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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:
  • Backups (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Patik ( 584959 ) * <cpatik AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:21PM (#9822844) Homepage Journal
    Wikipedia seems like a truly priceless knowledgebase. It would be a good idea if a non-electronic backup could be made and stored away in the event of a catastrophic world crisis. I realize it is over 700,000 articles, but it would be such a shame for something like a nuclear war to wipe out all of this knowledge. Perhaps a paper edition is printed every X years (to keep up with changing articles) and properly stored?
  • by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) * on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:22PM (#9822850) Homepage Journal
    Will you burn DVDs for offline users to purchase? I like buying GNU manuals in dead tree format, to fetish, and support the community. Worth considering.
  • sources (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:27PM (#9822865)
    The cited sources might be a major issue for people doing research projects on it. 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. Maybe this can be changed somehow to get Wikipedia look more credible.
  • Re:heh (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mateito ( 746185 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:28PM (#9822869) Homepage
    I'm not convinced. I love having a 32 volume set of black leather bound Brittanica in my house, but we bought it something like 20 years ago, and its still in great condition due to the little use its actually had. I'm definitely not in a hurry to update it. Everything's on the web or, if I need something more specialist, I'll go and buy a book dedicated to that subject. Usually from amazon.
  • No (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:33PM (#9822889)
    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.
    As it stands, you can quote Encyclopedia Britannica in any school essay. If I was marking some homework that relied on referencing Wikipedia, I'd have to fail them. Because (with some limitations) anybody with enough craftyness can write just about anything into Wikipedia. They could even write in what they're quoting. Nor is anything in there it verified 99.9% of the time.

    I know many people *want* to love Wikipedia, and it has its uses, but it does have its faults. People trying to pretend those faults don't exist are starting to look like Linux zealots who have been saying Linux is about to take the desktop for the last 8 years. Don't blind yourself, realize this is not a researched encyclopedia but an interenet scrapbook. Britannica may have made errors in the past, but there're more things wrong with a handful of individual articles on Wikipedia than Britannica has made mistakes in their entire history.
  • by SilentChris ( 452960 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:49PM (#9822962) Homepage
    I liked most of his responses (although his "they'll be crushed in 5 years" was a little too brunt for my tastes. Still, I think Jimmy underestimates one of the basic tenants of human nature: it's fun to be bad.

    The first time I saw a Wiki, and learned enough to understand how to add to it, I was a bit surprised on how easily you could destroy the whole thing. A few types and, bam, the article was gone. Sure, there was versioning and all, so they could go back to an earlier version if they wanted, but the preventative measures they had in place for preventing random deletions (just showing the guy's IP) were crude.

    So you might say "no one in the community would do that". But guess what... it's human nature to test the system, to break things. That's where an Encyclopedia Britanica or whatever, with an established history, has a leg up over Wiki.

    When I open a commercial encyclopedia, I know the article I'm reading was usually typed by someone educated in the subject, edited by multiple people, and will never disappear while I'm reading it. True, there's bias and errors, and everything, but they're in all media. Quality control, which he barely addresses, is much more difficult in an environment where Joe Public can randomly delete articles.

    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.
  • Re:That's Beautiful. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PetoskeyGuy ( 648788 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:51PM (#9822974)
    I agree it's beautiful thing, but my next thought was that is sounds like Asimov's Harry Seldon creating Foundation.
  • Re:Backups (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ravenspear ( 756059 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:57PM (#9823045)
    How would a paper copy be any more safe than a server if there was a nuclear war?
  • by alarocca ( 683961 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:57PM (#9823050)
    has anybody thought about applying this community development towards the creation of some sort of mechanical device. Inventions could be perfected and perhaps someday there could even be open-source automobile designs. does this sound plausible to anyone? what are your thoughts?
  • nastalgia (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pHatidic ( 163975 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:59PM (#9823077)
    When the wikipedia project was first announced on /. a number of years ago I remember I was writing a paper on Tiberius Gracchus. Currently there was nothing on wikipedia about him so I decided to edit my paper into an encyclopedia-ish form and upload it. This is when I was a sophomore in HS by the way. Anyway the article actually stayed as is for about two years before someone else rewrote it to make it not suck. However there are one or two sentences that bear just a hint of my original writing. Kind of neat I think.
  • by scovetta ( 632629 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:02PM (#9823109) Homepage
    I agree. I would gladly pay $20 or $30 for a DVD containing the whole wikipedia. I'd probably not want a million printed pages, but an offline format would certainly be something you should consider.
  • Re:No (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Carnildo ( 712617 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:03PM (#9823120) Homepage Journal
    Nor is anything in there it verified 99.9% of the time.

