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Jimmy Wales outlines Wikipedia future for Bristol

The co-founder of Wikipedia has said that he expects China to eventually abandon its internet censorship policies, in a speech in Bristol yesterday.

Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales: Co-founder of Wikipedia was speaking in Bristol yesterday

The co-founder of Wikipedia has said that he expects China to eventually abandon its internet censorship policies, in a speech in Bristol yesterday.

At the Victoria Rooms in the city centre, Jimmy Wales added that he was “proud” of Google for pulling out of China in protest of its policies of blocking “dangerous” information online.

Mr Wales was in the city to mark the 10th anniversary of the online encyclopaedia on Saturday. Wikipedia is now the fith largest website in the world, attracting more than 400million unique visitors a month with just 50 full-time staff members.

Around 300 people were at the Victoria Rooms to hear Mr Wales say that growth in the amount of English-language content had slowed, but that he was now focussing on increasing quality over quantity. He said he wanted Wikipedia to be of better quality than the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, and called on more academics from a broader range of people to contribute to the site.

He also attacked Apple for its stance over ‘app’ development and the need to gain permission from the computer giant to distribute apps and their coding.

Speaking to Bristol24-7 after the event, Mr Wales confirmed he intended to keep Wikipedia as a free service for the world. “We are a charity with a mission to bring a free encyclopedia to every single person on the planet, and we aren’t deviating from that goal.”

Read the full interview…

1) What does the 10th anniversary of Wkipedia actually mean for you? Did you envisage how the project would have developed to this point when you started?

For me, the 10th anniversary is a celebration of our community, the thousands and thousands of people who have poured so much heart and mind into building this amazing resource that we all enjoy.

It’s also a celebration of what is to come: the building of Wikipedia in the languages of the developing world. I envisioned some of it.  But there’s a lot that was surprising to me. One example: while Wikipedia was always envisioned to be global in scope, I never really grasped what that meant.  I’ve learned so much about the world by traveling and meeting Wikipedia volunteers everywhere.

2) Why have you chosen Bristol as one of the locations to celebrate this event?

I was intrigued by the concept of a “Festival of Ideas” and we have a strong relationship with the city grounded in a meeting that we held in the city a few months ago to talk about fund raising with our local chapters.  Additionally, we have a strong local community in Bristol and Steve Virgin, in particular, from the board of Wikimedia UK, was quite
instrumental in organizing everything for my visit.

3) Five years ago, as a news sub-editor, I was advised not to trust what was written in Wikipedia when checking facts in stories. Is this trust now unjustified and why?

My view is that this is not an appropriate use of Wikipedia, and that what we should use Wikipedia for, as journalists, is to discover what are the good questions to ask.  What are the open questions on any topic?  Let’s look at those.

4) Do you still worry and wake up in the night, wondering what has been added to Wikipedia?

No, we have a very strong community and they do an amazing job of monitoring.

5) Is Wikipedia as authoritative now as the Encyclopaedia Britannica etc? What areas need to be improved on?

In some areas we are, and in some areas we are not.  My belief is that all areas of Wikipedia are subject to improvement – we are never satisfied with the level of quality.  Academic studies have shown our quality to be similar to that of traditional encyclopedias, but I believe we can surpass them significantly.

6) Do you know what proportion of contributions come from learned experts… or do you think this even matters?

I don’t know the percentage, but I think it very much matters.  It’s really important that people with expert knowledge continue to add information to Wikipedia.

7) I read that you are irritated by the perceived connection between  Wikipedia and Wikileaks, but what is your position on the Wikileaks controversy of the last few months? Was Wikileaks right to publish the secret documents from the US government that it obtained?

Wikipedia has nothing to do with Wikileaks whatsoever.  My opinion on it beyond that isn’t really important.

8) Looking at the bigger picture, how does the Wikileaks controversy, the Wikipedia project (and your refusal to bow to Chinese demands to sensor ‘sensitive’ information) and the general explosion in the public use of the internet to share information change the balance of power between the individual, and governmental and corporate organisations?

Obviously the Internet is a tool for massive empowerment of the individual.  Everyone can now participate in the public dialog, and those who are thoughtful can gain a wide audience.

9) Do you think Wikipedia can remain a ‘free’ service supported by donations? And do you think information, as a rule, should be freely available?

I think that Wikipedia will remain free, yes.  We are a charity with a mission to bring a free encyclopedia to every single person on the planet, and we aren’t deviating from that goal.

I think it is perfectly fine for some information to be free, and some information to be paid for.  I’m not an extremist on this point.

10) What is your core belief of Wikipedia, the one you tell world leaders such as Russian president Dimitry Medvedev recently? How did Medvedev react – and what is the overall attitude (if there is one) of world leaders to the project?

I only met him briefly, but my experience with meeting world leaders has been a keen interest in Wikipedia and a general excitement about how it is a positive force in the world.  That is to say, they react like human beings. :)

11) What next? How does the Wikipedia and overall Wikimedia project go  forward?

We are focusing increasingly on the languages of the developing world, and in particular we are opening our first office outside the United States this year, in India.  This small office is our first step to try to directly support the community in India with the specific local issues that they face in building the Indian language versions of Wikipedia.

12) As a small, independent online news outlet that is going up against the traditional media big boys, what advice would you offer me?

Engage your community in innovative ways.  Not just comment boards at the bottom of the articles, but serious participation in the creation of the work.

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