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Jimmy Wales Is Not an Internet Billionaire (nytimes.com)
87 points by kanamekun 1573 days ago | hide | past | web | 34 comments | favorite

I've met Jimbo Wales exactly once in person. I've interacted with him by email a few times in relation to that meeting and mutual parenting interests, and also in connection with some Wikipedia business. We last corresponded a few years ago. I know other persons mentioned in the article considerably better.

As other comments have already said, the submitted article is a personality profile article, and it's written in the manner of such articles. It is not meant to be a comprehensive account of Wikipedia and doesn't purport to be. I found it interesting, because I learned a few facts about some people I know in person that I hadn't known before.

The passion to build a worldwide online encyclopedia is a passion that can be shared by anyone who read encyclopedias for fun as a child--one thing I have in common with Wales. I think Wikipedia will have its greatest impact if someone can figure out the economic model and organizational model that makes possible a credible Wikipedia competitor--something like Google coming along when AltaVista looked unbeatable. Its position as unchallenged leader among online encyclopedias right now is both Wikipedia's greatest strength and Wikipedia's greatest weakness. A lot of the content on Wikipedia and a lot of the community experience would be most likely to become better for users and better for volunteer editors if there were a prominent competitor equally visible to readers, accessible to volunteer editors, and appealing to donors.

Can we all take a second to appreciate what this man accomplished? Wikipedia's success relied on getting people to write about a variety of topics (aka be content generators) and others to read and fact check to provide a useful experience. It was crowdsourcing long before it was a buzzword and it's still working.

It was crowdsourcing before it was a buzzword. Social too.

Wikipedia is arguably the internet's biggest achievement. Free. Valuable. Accurate. Up to Date. Volunteer run. Non Profit. Efficient. We can see the sausage being made.

It's really the gold standard for a website.

I'm not sure it's that perfect. Try putting up a new page sometime and watch how quickly someone with zero domain knowledge will come and try to have it deleted, usually successfully.

To me, deletionist culture is Wikipedia's greatest flaw. If at least two people derive value from a page existing, and it meets all the other criteria, it should be allowed to stand.

Free. Valuable. Accurate.

Two out of three ain't bad. I dispute "accurate" as a Wikipedian. I'm trying to fix some problems


with some articles that have been in appallingly bad shape for years. The last time I edited those articles, they were swiftly made worse by drive-by vandalism. I'll see what happens this time.

Let's just go with "accurate enough". 99% of Wikipedia's wealth is in its capacity for lifelong education and general reference (as an "exobrain"); no one claims it's a very reliable fact-checker.

He accomplished it pretty much entirely by accident. Jimmy Wales kept insisting that most of the content was contributed by a tiny clique of core editors, when in fact that wasn't true in the slightest - it was almost entirely reliant on contributions by outsiders who only edited a handful of articles. Not only that, he set policies based on that wrong assertion.

that is the really amazing thing about wikipedia.. it is still getting better!

(i keep trying to find some way to contribute, but apparently i know less about everything that i know about than someone else.. so i just donate)

If you're looking for ways to contribute, have you considered Wikidata? It's a new project, the environment is supposed to be very collegial and one of the goals is to enable people to make contributions without requiring too much time or subject matter knowledge.

Generally the NY Times Magazine does an excellent job, but this was a poor article. Lots of personal fluff about Wales and his high-powered friends and nothing new or interesting about his role in Wikipedia or the challenges that Wikipedia faces.

It was a weird article. It felt very much like the writer wanted you to come away from the article thinking that Wales is all about the fame and glory, and very little about what he did to get there.

If Wales is rubbing shoulders with the high and powerful, and meeting celebrities for dinner then cool. I don't have a problem with that, I don't even have a problem with a musician saying "Dude that's wrong" and him updating it. The community balances and adjusts. He could have sold out and had a goldplated jet pack made but he's stuck at his idea and created a tool with worldwide reach and impact, fair play to him.

The repetition got to me. It could have been a fairly interesting article at about 1/4 the length. The feature reporter gave the impression that they believed saying the same thing multiple times would make it the truth.

So he's a phony who got lucky and...made no money. It's interesting to see the targeting of someone for success along a different angle than politics, insubstantial celebrity, or 'undeserved' wealth. (Coincidence that RMS is on the front page of HN as well?)

The NYT has increasingly mixed its editorial content with its journalistic content. Quite often, I'll scratch my head at a linked article and then notice that it's blogs.nytimes.com or otherwise NYT-branded blogorrhea.

While they have to struggle to stay relevant, it's unfortunate that they've largely gone the HuffPo route instead of consolidating their strengths. It makes it confusing when reading event-based reporting, trying to discern the agenda.

> got lucky and...made no money.

I find it difficult to believe that. He's in an influential position at what many people consider the reference for the "truth" and there are many wealthy and powerful people out there interested in distorting that truth where it suits them. It's not terribly difficult to hide money from dubious sources and bribery around Wikipedia isn't something I just made up: http://thenextweb.com/insider/2012/10/13/wikipedias-dark-sid...