    You sure about that? One time, I added a note to the article on the M1 Abrams tank about reactive armor, and later that day I got a note from an army mechanic who stated that that particular modification had never actually been made. Seems to me there's plenty of verification.
  • Re:sources (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mbbac ( 568880 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:08PM (#9823181)
    I think one possible way around this is to have an author/owner for each article. Any updates/insertions for that article would have to be vetted by the author.

    Perhaps this should only apply to the periodic stable releases of the encyclopedia that Jimmy mentioned in one of his replies. 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.
  • Re:Backups (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Roadkills-R-Us ( 122219 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:11PM (#9823205) Homepage
    Well, for starters, the EMP blast area is much bigger than the physical destruction blast area.

    For another, it's easier to store an encyclopedia in a vault than a server farm.

    And of course, the paper encyclopedia will work without power, A/C, etc. Just keep the hunmidity reasonable.

    It's the time capsule approach.
  • by BJH ( 11355 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:22PM (#9823320)
    What's funny about it? When I was about 6 or 7, my grandparents gave me a 13-volume encyclopedia from the 1920's (i.e. about 50 years out of date), and for several years I loved to just open a volume at a random point and start reading.
    I can only imagine what it would be like to be that age again and have unlimited access to a regularly updated encyclopedia.
  • Re:sources (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OneIsNotPrime ( 609963 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:24PM (#9823344)
    This may be an "interesting" post, but this is the same mindset of "Aren't professionals better? How can it work if it's free?" that has plagued Open Source Software from the outset, and I think it's important to understand that the implication behind it that "free and open = cheap and undependable" is false.

    In open source software, the dependability comes from the fact that anyone can view the code, see potential problems, and apply fixes. There is no obscurity. People don't hide behind credentials. Same thing with Wikipedia.

    In closed source software, the dangers of laziness and 'not made here' syndrome arise; people tend to trust the professionals and assume that everything is taken care of, hence issues like the current security crisis and lack of innovation in some apps (such as web browsers) arise. Same thing with proprietary encyclopedias - there is just as much, or arguably more, of a risk of publishing misinformation because the peer review process can NEVER be as thorough.

    Somebody back me up on this...
  • Re:That's Beautiful. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rxke ( 644923 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:25PM (#9823361) Homepage
    Every single person on the planet. Does that mean couples can forget about it? ;)

    Seriously. IMHO he is pure Nobel-prize material. Spreading knowledge is of the utmost importance to improve the situation on this blue speck.
  • by tabdelgawad ( 590061 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:27PM (#9823383)
    When an encyclopedia article is written by an academic 'expert', the reader might be willing to forego detailed references because there's a certain trust and appeal to authority. If I read an article about physics by Stephen Hawking, in a sense he serves as his own reference.

    This situation does not apply when the encyclopedia article is written by essentially anonymous contributors. There's some reliability to be derived from open community editing, but ultimately as a reader, I need to see where the info came from. In fact, unless the article is making an original contribution to knowledge, a reader should be able to reproduce all the information in the article by looking up the references.

    This 'replicability' standard is nothing new; any refereed academic journal will insist on it for the portions of an article that do not represent original knowledge. IMO, It is the only way to make Wikipedia authoritative.

    Finally, I hope 'references' are not lumped or confused with 'to learn more' links. They serve completely different functions.
  • Re:sources (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mahulth ( 654977 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:32PM (#9823435)
    and I don't mean for them to be used in refereed papers, just that they should set their sites far. not just as a community data exchange full of great, useful information but no credibility.
  • Google, Gutenberg? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by otis wildflower ( 4889 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:34PM (#9823458) Homepage
    I have to think that Wikipedia would be _exactly_ something that Google could sponsor with its pending million$ or massive infrastructure..

