Though a recent transplant to New York City, Jimmy Wales lives online. Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, the 41-year-old co-founder and Chair Emeritus of non-profit Wikipedia has made his life all about accessing information, making an undeniable impact on the planet. With 9 million entries in 150 “official” languages, Wales’ Wikipedia has made knowledge more obtainable than any other website (or volume of books). And the Wizard-of-Wikis doesn’t show any sign of stopping. Not only is the ever-endeavoring, modern-encyclopedia-inventing entrepreneur expanding the Wiki-empire with Wikia, but he’s also taking on the likes of Google and Yahoo! with his groundbreaking Wikia Search engine.
The unstoppable entrepreneur made his first million dollars within months of leaving grad school, and within six years, made enough to support himself for life. But it wasn’t about money for Jimmy Wales. After coming up with the concept of an open, wiki-run encyclopedia, Wales tried different versions of Wikipedia with various Ph.D's and experts, only to find that user-generated content was quick, interesting, and surprisingly accurate.
Wikipedia saw unprecedented growth and is now one of the world’s top ten most popular sites. So if you want to know the meaning of life or how your garden grows, you can thank Jimmy for helping jump-start your search for meaning. “The challenge we face these days is not in getting information,” the Wiki-neur explains. “It's information overload. We need to find relevant information."
In comes Wikia Search. A small army of six have nestled into their TriBeCa headquarters to devise a transparent, open search engine that lets users, not “editors,” decide what results are most relevant. “At Google and Yahoo!, there are all kinds of editorial decisions that go on,” Wales reveals. "They want you to think of it as being an algorithm, a heartless mathematical formula. But the truth is, it is editorial decision making.”
Brilliant? Of course. But Wales admits the program is far from perfect (yet). He optimistically opines, “When we do the next version, at least they'll say it doesn't suck as much it used to.” With changes made to the site daily, his vision is closer to making the impact on the internet (and world) he hopes for.
Though altruistic, Wales is no stranger to scandal and gossip. The very basis of his business is constantly under fire. “You should definitely take Wikipedia with a grain of salt,” Wales explains, “But you should also take The New York Times with a grain of salt. You can take everything with a grain of salt, because there are errors everywhere.” Wikipedia, unlike Encyclopedias, doesn't need to make flawless entries. They just need interested, curious citizens to constantly make it better. Wales succinctly continues his defense: “And usually with Wikipedia, if there is a problem, at least we'll tell you there's a problem.
The upside to fame? Wales is flown across the world to have his brilliant brain picked at forums and conferences in 28 countries and 115 cities. “It never occurred to me when I was getting started that I would end up traveling all over the world,” Wales admits candidly. And, as his 2,500+ Facebook “friends” can attest, Jimmy is actually quite a normal guy with eccentric tendencies who frequently hangs out with friends, explores the myriad restaurants the city has to offer, watches Lost, scours news about Zimbabwe, and finds eternal joy IM’ing and blogging with his brilliant 7 year old daughter.
He admits that it is difficult to “unplug” himself from his online life, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Constantly connected to his Sidekick (OTI note: This is not a joke. He prefers the Sidekick’s keypad to Blackberry’s), Wales takes interest in the online connections he makes with writers, bloggers, and fellow wikis, and genuinely enjoys “poking” friends on Facebook.
Though this newbie is still settling into the city, he has quickly picked up on, and loves, its energy. “I like the vibe. I’m still trying to figure out the city,” Wales admits with enthusiasm. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the native-Southerner will be adding a new Wikipedia entry to help millions of New Yorkers: Surviving a New York Winter.
It's a library environment...so civilized! …more