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Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales Responds 407

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?

Jimmy Wales:
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.

Jimmy Wales:
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?

Jimmy Wales:
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)?

Jimmy Wales:
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.

Jimmy Wales:
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?

Jimmy Wales:
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?

Jimmy Wales:
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?

Jimmy Wales:
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 [] 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 ?

Jimmy Wales:
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?

Jimmy Wales:
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.

Jimmy Wales:
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?

Jimmy Wales:
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. :-)

Know someone *other than your favorite political candidate* who'd make a great Slashdot interview guest? Please email Roblimo with the person's name and contact information.
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Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales Responds

Comments Filter:
  • by Carnildo ( 712617 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:59PM (#9823074) Homepage Journal
    I think Wikis are eventually going to die off, and blogs with rating systems will ultimately reign supreme. Everyone talks, everyone determines what articles are top notch, and someone truly in control can axe things if necessary. There's no true control with Wiki, and that's its biggest hurdle.

    Have you looked at the internal process at Wikipedia? There's plenty of control.

    Vandalize an article? Unless you pick something very minor and obscure, there's someone who has it on a watchlist who will find what you've done and fix it quickly.

    Repeated vandalism? You (or your IP address) can get a one-day ban by any of the administrators. A longer ban can be placed if needed.

    Having an edit war? One of the admins can protect the page from further changes, while arranging for a mediator to sort out the differences.

    There are plenty of procedures in place for dealing with problem users. They're not needed very often, which is why it doesn't look like they exist.
  • Re:honest question (Score:5, Informative)

    by DarkMan ( 32280 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:02PM (#9823103) Journal
    He runs a web hosting firm. I forget what it's called, but that's also how he's able to donate all the bandwidth for Wikipedia, and where all the servers are located.

    Gotta admit, saying that you host Wikipedia is a serious selling point, in terms of proving you can cope with a big site.
  • by chris mazuc ( 8017 ) * on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:22PM (#9823327)
    Well if you need any of a wide array of processors: []!
  • by rolofft ( 256054 ) <> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:23PM (#9823336)
    Cite the specific revision of the article at the time you site [] it. You can always pull up a previous revision of an article.

    ( , Revision of 16:20, 6 Apr 2004)
  • Re:Backups (Score:3, Informative)

    by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:25PM (#9823363)
    Everybody can download the COMPLETE sql database from
    Im sure ther are at least 1000 people in the world who have a more or less recent version to resupply even if the whole datacenter burns down,ect.
  • Re:Backups (Score:5, Informative)

    by mbessey ( 304651 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:27PM (#9823378) Homepage Journal
    These folks [] might be able to help with plans for long-term backups of WikiPedia content.

  • by Txiasaeia ( 581598 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:31PM (#9823420)
    You can already download a copy of wikipedia for offline use - it's about 180 MB for a PC; I use it for my laptop.

    But yeah, I'd pay $30 for an offline DVD copy of 1.0!

  • by maveric149 ( 250323 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:44PM (#9823593) Homepage
    There plans for everything you mention. We are in the process of setting up a new website that will have several donation pages.

    Daniel Mayer,
    Wikimedia CFO
  • by maveric149 ( 250323 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:46PM (#9823626) Homepage

  • Re:sources (Score:3, Informative)

    by GerardM ( 535367 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:48PM (#9823645)
    One misconception of many is that there is one wikipedia, there are many. Articles on the same topic can be found in many languages, each language is a wikipedia in its own right.

    When you compare the articles in the different languages, the quality differs. The quality of the wikipedia differ. Some have fewer than 100 articles (chr) Some have 32000 articles (nl) and some have 314000 articles (en). This results in different maturity levels of the wikipedia, it means something because of the amount of editors involved. The maturity of a wikipedia relates in general to the quality of the overall articles. When there are more articles with more edits per article, the better the quality will get.

    Weaknesses are spotted everywhere, it takes critical mass in an area to get the quality up. In classical encyclopedia it is this one man writing up on a set of subjects, here you find a group of people writing on the same subject. You find people who write stuff, you find people who edit stuff. This is the process that can be observed to work.

    When writing on a subject, you do look and refer to what is said in other versions of wikipedia. This is also how you find the cultural differences :)

  • Re:That's Beautiful. (Score:2, Informative)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:50PM (#9823668) Homepage
    I must admit the last sentence hit me so hard I opened up my wallet.
    link for donations []

    T-shirts, coffee mugs, etc. [] ($5 of each purchase goes to wikipedia)

  • by WillWare ( 11935 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:12PM (#9823929) Homepage Journal
    There has apparently been some thought [] given to how to create snapshots of Wikipedia. If it's small enough to fit on a CDROM, I definitely want to give it a try myself.

    The related talk page [] also looks interesting, and includes programs in Python and Perl for processing the Wikipedia information in various ways.

  • Re:sources (Score:3, Informative)

    by bfields ( 66644 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:44PM (#9824338) Homepage
    I asked my librarian at the school I go to, and she had thought that it would be a bad idea to use it, because it's written by random people, instead of scholars like in "traditional" encyclopedias.

