Knowl­edge is Power

Bespoke - - WIKIPEDIA -

As Wikipedia – the free, open con­tent dig­i­tal en­cy­clopae­dia cre­ated through the col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort of a com­mu­nity of on­line users – cel­e­brates its 15th an­niver­sary, its co-founder, Jimmy Wales, says his dream is that ev­ery sin­gle per­son on the planet has free ac­cess to knowl­edge.

Ac­cord­ing to Jimmy Wales’s Wikipedia page, he is an athe­ist from Alabama, is worth a mil­lion dol­lars, has been mar­ried three times, and is known to his friends as “Jimbo”. He is also the co-founder of the on­line en­cy­clopae­dia which, in its 15-year his­tory, has be­come the most-linked-to web­site on the planet. Type any search into Google and the chances are that Wikipedia will fea­ture among the first three posts. The web­site now re­ceives more than 15 bil­lion page views a month, with 7,000 new ar­ti­cles cre­ated ev­ery day by its 80,000 un­paid vol­un­teers world­wide – a mix of one-off con­trib­u­tors and diehard ed­i­tors who spend their free time por­ing over en­tries and de­bat­ing changes. Its pages fea­ture no clever bells or whis­tles, there is no at­tempt at flashy de­sign, and a limited num­ber of pho­to­graphs adorn the en­tries. And yet Wikipedia has carved such a vi­tal niche in the dig­i­tal age that al­most a third of the peo­ple alive to­day have never known a world with­out it. But for the boy from Alabama (Huntsville, to be pre­cise) who grew up with a thirst for knowl­edge and a fas­ci­na­tion with en­cy­clopae­dias, it’s no sur­prise that his idea caught on. “We had a set of World Book En­cy­clopae­dias, which my mother bought from a travel agent back in the day,” says Wales. “Ev­ery year, they would send out the an­nual up­date and some­times they would just re­write an ar­ti­cle com­pletely,” he says, de­light­ing in the mem­ory. “They would send out th­ese stick­ers with them and when, say, the Moon ar­ti­cle was up­dated, I would go back to ‘M’ and next to the ar­ti­cle on the Moon I would paste a sticker say­ing: ‘Check the 1979 an­nual for the lat­est ver­sion of this ar­ti­cle.’ I guess that was my first time edit­ing an en­cy­clopae­dia.” Fast-for­ward 37 years, and the now 49-year-old Wales is at the helm of a web­site so vast, it would take more than 21 years for a nor­mal per­son to read the English-lan­guage pages alone. But, per­haps un­ex­pect­edly, he is also – as his wife’s maid of hon­our de­scribed him in a toast at their wed­ding – the one world-fa­mous in­ter­net en­tre­pre­neur who didn’t be­come a bil­lion­aire. Wikipedia is a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, which sur­vives on do­na­tions from small donors who, quite sim­ply, love to learn. So does he look at the Mark Zucker­bergs and Bill Gate­ses of this world and feel a pang of re­gret? “I don’t re­gret it at all. My life is very in­ter­est­ing, I get to meet all kinds of peo­ple, I can do what­ever I like. I do things in my life, like go­ing to lobby govern­ment of­fi­cials, and I find it all hugely fas­ci­nat­ing. I’m not a very money mo­ti­vated per­son.” But nor is he “op­posed to peo­ple mak­ing money”. In­deed, he is hugely ad­mir­ing of his friend Zucker­berg – who he thinks “will be like Bill Gates, even­tu­ally” and move on from Face­book to work on a greater cause. For Wales, a hu­man­i­tar­ian vi­sion has al­ways been the driv­ing force be­hind Wikipedia. The goal, he says, is to cre­ate a world in which “ev­ery sin­gle per­son on the planet is given free ac­cess to the sum of all hu­man knowl­edge”. If he had it his way, peo­ple in the fur­thest, most des­ti­tute cor­ners of the world would all have a mo­bile phone pre­loaded with Wikipedia at no data charge. Still, Wales is the first to ac­knowl­edge that when it comes to the in­ter­net, great power comes with great re­spon­si­bil­ity, and Wikipedia, which cel­e­brated its 15th an­niver­sary in Jan­uary, has not been with­out its con­tro­ver­sies over the years. In March 2012, the Bureau of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism, which is based at City Univer­sity Lon­don, re­vealed that one in six Bri­tish mem­bers of par­lia­ment had had their en­tries edited from within Par­lia­ment, with around 10,000 edits to the en­cy­clopae­dia made by MPS or their staff – a sharp prac­tice Wales has de­scribed as “anti-eth­i­cal”. How­ever, he him­self has not been im­mune to scru­tiny in this area. In De­cem­ber 2005, it was re­ported that Wales had been edit­ing his own en­try (fix­ing a le­git­i­mate er­ror, he says): “It’s not per­fect – we’re hu­man be­ings, so it’s a very noisy process but one of the strengths of Wikipedia is the di­ver­sity of peo­ple work­ing there. So if you try to write a com­pletely favourable ar­ti­cle about Don­ald Trump or Barack Obama, some­one will al­ways call you up on it.” And, as he says, one of the best pro­tec­tions against peo­ple edit­ing their own en­tries is that “it is likely to be quite em­bar­rass­ing if you

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