Interview of the month

REASON AND PEACE – JIMMY WALES,
THE FOUNDER OF WIKIMEDIA FOUNDATION

Jimmy Wales

 

EVELINA RIOUKHINA, UNECE AND CHRISTIAN DAVID, UNOG

What does Wikipedia mean? How did you come up with the idea, and how did you first get started? What are your plans for the future of Wikipedia?
Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we are doing. This tagline has been the centerpiece of my work for several years, and we are making significant progress towards our goals. We seek to give a free, high quality encyclopedia, to everyone in the world.

I came up with the idea while watching the growth of the free software movement, or open-source software. Here I saw teams of programmers coming together on a voluntary basis to create really fantastic works, and the free licensing model provided them with a legal and cultural framework to balance their interests appropriately.

In 2006 Time magazine named you as one of the world’s most influential people. In what sense do you feel your influence?
Well, I’ve always felt a little silly about that designation, although it was a great honour. I suppose the main way that I feel my influence is that I get asked about the Time magazine award all the time in interviews.

In using your influence, what would you like to achieve? What projects/ dreams do you have? What sorts of projects can an influential person like yourself undertake?
I think that all of us have a fundamental moral obligation to focus our minds, to think. I hope to encourage and enable that by providing everyone with the basic background information they need to dispel myth, rumour and hypocrisy. I believe that much conflict and bad government policy comes directly from simple but honest ignorance – a lack of access to the information that people need in order to make better decisions.

I believe as well that the right way forward in the world is through thoughtful dialogue, through conversation that is aimed first at understanding of how the world is, so that we might be more effective in making the world as it ought to be.

What is your philosophy? Who do you think are the most powerful people in the world right now? Do you think that knowledge is the greatest key to power today?
My philosophy is the philosophy of reason, purpose, and self-esteem. I believe very strongly in our capacity to know reality, and to change the world. I believe in a world without masters and slaves, a world of equal traders, exchanging value for value. In such a world, traditional notions of “power” are shown for the hollow brutality that they practised. Real power comes from ideas.

You have now the possibility of addressing the United Nations family – its 192 Member States, the representatives of so many countries and nationalities – all at once. What message would you like to give? Can it change the world somehow?
You are all representatives of your people. Some of you are here by voluntary choice of your people. Some are here through sheer force of power and injustice of the worst kind. None of you has a greater right than the individual rights of the people of your nations. Please proceed on that basis, and remember that very often, the best thing that you can do is to allow freedom to flourish, and your people to bloom in a genuine expression of their own ideas.

You initiated a concept of complete freedom for Internet users to post encyclopedia entries. Were you surprised, or perhaps even taken aback, that the idea took off, and then that it grew so rapidly?
People, given a structure of freedom and responsibilities that is well designed, can achieve anything they set their hearts to achieve. Let us hope that many will learn from this to allow the same in all fields.

At Wikipedia, a group of participating editors is the self-correcting team. How do we know whether their judgement are actually correct?
If you find something wrong, you may join the conversation and seek to correct it. We are open to change. Our minds are active and curious. Let us work together to find the truth and abandon once and for all the spurious quest for some “authority” who will give us automatically correct judgement. Through reason and dialogue with thoughtful people we can know the world, but it will never be magic, it will never be automatic. It takes each of us accepting our primary moral responsibility as humans: to focus our minds and think.

Thank you for this special interview for UN Special!

 

All photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, cover page photo credit Beatrice Much, design Oleksandr Svirchevskyy & Evelina Rioukhina, other photos credit Terry Foote, Nicolas Goldberg and Achille

Jimmy WalesJimmy WALES is an American Internet entrepreneur best known as the founder of Wikimedia Foundation, the charity which operates Wikipedia.org, and as the co-founder of Wikia.com.

Wales received his Bachelor’s degree in finance from Auburn University and his Master’s in finance from the University of Alabama. He was appointed a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School in 2005 and, in 2006, he joined the Board of Directors of the non-profit organization Creative Commons.

In January of 2001, Wales started Wikipedia.org, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit and today Wikipedia and its sister projects are among the top-five most visited sites on the web. In mid-2003, Wales set up the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization based in St. Petersburg, Florida, to support Wikipedia.org. The Foundation, now based in downtown San Francisco, boasts a staff of close to 30 focusing on fundraising, technology, and programming relating to the expansion of Wikipedia. Wales now sits on the board of trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, and as founder continues to act as a key spokesperson.

In 2004, Wales co-founded Wikia.com, a completely separate company that enables groups of people to share information and opinions that fall outside the scope of an encyclopedia. Wikia’s community-created wikis range from video games and movies to finance and environmental issues. Wikia’s network is now ranked in the top 75 of all websites according to Quantcast.com, and strong growth continues.

In 2007, The World Economic Forum recognized Wales as one of the “Young Global Leaders”. This prestigious award acknowledges the top 250 young leaders for their professional accomplishments, their commitment to society and their potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world. In addition, Wales received the “Time 100 Award” in 2006, as he was named one of the world’s most influential people in the “Scientists & Thinkers” category.

 
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