Wikipedia is an excellent project, and Slashdot readers' questions for Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales were just as excellent -- as are Jimmy Wales' answers to 12 of the highest-moderated questions you submitted.1) Donations - by southpolesammy
What's the current state of donations and what is the future of Wikipedia if fund raising without advertisements does not increase?
We are always in need of funds for hardware. I still cover the bandwidth and hosting charges, and will do so for the foreseeable future, but we rely on community donations for the hardware that we need to run the site.
Our growth rate continues to be staggering.
One of the reasons I was excited to be asked by Roblimo to do this interview is that the slashdot community in particular has been so generous to us in the past. This is an audience that understands the importance of what we're doing, the importance of spreading the idea of GNU-style freedom far beyond the free software community.
Anyone who would is interested in donating money to help, please visit the site to see how we use the money.
2) Advertising? - by obli
How has the word about wikipedia been spread? Has wikipedia actually paid a dime for all its publicity? I don't think I've seen any advertisement when I think about it.
No, we don't pay for publicity, never have and most likely never will; it hasn't been necessary, and I don't see that it will be necessary.
The key is that we're doing exciting and interesting things, showing what is possible to a community project running free software and working under a free license. Nowadays everyone knows that excellent software can be written using the principles of free licensing, and we're proving that the idea of sharing knowledge is powerful in other areas as well.
3) Complement or Competitor to Traditional Encycs by ewanrg
Was wondering if you view the Wikipedia as a competitor or an additional tool compared to a World Book or an Encyclopedia Britannica?
I would view them as a competitor, except that I think they will be crushed out of existence within 5 years.
Software is unique in that there are network externalities and various other mechanisms of "lock in" that make it hard for us to get people to switch to free alternatives. People are very comfortable with Microsoft products, and they fear that if they switch, they'll give up all the skills that they've learned (ctrl-alt-del!) and won't be able to share files with others.
But the things our community is producing are different. There's no cost to switching from an outdated old encyclopedia to Wikipedia -- just click and learn, and there you go. You can switch before your friends switch, but the knowledge you learn will be perfectly compatible.
4) Quality Control - by Raindance
First of all, the concept of a community-built encyclopedia, open to submissions and revisions from users, is wonderful. It's much like open-source, in fact, and Wikipedia certainly exemplifies how to reapply the OS model to other contexts.
However, the contexts of encyclopedias and software are different. Significantly so. I'm interested specifically in quality control- you know when code doesn't work when it doesn't compile or results in unexpected behavior.
In what ways can a Wiki article be bad, and how can one tell? Do you think QC is a large issue for Wikipedia, and do you have any plans to further integrate the community in the QC process (perhaps akin to the slashdot moderation/metamoderation system)?
Well, encyclopedia articles can be bad in a lot of obvious ways, and some subtle ways. Obvious ways include simply incorrect information, or grammatical errors, or strong bias. Subtle ways can include milder forms of bias, dull writing, etc.
Quality control is what a lot of our internal processes are all about. Every page on the site shows up on Special:Recentchanges, and individuals have 'watchlists' that they can (and do) use to keep an eye on particular articles.
I am currently working on a first draft proposal to the community for our "next phase" of review, which will involve getting serious about producing a "1.0 stable" release. The concept here is very analagous to that in the software world -- the existing site is always the cutting edge nightly build, which rocks of course, but we also need a stable release that's been reviewed and tested and found good.
I'll put out that draft in a couple of weeks, and get feedback and revisions from the community, and then we will hold a project-wide vote.
That process might involve some bits that are like the slashdot moderation/metamoderation system, but it's likely to be much more of an editing-oriented process than voting-oriented process.
5) How to balance coverage? - by mangu
Is there an effort to get articles written on specific missing topics? If one looks at a commercial encyclopedia, the full range of human knowledege is covered. On Wikipedia, OTOH, one finds several articles about slashdot trolls, for instance, while other (important) fields are still unwritten.
This is increasingly a solved problem. It is true that we have quite a bit of pertinent information about slashdot trolls, but we also have just about every important topic as well. Of course some areas are in greater need than others, and finding them and resolving them is an ongoing effort in the community.
I think you'd be pretty hard pressed anymore to find topics that are in Britannica that we don't cover at all. It's still not that hard, if you look around a bit, to find rare articles in Britannica that are better than our article on the same topic. But it's getting harder all the time.
So to answer your question directly, yes, there are constant efforts to get articles written on specific topics, and to flesh out areas that we haven't yet covered as well as we should.
6) The constant bickering... - by Rageon
How is (and how will) the constant bickering between differing sides of the more controversial issues (abortion, religion, etc...) be addressed? Do you expect any changes to the current system, in which it seems the same pages get edited by the same people back and forth every day?
In our community, we very strongly discourage that kind of bickering. One of the biggest social faux pas that one can commit is the dreaded "revert war". But humans are humans, and they will argue, and we have to understand that there will never be a process whereby we eliminate all of that.
7) Getting people involved - by Anonymous Coward
What methods have you found that work best for getting people not only involved in contributing, but also keeping them contributing to the Wiki?
Love. It isn't very popular in technical circles to say a lot of mushy stuff about love, but frankly it's a very very important part of what holds our project together.
I have always viewed the mission of Wikipedia to be much bigger than just creating a killer website. We're doing that of course, and having a lot of fun doing it, but a big part of what motivates us is our larger mission to affect the world in a positive way.
