As you Google anything on the web, notice how Wikipedia results always come first. That’s telling of the number of visitors Wikipedia is getting every day. Jimmy once claimed that Wikipedia has like 400,000 daily visitors. That puts them behind Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and YouTube and ahead of MSN, Amazon, eBay, and Twitter. Come to think of it, out of all those start-ups only Jimmy remains to be out of the Forbes billionaires list.
That in itself tells us a lot about the man behind the world’s trendiest encyclopedia. He isn’t after the money. What he wants is for people to be given an opportunity to collaborate and share what they know of topics they care about. While most frown upon Wikipedia’s reliability, there’s no doubt it has transformed the way we collate data.
It’s not perfect and Jimmy is aware of the many loopholes Wikipedia has. But for what it’s worth, Wikipedia could very well answer just about any question you type in its search box. It’s a one-stop shop. It’s a library. It’s a community.
We can question the veracity of its information but we can never deny the genius behind Wikipedia’s mechanics. It doesn’t matter which country you’re from as long as you can provide resources for the “edits” that you make. What can be more emancipating than that?
At one point, you might have read about Jimmy’s plea for donations. In order to keep Wikipedia ad-free, he doesn’t shy away from asking the public to help fund the noble site. And as expected, he’s been questioned for his means. But even the “bullying” fails to inflict demotivation to Jimmy. On the contrary, the bad publicity makes him all the more ubiquitous on the web. Thanks to those who choose to support his crusade for free information and provide help. We can’t also discount the contribution of editors who don’t get anything out of editing erroneous entries and painstakingly looking for data to support their corrections. At the end of the day, the community of people who believes in what Wikipedia is trying to do wins over those who look down on the world’s largest encyclopedia.
History is just a Wikipedia search away. We owe Wikipedia more than what we are willing to admit. So instead of blabbering about how unreliable Wikipedia is, why don’t we do our share and edit information we find erroneous? We have that power now, then what’s keeping us from using it? That’s exactly why Jimmy Wales vows to do everything he can just to keep Wikipedia independent. If we could only see things in his perspective, then we could all be kinder and perhaps be as generous…
Early Life of Wikipedia’s Inventor
Jimmy was born to a grocery store manager father, Jimmy, and a school teacher mother, Doris, in Huntsville, Alabama. Her mother and grandmother, Erma, ran a two-room schoolhouse using the Montessori method. As such, Jimmy grew up being drawn to books. Reading was his passion and the World Book Encyclopedia became one of his favorites.
Jimmy, with his three siblings, got their primary education from the family-owned school called House of Learning. Since the school was very small, Jimmy only had four classmates. Being taught by his mother and grandmother, Jimmy’s curiosity was encouraged and stimulated.
Oftentimes, the school was snubbed by state inspectors for its unorthodox approach to teaching and learning. He credits that experience as one of the biggest factors that influenced his stance in education and procuring knowledge. He attended the Randolph School after eighth grade and managed to complete university preparatory at 16 years old.
Education was expensive but his parents did not mind because they have always believed that it’s a worthwhile investment. Besides, Jimmy was not at all a bad student. Right after preparatory university school, Jimmy went to Auburn University to major in Finance. He secured hi Master's Degree from the University of Alabama and enrolled to complete his unfinished PhD studies at Indiana University. While taking his graduate studies, he taught at both universities. He dropped out of PhD as he accepted an offer to serve as the research director at Chicago Options Associates for six years. His only a dissertation away from securing his postgraduate degree.
The Internet Boom
In an interview with Wired, Jimmy related how he was introduced to computers at his early years. In 1982, Randolph School got a DEC PDP-11 minicomputer. It has its own terminals that enabled them to send e-mails and all:
"I went to school with Brian Reynolds, who was the chief game designer of Zynga until recently, and Robert Kennedy, who’s a software engineer at Google. Someone posted on Facebook a picture of us from the 1983 yearbook: We were the “qualified computer operators." (SOURCE: Wired.com)
In 1989, he experienced using the Internet firsthand. While working as an options trader in Chicago, Jimmy got into writing web browsers to kill time. His uncle used to own a computer store so he had a bit of background in programming since he was a child. He told Wired that his life then was far from exciting. The moment he heard that Netscape went public with the company worth two billion dollars on the first day, he knew that the Internet is going to be the next big thing.