    Encyclopedias in general are useful as a place to get a broad overview of a subject, or to look up a few quick facts for your personal use, but if you're writing a paper and need to cite something then I think you really should track down an original source to cite. E.g., you might look up the world population in an encyclopedia, but when the time comes to find a citation for it, you might try to find out what source the encyclopedia used and cite that.

    Maybe this can be changed somehow to get Wikipedia look more credible.

    Part of the reason Wikipedia has been so succesful (and Nupedia, last I heard, hasn't been so popular) is the extremely low barrier to entry. *Any* extra steps you add to the process (verification of author's credentials, mandatory review, etc.), no matter how trivial, are likely to cut down substantially on contributions, because it's no longer something you can get hooked on by trying it just for fun in a spare 15 minutes.

    --Bruce Fields

  • Re:sources (Score:4, Informative)

    by mbbac ( 568880 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:19PM (#9824760)
    That's where this comes in...
    That way if you're doing research intended for eventual publication, you'd use the most recent release of the encyclopdia since each article would have content vetted by its author/owner.
    The URL in the citation would point to that release of the article which would remain fixed over time. Jimmy mentioned in one of his answers that he plans to acheive a "stable 1.0" version in the future. Each release should always be available along with the "normal" view of the encyclopedia which would always be instantaneous. URLs would look like where the 1 would refer to the first fixed release of the encyclopedia.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:33PM (#9824941)
    Why don't you just set your "home" page in your web browser to the random page action URL on Wikipedia? Or set up a cron job to wget the random page and email it to yourself? I'm not trying to say this wouldn't be a neat feature, but I think you could accomplish the task yourself without much trouble. :)
  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:46PM (#9825127) Homepage
    Is this just a matter of good sense and public consensus?

    Yes. :) If it makes it through Votes for Deletion [] it's generally OK. :)

    But adding a page about yourself? Generally considered very bad. Vanity pages, advertising: Bad No. Get an account and stick up a user page, if you want that. (Be aware, however, that Wikipedia is not [] a free web host. =b)

  • Re:honest question (Score:3, Informative)

    by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:49PM (#9825183) Homepage
    You're referring to Bomis []. Apparently they're big in the internet porn industry, or so I'm repeatedly told. :)
  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:56PM (#9825287) Homepage
    Actually, there is a fascinating research project by IBM, the History Flow tool [], which charts the history of a Wikipedia article. Email conversations with the guy in charge have revealed that they are going through the (internal, corporate) motions required to get it released for use, and it may possibly even end up GPLed or something like that.
  • Re:sources (Score:5, Informative)

    by wsapplegate ( 210233 ) <> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @05:21PM (#9825543) Homepage

    > If I cite the 2003 edition of an encyclopedia, someone reading my paper can go look up the relevant article. If I cite something on Wikipedia, and someone changes the article the day after I read it, a reader looking up the cited article might find it says something completely different than what I said it says.

    Not so ! Why ? Well, because Wikipedia uses computers and their near-unlimited storage and processing power *intelligently*. Want to see that in action ? A poster in this discussion linked to the Wikipedia page about nuclear warfare []. Should you want to cite a stable version of it, you would go to the corresponding history page [], and select the version you want after looking at the changes between versions. For instance, to link to the "nuclear warfare" page, as it stood on 2004-07-25, you would use this URL []. Problem solved :-)

  • Re:Backups (Score:5, Informative)

    by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @05:37PM (#9825689) Journal
    The SQL databases can be downloaded here [], and the current revisions are 633MB, small enough to be put on a single CD. Anybody is more than welcome to use one of the existing scripts to convert this to static HTML, then print out the results.

    Anyone care to calculate how many sheets of paper this would take, and how much time?
  • by swmccracken ( 106576 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @07:27PM (#9826586) Homepage
    Check out [].

    The current version of (English edition) is 301 MB, and the dump including the edit histories (ie: old versions) of the articles is 9079MB. The current version download of all languages is 686 MB.

    (As I understand it, all articles are included in that 301 MB download. It is gzip compressed, however.)

    As for images and uploaded files, for English, they're available as a split tar file - 1.9 and 1.7 GB for a total of a 3.6 gb download.

  • Re:genealogy (Score:2, Informative)

    by maveric149 ( 250323 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @08:27PM (#9827014) Homepage
    You are in luck. But still need to wait a bit.

    The current plan is to move the nearly defunct Sep11wiki to and expand that project's focus to be a general genealogy wiki and memorial to the dead.

    The different proposals are here

    I you want to move the process along, then comment on the talk pages of the above Meta pages or just start work on the Sep11Wiki.

    -- mav
  • by cybermancer ( 99420 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @08:27PM (#9827018) Homepage
    I should point out that currently you cannot get a link specifically to the current revision. You can only get a link specifically to a past revision.
  • Re:Backups (Score:3, Informative)

    by zsau ( 266209 ) <slashdot@thecarT ... minus city> on Thursday July 29, 2004 @01:16AM (#9828566) Homepage Journal
    Umm... yeah, but you realise that after you're dead, there may well be other people alive? Even if everyone in America dies, people might still survive in Africa or Australia. Maybe not nearly as civilised as we are today, but in the next few thousand years, they might want to catch up on the knowledge they've lost.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken