Jimmy Wales. Photo: Tiago Queiroz/Agencia Estado

Why people everywhere seem to love Wikipedia, according to Jimmy Wales

Yvonne Lai

In 2010, when Wikipedia was still a youthful 10 years old, Post Magazine interviewed American internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales, co-founder of the online encyclopedia. Below is an edited version of that interview:

Growing up, my family placed a very high value in education and learning. But it's fairly obvious that education is vital for everyone. Literacy and computer literacy are both incredibly important, more so as time goes on. There is more information available and higher value to the information that is available, in the sense that our lives are more tied up with information than they were in the past. You can't get by in life just knowing one or two things, you have to always be learning and growing. The literacy rate in every country is dramatically higher today than it was 30 years ago. That's universal - and remarkable in places like Africa and India.

Can 15-year-old Wikipedia remain the planet's font of all knowledge?

I'm very global; I'm all over the world, all the time. It's surprising how similar internet trends are everywhere. One of the fascinating things to me is that Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in Iran, Japan and the United States - all very different cultures, but people everywhere seem to want and love the idea of basic, clear and neutral information.

All around the world, we have people get together in local meet-ups; eventually they will organise a non-profit chapter. And that's the way we build local Wikipedia communities. A lot of people have the wrong idea of Wikipedia: as 10 million people each contributing a sentence. That's not really how it works. It's a core community of people. Regulation is a big part of our work but it's not particularly a challenge. Usually the community is very good about discussion and dialogue, sussing out who knows what they are talking about. Credentials are one thing, knowledge or expertise are another. There are things that belong in an encyclopedia and there are things that don't. Certainly, people's random thoughts about the world don't.

With Wikimania (the annual Wikimedia conference inaugurated in 2005), we wanted to bring the community together in different parts of the world. One of the most important things in choosing a host city is the details of the local Wikipedia community: how organised it is, how prepared it is and what kind of support will be given from local venues. (The 2016 event is due to be held in Esino Lario, northern Italy, in June).

I do lots of things in life. I always do what seems to be the most fun; it's the intellectual challenge of figuring out what's going on. I really enjoyed my time in the financial sector. I wasn't a banker but a trader and that was a lot of fun. I'm very focused still on the internet, including making strides forward in usability. I'm doing lots of different things at Wikia, which is my for-profit company. Wikia is advertising-supported wiki, so we are trying to expand the participatory culture beyond just the educational and reference subjects into pop culture, gaming and all kinds of things.

Living in Tampa Bay (in the American state of Florida), we were really worried about the BP oil spill. We started going to the beach more often in fear that it was going to be ruined soon. But as it turned out, I live far enough south on the west coast that it didn't impact us. These kinds of things are things I'll be keeping a close eye on, because who knows which one is going to affect us and when? We've got a very small planet and a lot of people living on it.

Hong Kong is a beautiful city - but that's not saying anything interesting or original. During the time we were banned in China - which lasted about three years (beginning in October 2005) - a large number of volunteers in both Taiwan and Hong Kong were very instrumental in building up Wikipedia in Asia, and that was important to us.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Super highwayman