Jimmy Wales: ‘Wikipedia Assumes Good Faith’

Left to right: Adweek's Mike Chapman and Jimmy Wales Photo: Nancy Lazarus

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Wikia.com, talked about trust and community in an interview with Adweek editor Mike Chapman during the second day of Adweek’s Social Media Strategies conference in New York on Thursday.

Wales believes that humanizing the communities on the Internet is a solution to increasing the level of trust online. “One of the principles of trust that Wikipedia uses is to assume good faith,” according to Wales. “It turns out that most people are decent and fewer are malicious.”

Wales added,” When people answer their edits, they realize the human dimension, and the community cares if you do a good job.” He contrasted that with newspapers’ online reader comments, where “people are often badly behaved since they are interacting with a giant entity.”

Wales said he stumbled upon the wiki participatory model after his first model, Nupedia, failed. He described that as a top down gatekeeping model where people had to fax their credentials to be able to contribute. Wales thought the wiki model would be “easier and less intimidating.” He said it signaled a move to more accountability, while also giving up some control and being more open.

Wikia.com is Wales’ other collaborative community that is focused on areas not covered by Wikipedia.  Wales said “Wikia is formed around topics that these ‘superfans’ are passionate about,” such as TV shows, photography, and video games. Wikia operates under the same principles of community and discussion among people.

Wikia participants want to ensure high quality, and they share things such as recipes and advice, according to Wales. Moving forward, he indicated that that Wikia is aiming at a broader audience. One new area they are planning is a giant parenting wiki.

Wales is clearly not interested in monetizing Wikipedia, and said, “I want Wikipedia to be culturally special, a treasure like a national park. I have to work to raise money to keep it that way.” He added, “The people who work here are attracted to the concept of working at a charitable organization.”

Wikipedia, currently with 400 million monthly users, “is intended to be for broad background knowledge and fact-based sharing, but not for in-depth academic research,” Wales explained. His objective is for Wikipedia to contain superior quality, current information and to be better than the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Part of that goal is minimizing the errors, and Wikipedia has been soliciting feedback from readers regarding quality. Wales reported, “Our reader ratings are higher than our editor ratings since the editors are harder on themselves.”

Overall, he described Wikipedia as a participatory culture that is still a work in progress. He’s continually looking to find other ways to let the community express themselves.

Wales was less sanguine about the new Wikipedia documentary entitled Truth in Numbers? Everything, According to Wikipedia that will premiere in New York next week. In response to a PRNewser question afterwards, he commented, “The film is out of date and should have been released three or four years ago.” He said the filmmakers followed him around and interviewed him as well as several others. He described the movie as “too many talking heads, and it does not show the community aspect of Wikipedia.”