Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2007-09-10/Jimbo interview

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The Wikipedia Signpost


Signpost interview: Jimbo Wales

By Ral315, 10 September 2007

When we last interviewed Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia was approaching a million English articles. Today, the English Wikipedia has over two million articles, and since then, Wikipedia has moved from a top 25 Alexa site, to the ninth most-visited website in the world, visited by 6-8% of Internet users a day. This week, the Signpost again interviewed Jimbo Wales, asking him questions submitted by our readers.


Color-free version

Wikipedia Signpost: First of all, the two-millionth English article was created [Sunday]. Is the Foundation planning a press release on this, similar to the millionth article, or will the milestone be more low-key?

Jimbo Wales: What time was the milestone reached? What was the 2 millionth article? Keep in mind, I just got off a plane from China a bit ago. :)

WS: 8:21 UTC Sunday; at this point, no one knows what the article was.

JW: There was a discussion on the Communication committee mailing list about whether to do a press release, and I don't know the final resolution. I have been a bit out of touch for the last week - it is hard to keep up with Wikipedia news in China, since Wikipedia is blocked in China. :) [NB: A press release is scheduled for release Tuesday.]

WS: Of course. On that note, this week, you visited China. Did you meet with Chinese officials regarding the blocking of Wikipedia within the PRC?

JW: Well, on this particular visit, I did not end up meeting with any relevant Chinese officials. Those visits are being scheduled for November. I was in Dalian, China attending an event of the World Economic Forum for the group of people they have named "Young Global Leaders". I met some awesome people. Of course they all know of Wikipedia (a few have had Wikipedia scandals or BLP issues or both). And others have missions that are in some ways similar to ours. Examples of interesting people I met: Jennifer Corriero is the founder of an organization called TakingITGlobal.org, which is "a global non-governmental organization (NGO) that runs a large online community and social network for youth who are interested in social, political and global issues." So she and I talked a lot about online communities.

JW: John Hope Bryant is the founder of something called Operation HOPE. He has an interesting global dignity initiative and I taught him about Creative Commons licenses and offered to help him find people to translate the dignity literature into 30 languages; this is an 4-6 page document he was lamenting not having the resources to get translated, and I told him how a wiki + a community + free licensing could help. I hope we can pull together as a community to help him get this into 50 languages instead of the 30 I suggested were possible for him. I will be blogging more about that once I get the information from him.

JW: Then for a fun one, I met Princess Mabel of the Netherlands, who is a delightful person, who happened to have had a WikiScanner situation last week. This is a cute video of her dancing for me.

WS: That's right, we reported on that last week. What did she have to say about that?

JW: Well, she hoped that the edit would give rise to a debate about the facts of the situation. But the media only focused on the fact of the editing. She also thinks they could have done a better job of it. Rather than removing the two incorrect words -- which was a mistake since it was part of a quote -- she should have added a sentence pointing out that the couple continues to maintain that they gave no incorrect information, only incomplete information. (I have no opinion on the content of the controversy, but can testify that after a very long conversation with her, it was quite clear to me that it would be absurd to think of her as acting in bad faith around this matter.)

JW: I also met Kate Roberts of YouthAids. She has a set of skills that we have not had, around recruiting celebrities to help promote a cause, and getting lots of funding. I learned a lot from talking to her.

WS: How is the Foundation planning to run the fall fundraiser? Will the emphasis be more on personal donations, or larger, corporate and grant contributions?

JW: For the most part it will be the same as ever, with banners on the website, etc. Except that I have gotten commitments for over US$1 million in matching funds from wealthy individuals. Oh, and also tomorrow I am meeting with the Truth in Numbers film crew, who have offered (for free) to put together a promo video for the fundraiser.

WS: Gwern asks, "When anonymous page creation was forbidden, it was said that there would be a study of its effects. That was a very long time ago. Was any type of formal study ever done? If it was, when will it be released? Have you considered allowing anonymous page creation again?"