    Also, I notice that a bunch of entries are taken from public domain encyclopedia editions. An interesting feature would be to, say, allow 'shading' of citation sources, so that sections of text would have background colors based on a citation key... With the user's ability to filter out sources if they wish, or set a 'trust' level..
  • Re:honest question (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anthere ( 794849 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:37PM (#9823500) Homepage
    You raise a potentially indirect interesting question.

    All participants to Wikimedia projects are currently working for free; Everyone is a volunteer.

    Indeed, Jimbo is *more* than a volunteer, since he not only giving so much heart and time for the project, but he has also been giving some of his revenues to sustain the project for more than 3 years now.

    However, many contributors are indeed giving a lot of their time, among which the developers. Should we or should we not envision to pay them, or to reward them for their hard work ? What do you think ?
  • Re:No (Score:2, Interesting)

    by k.ovaska ( 752790 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:44PM (#9823596)
    Maybe there could be a system that experts on a subject review articles and add a tag, "this version of this article was checked for correctness by E. X. Pert, who is a Professor of Subject in Some University". It would add some credibility. I don't know if enough experts would volunteer, but at least it's less work to check an article for correcness than volunteer to write one.
  • by nvioli ( 796933 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:49PM (#9823660)
    ahh how i long for the days when everything is free and open, we can share information over p2p on our linux desktops, we do all our research on wikipedia, and we all live in arcologies.
    what do you think is the best niche to start converting the general public to trusting open source? they seem awfully wary of open source software and open source information sharing (perhaps rightly so), so how can we prove that it works?
    oh and have people seen sketchzilla []? it rules.
  • Re:Backups (Score:2, Interesting)

    by emeitner ( 513842 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:55PM (#9823731) Homepage Journal
    Hrm. Maybe the Rosetta Project [] has a solution...350,000 pages of text(not binary) ona 3" nickel disk.(Microscope required)
  • by unfortunateson ( 527551 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:56PM (#9823742) Journal
    I would not mind unobtrusive advertising on Wikipedia if it was like the old days of PBS, where a program would begin with "The following was brought to you from a grant by Pan Am"

    So, the following are things I could deal with:
    1) A link on every page to "Sponsorship" which would list the biggest and/or most recent donations, and how You Too can contribute.

    2) A logo-of-the-day on the start page, rotating amongst the major donors

    3) This would push my limits, but the arrival page (where the referred is not on Wikipedia) could display a rotating sponsor ad, then take you on to the article. But that had better be the only time that happens, not like the every-five-or-so you see with, say Yahoo Groups.
  • Wikipedia and Bias (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sdjunky ( 586961 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:58PM (#9823762)
    A possible patch(note:not solution) for the bias issue is to have certain topics like abortion, religion and politics to have a central topic that is modified by admins.

    Then to have people post under that with their various biases. Thus, you can read about Abortion and then read responses to key topics side by side from both perspectives. Those who are pro-life can modify the pro-life sub pages but not the pro-choice pages and vice versa.

    Something like this

    Abortion: Should I get one?
    View point 1 | View point 2
    It is your choice to do so | It is murder and is
    nobody has the right to tell you | morally wrong to get an abortion
    that you cannot get one. It is | many people who have gotten
    your body and you can do what | an abortion regret having
    you want with it | done so many years later.

    And, a person looking at the wiki can modify it to show only one or more viewpoints that they agree with or that they want to see.

    Don't know.. just an idea.
  • by dstone ( 191334 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:58PM (#9823771) Homepage
    From the dead-tree encyclopedia guy... We take special pains to ensure that the content is at a level that our audience can digest. ... I doubt very much that wikipedia can attain the same amount of attention to the K-12 market as we do.

    The English language translation of Wikipedia is the largest, but there are a dozen or more equally active translations in other languages. Consider K-12 another "language" essentially. Each language exposes the same underlying facts in their own way.

    So if the English entry on Widgets is not available in Swedish, then someone who cares about knowledge in Swedish will create it. The basic research has already been done. One person doesn't have to take this all on; it will start as a stub, like all articles do, and the translation will grow alongside the English one, roughly synchronized, to appeal to the Swedish market. In fact, if the Swedish contributors do better research, the Swedish version may become the "master" article and effectively feed back into the English one.

    Ditto for K-12. Only it's easier. Because in theory, anyone who speaks "adult" English can edit down into the K-12 version.

