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CNET to interview Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales
May 7, 2007
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That's because his for-profit company, Wikia, has begun a search project that some see as a possible contender to Google's dominance.
Despite whether that's true, the world takes Wales and his endeavors seriously, and to his credit, Wales is certainly not resting on his laurels.
From traveling the globe to promote Wikipedia, to working closely with the encyclopedia's passionate user communities in various countries, to pitching Wikia, Wales is almost never stationary. It is hard to dispute that he is one of a small number of innovators who is truly changing the way the world works.
On Wednesday, Wales took time out of his schedule while he was in Texas to visit CNET's theater in Second Life for an hour of discussion and answering audience questions.
At one point in the middle of the visit, CNET News.com reporter Daniel Terdiman lost his Internet connection, causing him to crash out of Second Life and disappear from the interview. Rather than leave, Wales calmly exhorted the audience members to get up and dance, and when Terdiman reappeared, he found a number of avatars, including Wales', dancing onstage.
"Quick," Wales joked. "Hide the beer! Dad's back."
Q: Let's talk about Wikipedia. I wonder where you see it in its development. Is it still young? Is it maturing? Is it aging? How would you characterize it?
Wales: It is still pretty young globally. It's like a young teenager in English. We still have a lot of work to do, obviously, and a lot of learning to do, specifically around community and quality control. We know how to do a lot of things well, but we also are struggling in some ways to grow up.
How is it struggling to grow up?
Wales: We do a great job of dealing with routine vandalism. But for more subtle errors, we have to mature to figure out strategies to deal with those things. A significant portion of the community "gets it" about biographies of living people. But some people still have too casual an attitude about crappy noninformation or pseudoinformation. This is changing.
What is an example of pseudoinformation?
Wales: It's like vague, "I think I heard it somewhere" stuff with no source. This is particularly problematic when the subject of the article is a controversial living person, especially one who is not superfamous. This is something you can often find in random Wikipedia articles, and it is not the product of maliciousness, just carelessness.
What do you think you can do to educate the more casual Wikipedia user about these issues so as to ensure that the quality of content gets higher?
Wales: Well, the casual Wikipedia user is fine. We educate them pretty well. It is really more about the internal community growing up. I am not criticizing or advocating here, by the way. Just reporting on what I observe coming from the community. We have, in the past year or two, had a lot of great internal discussions about getting to the next level of quality.
A few months ago, you talked about a potential feature that would allow people to edit the front page. What's the status of that?
Wales: It is still in programming and testing. It is called "stable versions," though we keep trying to come up with a better name that will stick, and the basic idea is to open up editing even further by reducing the use of protection and semiprotection, and to instead place high-risk articles into a state where edits from the unknown--users less than four days old, say--are held until someone who is known approves them or edits further.
There are a lot of user interface design issues, but done well, it would allow us to open up the front page for editing for the first time in several years. But this is mostly about better dealing with vandalism, not about the "next level of quality," which is really more about community standards. It is supposed to be done "any day now," but I do not know the exact status.
Let's talk about Wikia. For those that aren't familiar with it, can you offer a brief explanation?
Wales: Wikia is an effort to extend the model of Wikipedia beyond encyclopedias and other reference/educational contexts into "the rest of the library and the magazine rack." For example, everyone here please go visit http://secondlife.wikia.com for an example--and start editing. Ha ha!
We have a bunch of great communities that are thriving, and some that are just getting going. Some are sad and lonely, and need someone to adopt them like lost puppies--like the Second Life Wikia. It needs a mom and dad so it can grow up strong. In addition to that, we also have the search engine project, which has gotten a lot of attention, far out of proportion to what we have done so far.
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