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Meet the founder of Wikipedia

February 22, 2008 12:40 IST
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The term 'wiki' is a generic term, meaning a web site where anyone can change any page at any time. Wikipedia, founded by Jimmy Wales, is the eighth most popular website globally. He spent around $2 million (around Rs 8 crore) to maintain the site in 2007.

Wales, who was in Mumbai recently to promote his new mission Wikia (a commercial venture founded by himself and Angela Beesley), told Shivani Shinde that he wants to increase the contribution from Indian local languages on the site.

While there are 280 million Hindi speaking people, there are just about 15,806 articles in Hindi on the site. Wales also shared his perspectives on  the advertisement scenario, Google, Wikia and other relevant issues.

Wikia is a library concept. Do you want it to grow like Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a very ideological belief, and because of its non-profit character it is very small. We would like to do more if we can raise some additional money. On the other hand, Wikia (commercial) is broadly structured. It can do all kinds of different things and work with a lot of people in different way.

Again, everything on Wikia is freely licensed. I think consumer-generated content is very important on the Internet. But with a community-based search engine, the challenge is to take care of spams.

Do you want to monetise this model or some others that you have introduced in the past?

We would not like to monetise Wikipedia. We are a charity with specific global mission. Some time people ask me about advertisement. We don't want to have advertisement in Wikipedia, but then, we never said an absolutely "no".

There is a section of people who are far away from using the Internet and will not use PC for a long time. For them, Wikipedia does not matter. Despite that, we want to help them in other ways.

In this scenario, if Wikipedia had some advertisement, then it could be used in several different ways. After saying all this, I still oppose advertisement. Our continuously not having advertisement is something we need to look at conservatively and should be thought about.

There were reports that Wikipedia was conducting a survey on viewer's profile. What was the idea behind this survey?

For a long time we have had a lot of anecdotal belief about who comes to Wikipedia and who edits it. We have a fair idea who reads it. But it's still very basic knowledge. We really want to get a better sense of 'who' these people are and 'why' they are editing these pages.

This survey will help us understand this. We also realise that we have some strengths and weaknesses due to systemic biases as to who edits Wikipedia. For instance, we have a lot of people who are tech-savvy, technology professional,  but we don't have people writing about literature and poetry. This survey will help us understand the demographic of people and use it to understand them.

Distance education is growing at a fast pace. Many universities have tied-up with social networking sites to upload there curriculum. Kindly comment.

We have the Wikiversity and Wiki-Books initiative. They basically look into creating learning materials. But we are pretty focused on what we do best - that is, Wiki. We are looking at University tie-ups but we are trying to encourage these universities to make curriculum available under free licences. It's important for people to be able to adapt it at local level. I feel University education tends to be international in scope.

For instance, I am working with the Ford Foundations. They have created the Financial Literacy curriculum but it is very US focused. It's about teaching core people how banks and interest rates work.

But the core ideas are valid around the world. But if you want to use it in the Indian context, for instance, you will need to translate the figures and denominations into lakh and crore.

Does it bother you that Google is coming up with an encyclopedia?

Google doesn't seem to think Wikipedia is a competitor and same goes from our side. They have a product 'Knol' which is not even released yet. I think its more like a blogging type of product.

However, what was interesting was that the screen shot that was released mentioned support for free license. That's exciting. If they do that some experts will write for Knol and that can be used freely across the web. People will be able to translate into local languages and make it available on the web.

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