It is my intention to get a copy of Wikipedia to every single person on the planet in their own language. It is my intention that free textbooks from our wikibooks project will be used to revolutionize education in developing countries by radically cutting the cost of content.
Those kinds of big picture ideals make people very passionate about what we're doing. And it makes it possible for people to set aside a lot of personal differences and disputes of the kind that I talked about above, and just compromise to keep getting the work done.
I frequently counsel people who are getting frustrated about an edit war to think about someone who lives without clean drinking water, without any proper means of education, and how our work might someday help that person. It puts flamewars into some perspective, I think.
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're doing.
8) Advertisers, Spammers, Search Engines, oh my! - by RomSteady
I like the concept of a wiki, but I'm a bit concerned about the current implementation.
Right now, we are seeing several instances where crawlers are disrupting wikis, spammers are embedding wiki links to their sites to boost their Google rankings, and advertisers are placing ads in wikis until someone goes through and nukes them.
Do you have any thoughts as to how wikis can be modified to prevent things like this in the future?
Sure, I think it's pretty simple to solve problems like that. One of the first tricks I would try is to parse the wiki text that someone inputs to see if it contains an external link. If so, then only in those cases, require an answer to a captcha.
Second step, keep editing wide open for everyone, but restrict the ability to post external links to people who are trusted by that community. Make it really easy for trusted users to extend the zone of trust, because you want to encourage participation.
Basically what I think works in a wikis is to trust people to do the right thing, and trust them as much as you can possibly stand it, until it hurts your head and makes you scared for what they're going to break. Because that is what works.
People are not fundamentally bad. It only takes the smallest of correctives to take care of that tiny minority that wants to disrupt the community.
9) Webservices ? Data Formats ? - by sh0rtie
Ever thought of offering alternative data access services other than HTML ? examples of other successful community driven sites such as IMDB [imdb.com] can be queried via email (in a structured way) and a huge number of applications are now built upon these capabilities alone, ever thought of offering up the data in alternative formats (XML/SOAP/TELNET/TXT etc etc) so clever programmers can create applications that could utilise the data in new and interesting ways ?
Yes, yes, yes. I am 100% all for it. Join wikitech-l, the technical mailing list, and ask about specifics, and we'd be thrilled to have more developers volunteering to help us get those kinds of things implemented quickly and correctly.
10) China and Wiki - by Stargoat
How do you feel about China's blocking of Wiki, and what effect, if any, do you think it'll have on the service that Wikipedia can and cannot provide to both the Chinese and the world community?
The block in China only lasted for a couple of days, until some administrators in the Chinese-language wikipedia appealed the ban.
My thinking on that is two-fold. First, it's a huge embarassment for the censors if they block Wikipedia, because we are none of the things that they claim to want to censor. Censoring Wikipedia is an admission that it is unbiased factual information itself that frightens you. We are not political propaganda, we are not online gambling, we are not pr0n. We are an encyclopedia.
Second, I consider it a moral imperative for our overall mission that we will not bend our principles of freedom, of the freedom of speech, of a commitment to inclusiveness and neutrality, to meet any possible demands of any government anywhere. We are a _free_ encyclopedia, with all that entails.
11) One area Wikipedia seems to lack - by wcrowe
Other encyclopedias cite sources for their work. Wikipedia does not seem to have a facility for this, and I have yet to see sources cited in any of the articles. Am I correct in my assumptions? Why aren't sources cited? It would add credibility to the project.
I think you're mistaken. We do cite sources, about as much as most encyclopedias, I think. But I do agree with you that more sources is good, and there's no question that as we move forward towards a 1.0 stable release, one of our goals will be to provide more articles with more extensive information about "where to learn more", i.e. cite original research, etc., as much as we can.
12) Money issues - by Achoi77
Considering the fact that wikipedia has gotten bigger than ever, are there any real potential fears that the lack of a steady cash flow may cause the whole project to collapse? Has any (and what kind of) unfavorable contingency plans been considered (like ads) and outright rejected, only to be reconsidered again at a later time?
Wikipedia has gotten bigger than ever, and keeping us in enough servers to keep performance where we want it is a topic constantly on our minds.
But at the same time, I have every confidence that we'll be just fine. The thing is: everyone loves Wikipedia. When I asked the world for $20,000 last January, we raised nearly $50,000 in less than a week.
We are currently investigating the possibility of grants, and we are also asking you, here, today, to consider visiting the project to find out how you can help, if that's something you're comfortable with doing.
The question of advertising is discussed sometimes, but not really in the context of "will we need to accept ads to survive". The answer to that is clearly "no".
The discussion about advertising is really more a question that asks: with this kind of traffic, and the kind of growth we are seeing, how much good could we do as a charitable institution if we decided to accept advertising. It would be very lucrative for the Wikimedia Foundation if the community decided to do it, because our cost structure is extremely extremely low compared to any traditional website.
That money could be used to fund books and media centers in the developing world. Some of it could be used to purchase additional hardware, some could be used to support the development of free software that we use in our mission. The question that we may have to ask ourselves, from the comfort of our relatively wealthy Internet-connected world, is whether our discomfort and distaste for advertising intruding on the purity of Wikipedia is more important than that mission.
But it's more complex than that, even, because in large part, our success so far is due to the purity of what we're doing. We might find that accepting ad money would cut us off from possible grant money. It's a complex question.
But it is not a question that has to be answered for our continuing survival. We can keep going as we are now, with your help of course. :-)
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