3-Minute Interview: Jimmy Wales

The founder of Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, will participate in a debate about new media and Web 2.0, hosted by the Commonwealth Club in The City today. The 41-year-old is a board member of the Wikimedia Foundation and president of Wikia Inc., a San Mateo-based dot-com company.

What was the first Wikipedia page? The oldest page we were able to find was the front page, which I wrote. The first words were, “hello world.” For the oldest pages, we found one on the letter “W.” People started with big categories like continents, biology, history and the easy, low-hanging fruit.

What’s your favorite Wikipedia page? One I enjoy is the “heavy metal umlaut” page about how a lot of rock bands put umlauts in their names. It’s kind of cool.

Why is it important for everyone to have so much knowledge at their fingertips? Ironically, one of the functions Wikipedia serves is not to bring more information but to narrow down information to make a concise reference. So if you just really quickly want to know something about Thomas Jefferson, you can go and read the Wikipedia entry instead of digging through hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Is there anything dangerous about having all that information? I don’t think so. I tend to be a very big fan of the notion that as citizens in a free society, we need access to information to make good decisions.

What’s next for Wikia and the Wikimedia Foundation? The main thing is my search-engine project, search.wikia.com. I’m trying to bring the same sort of openness and transparency to search.

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