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Wikipedia’s founder on how the world’s largest encyclopedia is opening up

Text by Moïna FAUCHIER DELAVIGNE

Latest update : 2009-11-16

Jimmy Wales, the founder of the free online collaborative encyclopedia, Wikipedia, talks to FRANCE 24 about the future, and how this monster online source of information is looking to expand its base of editors and contributors.

People assume that Wikipedia is generated by “collective” or “crowd” intelligence, with many people contributing to make up an article, is this the case?
 
I've always disagreed with the “collective” intelligence idea associated with Wikipedia. The concept is interesting, but has very little to do with Wikipedia. It's actually more often small groups collaborating. Only on the most popular topics will you have hundreds of people editing an article, for example, on Barack Obama’s page. On most Wikipedia entries, there will only be four to eight people collaborating. It’s much closer to the traditional process of creating content.
 
How are you looking to improve the quality of Wikipedia?

We do know that Wikipedia is better with more participation, so we do want to encourage that. Furthermore, having a wider range of people with different interests and expertise is also important.

Traditionally, Wikipedia is very strong on science and technology, but we know that as a result of this Wikipedia is not as good in other areas. For example, we are not as strong on childhood development, therefore, we need people who are interested in that to contribute. To attract them, we are making the software easier to use.
 
In August you launched "flagged reactions" in English for the articles about living people. This was already in place in German. Does that mean the Wikipedia motto “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" is changing?
 
There has been a great deal of confusion about this. Firstly, there has always been the possibility to protect articles. We've been doing this for a long time. There were two levels of protection, one was total and it was not possible to edit at all. The other way works very well, if a person would like to edit a page they have to be a member for four days first. This has proved to be successful in deterring those who do not want to contribute positively to Wikipedia and is particularly useful for high profile entries.

Now, we're moving to a more open system, so we can avoid forbidding edits. The idea is to let people edit pages, but for someone experienced to check their changes before publication. This is because we want more people to contribute, but we also want to maintain and increase quality.
 
This has not been implemented yet in English, it is still only in testing. Hopefully this will be implemented in December.
 
In German, experienced editors validate all the content before anything gets published. I think this goes a bit too far. We've some evidence that this hurts participation. I guess ultimately the German site might move towards the English policy....
 
You opened up the process of creating and publishing content to anyone in 2001. Do you thus feel that Wikipedia is a social network?

Wikipedia is a very social site, but it's not a social network. People do interact socially, they talk, they argue... but they won't share photos of themselves. On Facebook, users document their communities, not on Wikipedia.
 
Do you think that the tremendous growth of social networks such as Facebook is useful for Wikipedia? Does it help to get people used to participating actively on the web?

I think so. It's also part of a broader trend. People who join the web will follow a cycle. First they will only read, and then they begin to participate. The Facebook experience surely helps. For example, my daughter has been on the web since she was 4-years old, and now she has begun a blog (she's now 8-years old).
 
With the launching of Wikiréponses, the French version of Wikia's Questions and answers service, you seem to heading in a community direction, trying to make it easier to people to participate?

The idea is to allow people to participate in a light way. It’s less intimidating to ask a question or answer one than fill in a blank page.
 
How do you get involved in projects related to Wikipedia, such as wikireader or the mobile phone applications?

Wikipedia is on open source software so people can use our platform, but Wikimedia foundation owns the trademark, so there is a controlling body. On some projects, we do not participate, such as the Wikireader. But with Orange, we have a deal for a mobile Wikipedia in France.
 
Last August, there were 13 millions articles on Wikipedia, in 271 languages. Do you think there will be a need someday to limit that expansion?

Yes, there might. Actually, in English, there are already 3 million different articles and it's becoming harder to find things to write about. Also, editors from the Wikipedia community already do delete content. Every day, hundreds and thousands get deleted. For example, if someone writes an article about their dog... 

Date created : 2009-11-13

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