    So 99% of the required K-12 base articles are already there in "adult" form. The only assumption here is that there are enough people who care about the K-12 market to do the editing for free. The amount of educators, parents, target students, and older students who are online is staggering, and I think they'd make a fantastic base of contributors/editors.
  • by bretharder ( 771353 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [redrah.terb]> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:01PM (#9823793)
    It would be awesome if there were a DVD interface
    to the data.
    Like you could pop the dvd into your dvd player
    and navigate through the articles via your remote.
    I'd definatly buy it.
    I know this isn't what the parent post had in mind;
    but it would still be cool.
  • by Hobobo ( 231526 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:08PM (#9823884)
    Please do not mod this as a troll on reflex. I'm continually scared by the opensource movement. This is probably the best example: true, encyclopedias aren't a huge bussiness, but the entire industry might have been eliminated. And who (potentially) can profit from it? The people who use Wikipedia, and in thsi case, a select group who (if they want to take the oppurtunity) can publish it and reap the profits. The people who contribute never get compensated. It's probably impossible, since the labor is so diffused. In my opinion, writing an encylopedia article or editing are skilled jobs and should be paid. It's sad and scary to see them eliminated.
  • Re:honest question (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mentatchris ( 585868 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:10PM (#9823901) Homepage Journal
    He owns and runs They're located in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego. When I visited the offices, they were off of Garnet street.

    I interviewed there when they were trying to start Nupedia,the wikipedia predecessor. I got the job, but ended up not taking it. My employer at the time had their admin and top programmer quit, and he was basically SOL if I didn't stay. In retrospect, staying was probably the wrong call for me personally, but loyalty is important.

    I can personally testify that Jimbo Wales is an awesome person. I met him several times... he's smart, funny, and a kick ass perl programmer. The interview with him was actually a lot of fun. He's interested in programming, his wife, whom he describes as 'a babe' (she is), and sailing. He's got an MBA as well... and used what he learned to start businesses like Bomis and non-profits like wikipedia. I regret not working for/with him, as he is very sharp and personable. Such is life.
  • by Toddlerbob ( 705732 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:13PM (#9823941)
    K-12 educators do indeed demand watered down versions of most information, which is part of the problem with basic education today.

    Many children are turned off by reading because it is "boring". That's because the books they're forced to read in school have far less complexity and richness than the language children use verbally every day.

    I don't disagree with these statements, except that instead of blaming k12 educators, I'd blame the politicians and publishing corporations that force K12 educators to use their books, and it's true that books - almost any nonfiction books, not just "watered down" ones - don't have the complexity and richness of everyday children's language. However, that richness and complexity extends itself in different ways than either adult language or standard English written language.

    This is also why I disagree with the post following this one that implies that any competent adult writer can adapt something for chidren by simplifying it. Children's language is not just simplified adult language.

    The best children's authors reflect a richness and complexity in their writing that will not bore young readers. But then, it seems that such writers are often passed by when assignments for writing textbooks are "handed out." The same can be said for textbooks for adults, unfortunately.

  • by dubl-u ( 51156 ) * <2523987012@potaG ... minus herbivore> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:23PM (#9824064)
    Our products (both print and online) are geared to the K-12 student and very little else.

    Wow. That's fantastically depressing. I hold in my hand a reproduction of the original Encyclopaedia Britannica, which was printed in 1771. The preface opens like this:
    Utility ought to be the principal intention of every publication. Wheever this intention does not plainly appear, neither the books nor their authors have the smallest claim to the approbation of mankind.

    To diffuse the knowledge of Science, is the professed design of the following work. [...] We will, however, venture to affirm, that any man of ordinary parts, may, if he chuses [sic], learn the principles of Agriculture, of Astronomy, of Botany, of Chemistry, &c., &c. from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
    If the current Encyclopedia Britannica's main focus is on selling to school librarians so that 7th graders can easily do their homework, then as far as I'm concerned the Internet has already put the Encylopaedia Britannica out of business, the important and noble business of providing the common man with access to the wealth of human knowledge. I'm glad that Wikipedia is stepping in to take up the slack.

    However, as a product, we don't see our core audience (K-12 School and Libraries) running away from us for Wikipedia in the near future.