Jimmy Starts His Own Company
In 1996, Jimmy with two partners founded Bomis (acronym for Bitter Old Men In Suits), a portal that created and hosted web rings around search terms popular among male users. The rings were categorized broadly as "Babe", "Entertainment", "Sports", "Adult", "Science fiction", and "Other." (Source: Wikipedia). Bomis was controversial as it had been described time and again as an adult-oriented portal. It was said that he edited description about Bomis in his own Wikipedia biography.
This is what he has to say about Bomis’ association with adult content:
"That’s a completely ridiculous description. We allowed people to categorize whatever they wanted. One very popular category turned out to be image galleries of female actresses and so forth." (SOURCE: Wired.com)
Nevertheless, Bomis failed to launch and Jimmy has to give up his seat. Until 2010, Tim Shell, one of his partners, was the acting CEO while Jimmy remains to be its stockholder.
From Bomis to Nupedia
When Jimmy left Bomis, he began a new venture which took off from his idea of creating a free encyclopedia. Being a book lover himself, Jimmy has always been fascinated by the plethora of information made available by resources such as Britannica and his favorite, World Book Encyclopedia.
After chatting with erudite professors, it dawned on Jimmy that if given the platform, experts will be happy to share what they know to others without any charge. Banking on that premise, he started Nupedia with the help of Larry Sanger. He was hired by Jimmy to become Nupedia’s editor-in-chief.
According to Wikipedia, “Nupedia was a Web-based encyclopedia whose articles were written by experts and licensed as free content.” It went live on 9 March 2000, however, after eight months, only two full-length articles were published. The following consist of the flow of getting the articles published:
- Finding a lead reviewer
- Lead review
- Open review
- Lead copyediting
- Open copyediting
- Final approval and markup
Authors were expected to be experts in their fields (although the definition of expert allowed for a degree of flexibility, and it was acknowledged that some articles could be written by a good writer, rather than an expert per se) and editors were expected to be "true experts in their fields and (with few exceptions) possess PhDs." (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
When nothing seems to be working out, what he did was use wiki as suggested by Ben Kovitz, a programming enthusiast. As opposed to having experts approve of the content of the entries in their free encyclopedia, the concept of allowing the public to make edits according to their own set of parameters was embraced by Jimmy.
Wikipedia becomes Big
Wikipedia began in 2001 as a branch of Nupedia that enabled public peer review provided sources are cited. But in two weeks, they were astounded when it easily outnumbered the sparse articles in Nupedia. Then the editors feared that Wikipedia might compromise the credibility of Nupedia. So Jimmy decided to take it from Nupedia and put up a site of its own with Larry at the helm.
The name Wikipedia was coined by Larry while the concept was largely Jimmy’s. For the longest time, Jimmy had been correcting entries naming Larry as one of Wikipedia’s co-founders. Although Larry’s work was instrumental in forming Wikipedia’s foundations, it was Jimmy who provided funding through Bomis. While the idea was subject to debate, it cannot be discounted that Wikipedia was destined to succeed.
In 2002, however, Bomis stopped funding Wikipedia and Jimmy could no longer afford Larry’s salary. The two parted ways and Wikipedia has since then relied on Wikimedia Foundation. Wikimedia Foundation was founded by Jimmy in 2003 to keep Wikipedia from depending on advertisement for funding.
According to its website, Wikimedia aims to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.
