INTERVIEW: Jimmy Wales: Wikipedia is a cultural phenomenon
By Christof Kerkmann May 21, 2011, 13:01 GMT
Berlin - Wikipedia may be just 10 years old, but the online encyclopedia is already aiming for UNESCO World Heritage status. In an interview with the German Press Agency dpa, founder Jimmy Wales explains his motives.
dpa: Wikipedia takes millions of hits a day. Why should it become a World Heritage site?
Wales: It would be a delightful recognition of the accomplishment that all those thousands of people who have been working in Wikipedia. And it would raise awareness for free knowledge.
dpa: But World Heritage? Other places come to mind, like the pyramids or Angkor Wat.
Wales: In recent years, Unesco has awarded world heritage status to Flamenco dance or French cuisine. There is this idea of recognising not just physical things, but also ideas, movements, concepts.
dpa: This could be seen as a public relations exercise.
Wales: It is about putting to the public that Wikipedia is not just a website, but a cultural phenomenon. It is not just a website, just a technology story, it is about people coming together and sharing knowledge.
dpa: Wikipedia has beaten Encyclopaedia Britannica into second place. What now?
Wales: Right now, Wikipedia has in English, German or French more than a million articles. There several other languages with more than 500,000 articles. But when we look at for example Hindi, which is the largest language of India, we have only about 60,000 articles, yet there are 280 million people who speak Hindi. So there is a huge amount of work left to be done there. When I think about the future of Wikipedia I think about the next billion people who will come online. This year, we will open an office in India to help build a community.
dpa: In countries where Wikipedia is established it is losing volunteers. What is the reason for this?
Wales: There are a number of reasons, and some of them are completely natural. There was a time where you could go into the German Wikipedia and type in: 'Africa is a continent.' It was very easy for lots of people to contribute. As Wikipedia becomes more mature, obviously there is less you can do from scratch. Now articles require more specialized knowledge.
dpa: Beginners are often frightened off when they try to get involved.
Wales: Certainly, the diversity of the editing community can be improved. Often someone like my father would have a hard time contributing to Wikipedia because he is not a technical person. An easier interface would be helpful. When it is technically too complex to edit, you exclude people. Any issue that is of interest to a 26-year-old male engineer, single, no kids, will be very well covered in Wikipedia, whereas something from a different part of life will not be as comprehensive, for example parenting or information about child development. One thing to do is to talk to the people and tell them: This isn't just for the tech geeks who write about operating systems, this also about you.
dpa: Wikipedia has thus far done without advertising revenue. Would it help?
Wales: This is a never-ending question. The main thing for me: I think of Wikipedia as something like a library, a school or a church - it is a non commercial space. This is not the space for advertising. If you are commercial business, it's fine, there is nothing wrong with that. But we are a charity, it is important that a charity is focused on its mission. Advertising would distract from that mission. We are not just another website; people know that none of the content is dictated by the advertisers, it is written by the community. The idea who we are and what we present ourselves to the world would change radically if we turn to advertising.
dpa: You travel a lot. Do you still edit articles?
Wales: Almost every day! First of all, I am very active in the English community, editorial policy, things like this. Sometimes I consult particularly the smaller language communities. Just for fun, I work as a normal editor. My specialty is the UK House of Lords. And recently, I was watching the royal wedding. As soon as the reverend said: 'I declare you husband and wife', I moved her article from 'Kate Middleton' to 'Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.'