JW: I am unaware of any formal study. My own feeling is that anonymous page creation should be re-enabled when the stable versions feature is available. I do not consider the experiment to be a success or a failure. It seems to have had very little impact on anything, all things considered.

WS: In 2004, you said, “In general, I like living in a world with anonymous proxies ... There are many valid uses for them. But, writing on Wikipedia is not one of the valid uses”. How do you feel about the use of open proxies on Wikipedia today?

JW: I just came back from China. I was unable for that entire time to access Wikipedia. If I had been able to access Wikipedia, using Tor for example, I would likely have not been able to edit. I think that's a shame. At the same time, anonymous proxies do pose a couple of interesting problems for us. First, they spew a lot of vandalism, and the reality of the situation is that more people seem to use such tools for bad than for good. Second, there are some interesting problems that could arise due to the increasing number of griefers/trolls who would like to build fake "good" accounts at Wikipedia while at the same time continuing "bad" behaviors. I acknowledge that it is a tough problem, but I think it important that we think carefully and pro-actively and always try by default to be as open as we can be.

WS: As a follow-up, Raul654 asks, Roger Dingledine, inventor of TOR, has said that if Wikipedia implemented a trust metric, this would effectively solve the problem of proxies. Have you considered adding such a feature?

JW: It is not up to me, but that avenue of approach seems viable. I think we should only soft-block Tor anyway.

WS: Mike Peel asks, "A lot of Wikipedia's articles are unreferenced. What do you think are the best ways to encourage contributors to reference their additions?"

JW: I think the amount of unreferenced content should decrease naturally over time. Certainly, BLP has helped in this regard quite a bit. At least in that sensitive area, we are much better than we used to be.

WS: Ta bu shi da yu asks, "A number of attempts at setting up a way of marking stable versions have been proposed, and at least one MediaWiki extension has been created. None of these proposals have taken off, and it looks like the extension has stagnated. What's your opinion on stable versioning? How do you personally think it should be used – as a default when available for anonymous users, or as an optional view?"

JW: What I support with stable versions is that whatever it is, it is the default view for anonymous visitors, but that it should be used sparingly, not on all articles; that it needs to be a "state" that an article is in, like semi-protection, but more open.

WS: Raul654 asks, "I have heard through the grapevine that the 2006 audit excoriated the Foundation for having very little by way of data backups or recovery plans. Has this situation improved? If so, how? On a related note, can we expect to see SQL dumps of en-wikipedia more often?"

JW: That is 100% completely false. The audit did not excoriate the Foundation for anything! I have no idea why anyone would hear something "through the grapevine" when the audit was published here and here.

WS: As a follow-up, does the Foundation have data backup/recovery plans in place should a disaster occur?

JW: Ask Brion [Vibber]. I am not really qualified to answer detailed technology questions.

WS: RobertG asks, "Wikipedia's success is remarkable, and something I think you must be very proud of. Are there any of your initial hopes or expectations which Wikipedia has failed to meet up to? And given its success, what is your medium- and long-term vision for Wikipedia now?"

JW: Well I am primarily interested these days in the growth of minority Wikipedia languages. I am extremely pleased with the progress in the last year of some of the languages of India. But I think that we still have a long way to go in African languages. Toward that end, I am going 3 times in the next 9 months to South Africa (twice at my own expense) to help promote the growth of Wikipedia in the languages of South Africa, and I am reaching out to people across all of Africa to better understand how we might see better growth there.

WS: Finally, what is your opinion regarding WikiScanner? With increased press attention toward the potentially bad edits made by corporate entities, how can we balance press attention back toward the positive areas of Wikipedia?

JW: I love WikiScanner in general; I am hoping that we could find a way to warn people who are about to make an edit from a corporate network that their edit will be public. And encourage them to be good.


Also this week: From the editor

Jimbo interviewWikiWorldNews and notesIn the newsFeatures and adminsTechnology

Arbitration