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Things work well when a group of people know each other, and things break down when it’s a bunch of random people interacting – Jimmy Wales

Quick Facts

  • Wikipedia is ranked as the 6th most-visited site on the planet.
  • In January 2010, it earned more than 365 million unique visitors.
  • This online encyclopedia is used regularly by more than 500 million users worldwide.
  • Jimmy Wale’s name was held in “the 100 most influential people in the world” in 2006 by the Time magazine.
  • Before the launch of Wikipedia, Wales had never travelled outside the territory of North America.

Jimmy Wales: A Brief Know-How

Jimmy Donal Wales is an internet entrepreneur & the co-founder of Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that runs with an open-management style. Born on August 7, 1966 at Huntsville, Alabama, his father was a grocery store manager and his mother ran a single room school where Wales and his three siblings studied. With an interest in reading from a very young age, he attended the Randolph School before graduating at sixteen. After completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Finance from the prestigious Auburn University, he taught at the University of Alabama and the Indiana University while pursuing his postgraduate studies. Surprisingly, he never finished the doctoral dissertation required for his PHD, the reason being nothing but boredom.

Personal Life

Wales has been married three times and has two daughters. As an individual, he believes in reason, individualism, and capitalism. One could also say that he firmly adheres to the theory set by Ayn Rand – making Wales an Objectivist. He identifies himself as a libertarian though he is not a supporter of the Libertarian Party. When it comes to political views, Wales considers himself as “center-right”.

The ‘Who Founded Wikipedia’ Story?

The story started with Jimmy Wales as a former options trader and Chief Executive Officer of Bomis, an adult content-oriented search engine provider. In January 2000, Wales hired Larry Sanger to Bomis to start an online volunteer-created encyclopedia – the Nupedia.

Sanger, a philosophy Ph.D., adopted a thorough approach to ensure quality on the website. In its first year, Nupedia published a meagre 12 articles. Sanger and Wales tried hard to figure out a way to rapidly supply content to Nupedia, but struggled to find a platform that wouldn’t require an extensive investment or programming.

On January 15, 2001, with Larry Sanger and others, Wales launched Wikipedia—a free, open content encyclopedia that enjoyed rapid growth and popularity. Initially only in English, Wikipedia quickly became multilingual as it developed similar versions in other languages, which differ in content and in editing practices. There is a grand total, including all Wikipedias, of over 38 million articles in over 250 different languages. As Wikipedia’s public profile grew, Wales became the project’s promoter and spokesman. He is historically cited as a co-founder of Wikipedia, though he has disputed the “co-” designation, declaring himself the sole founder.

Originally, Bomis had planned to make Wikipedia a profitable business. Sanger initially saw Wikipedia primarily as a tool to aid Nupedia development. Wales feared that at worst, it might produce “complete rubbish”. To the surprise of Sanger and Wales, within a few days of launching, the number of articles on Wikipedia had outgrown that of Nupedia. It was Jimmy Wales, along with other people, who came up with the broader idea of an open-source, collaborative encyclopedia that would accept contributions from ordinary people.

At first, neither Sanger nor Wales knew what to expect from the Wikipedia initiative. Many of the early contributors to the site were familiar with the model of the free culture movement, and, like Wales, many of them sympathized with the open-source movement.

Wales has said that he was so worried about the concept of open editing, where anyone can edit the encyclopedia, that he would awake during the night and monitor what was being added. However, the cadre of early editors helped create a robust, self-regulating community that has proven conducive to the growth of the project. In a talk at SXSW in 2016, he recalled that he wrote the first words on Wikipedia: “Hello world”, a phrase computer programmers often use to test new software.

Achievements

Jimmy Wales was mentioned in Time 100 ‘Scientists and Thinkers’ section in 2006. Forbes named him as one of ‘The Web Celeb 25’ and ‘Young Global Leaders’ in 2007. He has been honored with the ‘Pioneer Award’ and the ‘Gottlieb Duttweiler Prize’ in 2011. Wales has received other awards such as the ‘2009 Nokia Foundation’ annual award, the ‘Business Process’ award and ‘the 2008 Global Brand Icon of the Year Award’. The entrepreneur has also been awarded honorary degrees from Stevenson University, Amherst College, Knox College, MIREA University in Russia and Universidad Empresarial Siglo 21 of Argentina.

Also, let us not forget how Wales, we mean Wikipedia, helped us complete our tedious school essays and perform well in board exams. 🙂

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