- 25 Mar 09
Jimmy Wales, the normally reclusive creator of Wikipedia, now the fourth most visited website in the world, has spoken at length, for the first time, about his life and his work. The interview, conducted by Jason O'Toole for Hot Press magazine, took place over three hours in the San Francisco offices of Wikia Inc, the spin off commercial relative-sites of the volunteer driven Wikipedia.
During the course of the interview Wales, who has been described as one of the ten most influential people in the world by Time magazine, admits receiving death threats. “I am very, very careful with my personal security,” he confesses, “because there are crazy people in the world. People have all kinds of crazy agendas. They are angry… and then they’re mad at me and they send me death threats.” The interview will appear in full in the issue of Hot Press to be published on March 26, 2009.
Among other fascinating insights int his vision of the internet, he talks about advertising on Wikipedia. “It’s a possibility,” he admits. “I wouldn’t rule it out. We’ve always said, ‘Look, I don’t want to have advertisements in Wikipedia’. Nobody really thinks it’s a good idea. On the other hand, if the very survivability of Wikipedia were at risk, of course we would do whatever we have to do to keep Wikipedia safe. A lot of people assume that when they talk to me that I’m going to be some kind of raving type of anti-commercial guy. I’m actually very pro-Capitalism and pro-commerce.”
During the course of the interview, Wales reluctantly agrees that he is a libertarian (“I don’t like the term”) and tells Hot Press that he supports the legalisation and control of all drugs. "I’m all for it. I think marijuana should be legalized," he says. When pressed as to whether he would have no objection to acid, coke or heroin being legalised and if people should be allowed use whatever drugs they like, he replies, "Yes, that’s right."
Wikipedia, which is a remarkable achievement by any standards with 12 million entries and rising, has become a major internet research tool since its inception in 2001. But critics say the site has published countless inaccuracies, including the singer Marti Pellow from Wet Wet Wet being wrongly reported as dead, and Tony Blair being accused of having Hitler posters on his wall as a teenager. The open-editing policy adopted by Wikipedia has also raised concerns that the site can becoms a medium for scurrilous rumour and on occasion vicious abuse, with former Ireland soccer manager Steve Staunton merely one target among many.
The 42-year-old Wales insists that Wikipedia is tackling these issues, especially vandalism. “That’s unfortunate,” he says of the abuse of Staunton. “That’s something we should never see happen. But it does happen. The community is very keen on trying to figure out how we can sort those things out. It’s not trivial."
In the Hot Press interview he also talks about illegal music downloads, how he'd like U2 to do a serious song about editing Wikipedia, and the issue of porn on the internet, and describes himself as "basically just this geeky guy who loves the internet."
The interview also covers Wales’s salary, the slowing down of traffic growth on the site, the value of Wikipedia, and his views on Larry Sanger, his former colleague who claimed he co-founded Wikipedia. Interviewer O'Toole also questions Wales about reports of him editing his own entry and on issues of privacy, Facebook ("I am completely addicted to Facebook. I use it all the time. It can be a complete waste of time”), Google, Microsoft and their rivals Open Office.
To order a copy of Hot Press with the full Jimmy Wales interview, click here.