I'm sure he can use his position of influence to make money via speaking fees, service on boards, consulting fees, that sort of thing, but the idea that Wales himself is accepting money in exchange for favorable edits is laughable. He's the most scrutinized person on Wikipedia and there are people who object to pretty much everything he does. He could theoretically use alternate accounts, but that would mean risking a permanent ban from Wikipedia which would be extremely foolish, since he would lose all credibility.

Wasn't there an incident a while ago where he used his position to ban video game guides from Wikibooks, telling people to put them on his for-profit Wikia instead?

The article misses that he continues to be an important figure in the community (beyond the categorization of hummus). For example, his involvement in the SOPA strike was crucial. Jimmy didn't decide or even initiate anything. But after ideas had been bubbling and percolating through the community for a few weeks, he focused people's attention, and made the issue credible to the majority of Wikipedians.

Jimmy is disappointing if you're looking for a saint. He's made a lot of mistakes. (I think he'd be the first to tell you that.) If he is exceptional in any way, I think it's that he is comfortable being a leader almost in the conventional mold, but he's also comfortable yielding to the full power of peer production. Maybe, ultimately, he can explain that kind of leadership to elites in the rest of the world, too.

Disclosure: I don't know Wales well, but I worked for the WMF (after his principal involvement) and have met him socially a couple of times.

This just in: Internet idol receives less-than-flattering personal profile, Internet commentators disgruntled, have apparently never read a personal profile article before.

God help the NYT if they ever run a less-than-godlike profile of, say, Elon Musk.

I've used wikis and wikipedia for a long time and I guess from the article some people have a problem with Wales because he wanted one thing and got even luckier by getting something else.

The underlying tone of the article is he isn't sincere because he could have cashed wikipedia out at any time (like IMDB and CDDB have before) and the reporter is waiting for him to do just that. I guess the fact that he was a trader before adds to it because traders are only ever about money.

In this day and age people can't have the interest of greater good and there always has to be an ulterior motive.

He's obviously not a billionaire, but earning just $1 million from Wikia seems way too low considering how popular he network is.

72 000 000 ad page views per month should earn him quite a bit, unless he sold his stock way too early.

I'm sure they have no idea how much stock he has or what the valuation is.... Like any other start up, the stock isn't convertable or worth anything except "on paper". Wales is on the board but doesn't actually work there.

(disclaimer: I do work there. :)

Wikipedia doesn't have ads.

I'm not talking about Wikipedia, I'm talking about Wikia ;)

Wikia.com is a network of wikis that he founded. A really popular network that hosts the official Star Trek wiki among thousands of others.

IMO, this is a confusing puff piece with gaps you could drive a truck through. Typically for a serious profile, people from key timeframe points in a subject's life are interviewed as well, to prevent the story from being biased in favor of the subject's POV and to round out events for the historical record. This was not done here.

Also, points in this article are flatly incorrect. In one section the author states that Wales has said "mum" (nothing) about Edward Snowden, when the opposite is true (and in current headlines - Techmeme cluster here: http://www.techmeme.com/130625/p49#a130625p49). Wales' interest in finding Snowden's identity as a Wikipedia editor - against Wikipedia rules - can be plainly seen on Wales' talk page dated June 25, two days before this NYT article (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Jimbo_Wa...).

This NYT article is very confusing. How much else in it is inaccurate? Was it a PR stunt?

Please tell me more about this turtleneck he was wearing.

it's part of that narrative editorial style that turns 1 paragraph of content to 7 pages of sprawl.

That's quite a hatchet job there. I don't know what I think about Jim Wales, but I'm pretty sure the author of this piece is a nasty little person.

"Garvey doesn't have a Wikipedia page"

Well that didn't take long. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Garvey

Wales must not own very much of Wikia, if his holdings in it are worth less than a million dollars. It's now one of the top web sites in the world. If it is the case that he doesn't own much of it, he made a terrible financial mistake in letting go of so much equity (or he simply didn't care).

Quantcast has it ranked #33 in the US market based on directly quantified data, with nearly 2 million uniques a day and growing at a healthy clip. It appears very likely to end up as a top 10 to 15 US site. That's worth a substantial amount of money no matter how you cut it.

Dude, it's a non-profit entity.

Wikia (not wikimedia!) is for profit, I would think.

Wikia are those "personal wikis" for TV shows/alternate universes/fan stuff in general.

They also have annoying ads all over the place and all have really ugly MediaWiki skins.

"Wales uses a cheap smartphone made by the Chinese company Huawei that a friend bought him for $85 in Nairobi."

$85? Cheap? In Nairobi? Is that a typo?

no, see, there's this whole world out there, outside of the US.


My point - as it seems I've failed to write sufficiently clearly - is that $85 seems very expensive for a "cheap" smartphone. Especially for equatorial Africa.

Also, I'm not in the US.

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