In collaboration with a network of chapters, the Foundation provides the essential infrastructure and an organizational framework for the support and development of multilingual wiki projects and other endeavors which serve this mission. The Foundation will make and keep useful information from its projects available on the Internet free of charge, in perpetuity. (SOURCE: Wikimedia Foundation)
Jimmy Launches Wikia
Three years after Wikipedia was founded, Jimmy along with Angela Beesley created Wikia. It is a hosting site for wikis on different subjects owned by private individuals. Unlike Wikipedia, Wikia is profit-oriented. Jimmy acted as Wikia’s CEO in 2006 until he was replaced by Gil Penchina, former vice president and general manager of another successful Internet venture, eBay.
Wikipedia doesn’t Give Inventor Salary
Had Wikipedia been designed to gain profit, its estimated value would be around five billion dollars. It’s ironic that the very founder of the 5th most visited websites in the world is only valued at around one million dollars. And that’s largely from the talks that Jimmy gives being represented by the Harry Walker Agency.
Aside from his speaking engagements, Jimmy once endorsed a high-end watch made by Maurice Lacroix, a Swiss watch maker. Jimmy just laughs it off whenever people ask him if he ever regrets not getting money out of Wikipedia. As he has stated in his open letter, he’s done so because:
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. I’m doing this for the child in Africa who is going to use free textbooks and reference works produced by our community and find a solution to the crushing poverty that surrounds him. But for this child, a website on the Internet is not enough; we need to find ways to get our work to people in a form they can actually use.
And I’m doing this for my own daughter, who I hope will grow up in a world where culture is free, not proprietary, where control of knowledge is in the hands of people everywhere, with basic works they can adopt, modify, and share freely without asking permission from anyone.
We’re already taking back the Internet. With your help, we can take back the world.
Jimmy has now relocated to London with his wife who he calls as the “most connected woman in London,” serving David Cameron’s diary secretary. He’s closely working with the British government as a pro-bono technological advisor.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Wikimedia Foundation
- Wikimedia Commons
- Free Thinking Festival
- Berkman Center for Internet & Society
- MIT Center for Collective Intelligence
- Creative Commons
- Tech Entrepreneurs Week
- Wikipedia:Child protection
- Wikipedia Zero
Awards and Achievements
- 1994: Served as the research director at Chicago Options Associates for 6 years
- 1996: Co-founded Bomis,a n adult portal
- 2000: Launched Nupedia
- 2001: Launched Wikipedia
- 2003: Founded Wikimedia Foundation
- 2004: Co-founded Wikia, a for-profit wiki-hosting service
- 2006: Included in TIME's list of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World" in the "Scientists & Thinkers" section
- 2007: Touted in the World Economic Forum as one of the "Young Global Leaders"
- 2008: Served as co-chair of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East
- 2008: Received the Global Brand Icon of the Year Award
- 2009: Received the Nokia Foundation annual award
- 2011: Launched Free Thinking Festival on BBC Radio Three
- 2011: Received Pioneer Award
- 2011: Received the Gottlieb Duttweiler Prize
- 2011: Received the Leonardo European Corporate Learning Award
- Received the Monaco Media Prize
- Received the Business Process Award at the 7th Annual Innovation Awards and Summit by The Economist
- Received honorary degree at Knox College
- Received honorary degree at Amherst College
- Received honorary degree at Stevenson University
- Received honorary degree at Argentina's Universidad Empresarial Siglo 21
- Received honorary degree at Russia's MIREA University
Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales)
JimmyWales.com (About Jimmy)
The Guardian (Wikipedia founder to help in government's research scheme)
PC Mag (Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales Becomes U.K. Tech Advisor)
Wired (What I've Learned: Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Wikia)
Business Weekly (Wikipedia Chief Confirms Relocation to UK)
U-T San Diego (Everyone's Encyclopedia)
Wired (Wikipedia Founder Edits Own Bio)
Wikipedia (Wikipedia:Role of Jimmy Wales)
The New York Times (Jimmy Wales Is Not an Internet Billionaire)
Biography.com (Jimmy Wales biography)
Celebrity Networth (Jimmy Wales Net Worth)
Businessweek.com (The 25 Most Influential People on the Web)
Slashdot (Interview: Jimmy Wales Answers Your Questions)
Wired (How Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia Harnessed the Web as a Force for Good)