    That's probably true, but I think that says more about K-12 teachers and librarians than it does about the relative reference-source merits of EB vs. Wikipedia.

    If I were a teacher, I'd be worried that continuing to let students depend on a single authoritative source like the EB is giving them bad habits. For the rest of their lives, they're going to have to deal with the Internet and its profusion of information and viewpoints. Better that they learn early how to do this, and I can think of few better places to learn than Wikipedia, which makes the process open and transparent in a way that the EB can't match.
  • Article of the Day (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dwvanstone ( 581420 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:23PM (#9824080)
    You know what feature I'd love to see? I'd love to have a random Wikipedia article show up in my mailbox each morning, just like a Word of the Day.

    Just clicking on the Random Page link gave me articles on Butha-Buthe, the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, and Farragut North. I love learning how much I don't know.
  • by Sajma ( 78337 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:29PM (#9824151) Homepage
    I've noticed that several well-known individuals have Wikipedia pages (rms [], Dubya [],
    Ghandi []).

    So I wonder, at what point is it appropriate to add a person to Wikipedia? At one extreme, every person who wants a page for him or herself could create one; in fact, one's Wikipedia page could replace one's home page. But this doesn't seem right somehow. Certainly a personal wikipedia page could contain an (auto)biography and links to related topics and people. But other stuff---like vacation photos and fan sites---do not really belong there (and we wouldn't want to clutter "the sum of all knowledge" with this).

    Is this just a matter of good sense and public consensus? Would it make sense to have some kind of Wiki-social-network thing?

  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:30PM (#9824170) Homepage Journal
    At first glance, it seems to me that Wikipedia would benefit from a public key system and reputation service. Allow editors to endorse articles by signing a revision with their public key, and allow visitors to establish a trust level for each editor whose signatures they encounter.

    If J. Random Hacker endorsed the "Cryptography" and "PKI" articles, and I agree with him that those articles are accurate, then I would be likely to trust his endorsement of "Elliptical Curves" (which I know little about). Similarly, if Pete Cruft endorsed "Linux Are Teh R0ck0rz", then his opinion on "Critiquing SHA-1" may not hold much weight with me.

    The same could be done on a lesser trust level without PKI by allowing visitors to "vote" on the accuracy of articles and using that to generate trust scores on other articles based on the editors.

    How 'bout it, Jimmy? Is a reputation server viable for Wikipedia? It seems like that would alleviate a lot of the concerns people are expressing about the reliability of your information.

  • by JohnsonWax ( 195390 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:17PM (#9824733)
    Overall, I agree with you totally, but I think you sell one point short: Ditto for K-12. Only it's easier. Because in theory, anyone who speaks "adult" English can edit down into the K-12 version.

    This is not particularly easy. It's not just a matter of swapping out the big words for little ones because kids don't have the same range of experiences or the level of intuition that adults do.

    Consider the Cyc project and the challenge of teaching the computer simple intuition - that a person with a foot must have a leg and basic truths like that. A lot of learning obstacles in kids come from not being able to intuit the things that are omitted by adults. Many 6 year olds don't know that gravity works in space or it's relationship to mass, or that there is no air in space, or even have a sense of scale beyond what they can see. Those are the kinds of things that must be added to an article designed for kids.

    Much of the structure of the simple wikipedia can be taken from the english language one, but the articles would have to be fairly substantially rewritten.

    BTW, my son is 6 and we reference Wikipedia regularly. Since I'm already simplifyiing content for him, I'm going to start contributing to the simple Wikipedia - so yes, there will be more people doing the editing for free. I'm pretty sure my parents (both retired) will contribute to it as well.
  • by Homology ( 639438 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @05:56PM (#9825861)
    Academics can be as dangerously biased as anyone else. A trawl through academic history in the 1930's and the whole sorry "arian race" saga shows just how easily 'academia' is corrupted.

    Here is an article, The Corruption (and Redemption) of Science [], about more recent problems in science. But some of those problems, like funding, appears to be age old....

  • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @06:07PM (#9825952)
    Wikipedia has replaced Google as my favorite site. It's arguably the one site I would actually pay to access, and I'm so grateful I don't have to.

