a specific goal for the next fundraising campaign.

These fundraising are not limited in time; there is no financial goal. Rumor has it that there are uncertain target estimates that start at $ 1 million and go up from there. How much money does the Wikimedia Foundation have to raise with this fundraising campaign?
[JWales] Rumors - that sounds strange to me. Rumors? However, our best guess for the bare minimum needed to keep the website up and running over the next year is $ 1 million to $ 2 million, depending on how long and how fast the traffic continues to grow. Experience has shown that we are limited in our growth because the website reacts slowly while we wait for new servers that have yet to be bought and integrated into the system.
Our stated goal is to create and distribute a freely licensed, high quality encyclopedia in their own language for every single person on the planet.
We know we are doing this very well in some parts of the world and not so well in other parts of the world.
It is my intention that we should experiment with different ways so that the fundraising campaigns can help: for example, hiring coordinators for minor languages, recruiting native speakers to work on the project.
$ 1-2 million is a huge jump from past budget; is this trend in household growth in line with the donation model?
[JWales] Well that's an open question, but I think so. Needs grow as traffic grows (on site - translator's note), but as traffic grows we have a larger audience to ask for help. Hopefully these two things go hand in hand in a reasonable way.
Ward Cunningham discussed a split wiki model on Wikimania, has this been followed up?
[JWales] I am not aware of any serious technical work that takes place in a distributed wiki model, but personally I am skeptical whether such a model would meet current needs. Nevertheless, I am open to suggestions. :-)
Do you think an open fundraiser will generate more or less than a fundraiser with a set goal? Why do you think so?
[JWales] I think an open fundraising campaign will make more money for two reasons.
First, I think people often look at the timing of donation activities and the amount that is being sought and their decision not to donate based on how we seemed to achieve our goal.
Second, I look to the general behavior of other large charities that often run open-ended fundraisers. I suppose they do this for good reason. In any case, we should try and see what comes out of it.
But is there any reason to call it a "campaign" when there is no goal?
[JWales] I often think that as Wikipedians we project our mindset onto our audience. We're the kind of people who look closely at budgets and think about goals and how to achieve them. That’s great for us. But there are a lot of people who are willing to trust us and who are more likely to respond to our vision of the bigger picture. They don't care much about thinking in detail (although we're always ready to explain to them) where every penny goes. Instead, they react more to a speech that highlights the aesthetic beauty of our project.
The fundraising campaigns are generally of little importance and hardly visible. If raising money is so important for the future of the project, why is WMF (Wikimedia Foundation, - translator's note) not putting the fundraising campaigns in a more central and more prominent place in order to really give it space and bandwidth Main pages, even to be left on article pages?
[JWales] Well, we're doing that during the current fundraiser, but we're obviously hopelessly tasteful, so I doubt we'll ever get too excited about it. :-)
The current fundraising campaign is manually updated, all online, and so on. It's almost like a high school fundraiser in the US. Have you considered starting an integrated campaign with feedback, for example through an automated graphical representation of donations that have already been received, which tracks the distribution of donations across countries and currencies?
[JWales] Yeah, we'd like a more original system better too. I feel we will have to pay to develop such a system because volunteer developers are (rightly) more interested in intellectually more challenging programming problems. That is why it is sometimes the case that we have to earn more money in order to be more efficient in collecting money in the future.
With the rise of the Wikipedia project, you have become a controversial figure and celebrity. Are you using your celebrity to encourage the rich and famous people you come in contact with to make donations?
[JWales] Yes. I am a full time beggar now. :)
Many traditional welfare programs spend the majority of their donation dollars on the fundraisers. What is the estimate of the cost of this fundraising campaign compared to what you hope to raise in donations? To be more specific, some of the fundraising calculations that can be seen have over 80 percent of the funds raised being used for fundraising.
[JWales] For the exact numbers, it would be best to consult Mav, our CFO - and Michael (our treasurer) - and also see the published results of our latest efforts. But since the donation activities obviously take place almost exclusively on the website itself (which does not cost any money), our efficiency is very, very high. I don't know the exact numbers, but our costs are almost without exception bank fees and PayPal fees.
I think it's terrible when charities are so inefficient. I believe fundraising expenses should be as low as possible.
The current conflict over the Seigenthaler article has sparked some anger outside the Internet Wikimedia community; How will this, if at all, influence the willingness to donate on a social and personal level in this campaign?
[JWales] I don't think it will have any effect. It's just news, there's always some news. If anything, I am optimistic that donations will increase simply because more people are learning about us.
What do you plan to use the fundraiser's donations on? Are you thinking of using some of the donations to improve Wikipedia's reliability? For example, will you hire researchers?
[JWales] Most of the money will go towards hardware purchases as usual. Some of the money will be used to improve the software, which in turn will improve our reliability. The employment of researchers is not planned.
Fundraising is not the only source of fundraising for the Wikimedia Foundation. What other sources of income, such as subsidies and contracts, does the Foundation currently have? What other income opportunities are you currently applying for and which are you currently working on?
[JWales] We have a small but growing income from partners who pay us for services from real-time data streams. For people who use our content on a commercial basis, this is an interesting way of getting data to be updated faster. We have received a few subsidies in the past and some are currently being worked on.
Danny Wool recently joined the foundation by working as my assistant in the office, but some of his time is devoted to applying for grants. We assume that in the future he will work full-time on applications for subsidies after an assistant has been trained to replace him.
Which companies pay for real-time data streams?
For example [JWales] Answers.com.
You mentioned the hiring of new employees, like Danny Wool. What is the plan to increase the budget for the working hours of such employees?
[JWales] I expect we'll be hiring at least five to ten people in the coming year, but - depending on the subsidies - I could imagine that number will grow a lot higher.
One thing that is certainly true at the moment: At the foundation level, we are filled with work.


As the interview progressed with more and more observers, we got to a point where we really wanted to follow up on certain aspects of the answers to our questions, but we got short of time. Then the whole thing turned into a classic press conference with interviewers hurling their questions quickly, and Mr Wales trying to answer as many questions as possible as quickly and briefly as he could ... we all would have liked more time for details and To have explanations.

Today on en.wikipedia the possibility to create new pages was switched off for unregistered users. Is the Wikimedia Foundation slowly moving away from the original Wiki principles?
[JWales] I don't see minor changes here or there to our model as a movement towards or away from the Wiki principles.
The main country of the People's Republic of China banned Wikipedia, and today Onet.pl removed Wikipedia from their search engine. Will changes in accessibility affect the Fund's funding?
[JWales] We don't usually get a lot of money from mainland China and I doubt whether the Polish search engine example will seriously affect the traffic on pl.wikipedia. (It will probably do more search engine damage!)
John Seigenthaler's curriculum vitae and, as we have just discovered, also that of Mr. Graham, was posted by non-registered users (in the English-language Wikipedia - translator's note). The first was a smear campaign, the second a copyright infringement of a press release. Obviously the former is a problem, but doesn't the latter lead to the opening of Wikipedia as an advertising site?
We don't really have a big problem with people who want to abuse Wikipedia for advertising purposes, although I'm sure a little bit of that happens every now and then. I have never seen a convincing case of this kind.
I mainly contribute to Swedish projects. You don't speak Swedish so I wonder if you ever look at non-English language projects? Do you even notice us?
[JWales] :)
I'm learning German right now, so I'm trying to read German Wikipedia. And I also look at other language editions, although of course I can't read anything there.
What I do to try to be useful to other languages ​​is to communicate with other people as much as possible, see people in person as much as possible, and follow the statistics pages to see what is going on.

This article mentions the Wikimedia Foundation or one of its projects.
Wikinews is also a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.