The latest on Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder

A photo of Jimmy Wales used in the 2008 Wikime...
A photo of Jimmy Wales used in the 2008 Wikimedia Fundraiser Campaign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not a billionaire, yet enjoying the limelight…

Married for the third time, now to a Londoner, Jimmy Wales enjoys life among the glitterati of the world. A very entertaining and at times informative profile in the New York Times…

High-minded or not, empowering the masses has made Wales beholden to them. That was an easy enough dynamic when he lived in St. Petersburg, Fla., and drove a 4-year-old dented Hyundai, but being benevolent dictator becomes a bit more complicated when you’re going to parties with the Blairs. Despite the community’s occasional discomfort with his friends in high places, it’s clear that Wales has tried to use those connections to promote issues the community tends to care most about. Last January, the volunteers voted to make Wikipedia go dark to protest two pieces of antipiracy legislation in Washington, a move that contributed to the bills being blocked. Not long after the Stop Online Piracy Act (S.O.P.A.) blackout, Wales worked with The Guardian newspaper to prevent the extradition to the United States of Richard O’Dwyer, the 25-year-old whose search engine,TVShack.net, was suspected of promoting piracy. He also opposed the British government’s proposed Communications Data Bill (also known as the “snoopers’ charter”). Wales called the legislation that would have required the tracking of British citizens’ Internet, text and e-mails “technologically incompetent” and threatened to encrypt Wikipedia pages so they could not easily be monitored. Lawmakers have since shelved the bill.

Wales, however, ensures he is not taken for a radical. He treads carefully when weighing in on more extreme members of the free-culture movement, like Julian Assange — who he has criticized for using the “wiki” name — and online hacking collectives like Anonymous. Wales and I met for lunch the day after the 26-year-old computer programmer and Internet activist Aaron Swartz killed himself. The community had erupted with calls for Wales to weigh in, but he was hesitant. “People have been pushing me to comment, but I didn’t know him,” Wales told me. He has also stayed mostly mum on Edward Snowden, the contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked confidential information about widespread snooping by the United States government.

“Wikipedia expresses the very essence of the Internet,” Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, told me. “Used to be the victors wrote history. Now everyone gets a chance.” Not even Wales is spared. After the site caught on, Wales tried to edit his own entry to call himself the sole founder. The trouble was that in 2000 he hired Larry Sanger, an academic and proselyte of an open-source Internet, to help him start his online encyclopedia. The idea of letting anyone (and not just experts) oversee the encyclopedia entries was Wales’s idea, but Sanger has said he talked a skeptical Wales into using wiki technology and came up with the name Wikipedia. Wales’s attempt to change his entry was a violation of Wikipedia protocol that sent the community into a tizzy. His page currently calls him the co-founder. An entire “controversy” section explains the Sanger dispute and references a 2001 New York Times article and a 2002 Wikipedia news release that both name Wales and Sanger as co-founders. “That’s funny, isn’t it?” Wales says in a way that makes clear he doesn’t find it funny at all. “It’s the dumbest controversy in the history of the world.” Sanger declined to comment for this article, but on the talk page of Wales’s entry, he wrote that “it was only when Wikipedia emerged into the broader public eye and Jimmy started jetting around the world” that he tried to rewrite history.

Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei - Professor of Communication at Purdue University - studies the relationship between information technology and social groups. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Structural differentation in social media. He also co-edited Ethical Reasoning in Big Data,Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , all three the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei's teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).

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