    That being said, I don't like being a leech, but I don't have any spare money right now, so I'm working on a couple of articles, but mostly, I'm correcting grammatical and spelling errors whenever I see them. This is an excellent thing for everyone with good language skills to do, and it's almost effortless. Simply editing the text of an article to correct errors or to replace an awkward phrase doesn't require one to learn Wikipedia's peculiar markup system.

    Of course, this only applies to you if you're part of the minority of Slashdot readers who know how to spell "ludicrous" and "ridiculous," can tell "e.g." from "i.e.," know that the expression is "just as soon," not "just assume," and understand that, unlike in C, the closing punctuation mark in English comes before the final quote, not after.
  • Watchlists! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Big Sean O ( 317186 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @07:11PM (#9826480)
    Wikipedia does it with watchlists. You decide which articles mean something to you and you add them to your watchlist. Whenever anyone makes a change, your watchlist updates. You just watch the pages you care about.

    Recently I saw some confusion about Nat King Cole's Birthday. I did some research (I have a biography of Cole) and came up with a satisfactory answer and improved the article.

    With Watchlists, you don't limit yourself to one editor. I often find that when I make an addition, someone else (who obviously saw it on his/her watchlist) makes it better -- either fixing some bad spelling/grammar (take that Grammar Nazi) or fixing my inadequate and cumbersome writing skills. If I were the only editor, the process would (a) slow down until I got around to vetting every change and (b) be limited to _my_ best ability.
  • by jesterzog ( 189797 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @09:04PM (#9827223) Homepage Journal

    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?

    I was really looking forward to the answer for this question. There are so many cool social and technical devices in wikipedia that could potentially be talked about, and I was very interested to get a better idea of how the wikipedia operators saw it from their point of view.

    Jimy doesn't seem to've answered the question by simply saying that "love for what they're doing" is what keeps people involved. Believing in wikipedia would be important, but I don't personally think that it's something that would keep people coming back.

    For instance, what about the following?

    • Placing edit links on every page, making it incredibly easy to change information without any overheads. (One doesn't even need to log in.)
    • Supporting an infrastructure where people can take responsibility for the pages they're interested in. Watchlists, in particular.
    • Defaulting to making people more involved. eg. Any edit you make on a page causes it to be added to your watchlist by default, meaning everyone can keep in touch with how others have adjusted their edits in the future.
    • Providing a tidy presentation and a relatively easy-to-understand editing system, making people feel proud of what they've produced with an incentive to do more.

    There are only starters. There are heaps of devices in wikipedia that seek to hook and involve people and give them every possible excuse to keep contributing once they've started. Jimmy's answer about "make them love what they're doing" just struck me as quite shallow.

    Oh well; the rest of the interview was interesting. Thanks to Jimmy and the slashdot editors for producing it.

  • Re:Backups (Score:3, Interesting)

    by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @04:23AM (#9829373) Journal
    But if there was a printed version (and if it didn't burn away during nuclear war), it would be accessible without needing electricity etc. The only hurdle would be that one has to know or decipher at least one of the languages Wikipedia is written in. Given that Wikipedia comes in a lot of languages, the chance is not so bad, and maybe it could even be used as sort of stone of Rosetta to decipher other languages.

    Of course, carving the texts in stone would make their chances of surviving a nuclear war even larger.

    And if there are no people left, well ... after a few million years another intelligent species might evolve, and they might also be interested about the life in the distant past. :-)
  • Re:sources (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2004 @04:42AM (#9829440)
    You are also falling for the fallacy of many eyes. The number of people qualified to review any given wiki entry is very likely to be very low compared to the number of people who can review code. And even code does not get examined by most of the people who use it and are in a position to properly evaluate it.
    Which is related to a problem I've already seen in several locations on the Wikipedia. People utterly unqualified to evalutate the information, even though they may be sem-knowledgeable, creating systems and standards at odds with that used by professionals in the field.

    For example, for Naval vessels the Wikipedians, after great debate, created a system that utterly rejects the principles and standards used by experts in the field for decade - but it does follow the 'standard' set by Jimmy Wales as regards the format of data in the Wikipedia. The result is that when somebody actually knowledgable in the field shows up... He's slapped down when he starts to edit the Wikipedia to conform with accepted practices.

    This deliberate insularity is the greatest problem the Wikipedia faces in becoming widely accepted among professionals.

Put no trust in cryptic comments.