Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Jimmy Wales at Reed College
This was the first event of the Reed group, which I had not heard of before. Hopefully, they can host a few more of this caliber.
Jimbo was dressed in a black jacket with a very colorful t-shirt, that almost looked like one of those tie-dye garments from the sixties, bearing a logo on it (all I could make out was the word "infra"). He started off on time after a brief introduction, made the assumption that everyone in the audience knew what Wikipedia was -- more students know about Wikipedia than their parents -- then launched into his presentation which ran about 45 minutes. (He remarked that when he gave the same presentation to an English-language high school in Japan, it took him 10-15 minutes longer because he was constantly interrupted by cheers and applause.)
Some highlights from his speech:
- He discussed both Wikipedia and Wikia. I had thought that since Wikia is occupying more of his time now, the online encyclopedia might be overlooked. However, he talked about both, especially contrasting how the Muppets are covered on both.
- He was uncomfortable with the idea that the Wikia search engine was in direct competition with Google. Instead, he explained that Wikia Search was intended to provide resources to free software developers, who tend to be hobbyists and graduate students who don't have the resources to subject their ideas into a real-world test.
- Wikipedia is demonstrating a large reach, with it being the 6th most popular website in Germany, 12th in India, 12th in Japan, and 12th in Iran. He reported that of the total pages accessed on the Internet, 6.19% were from Wikipedia.
- He mentioned the concept of three kinds of culture: Pop culture, High culture -- and a new Folk culture, rejuvenated by the Internet. He held up Wikipedia as an example of this Internet Folk culture.
I found the question-and-answer period that followed more interesting, in part due to the fact they captured a bit of how Wikipedia is seen in popular eyes. Yes, there were questions about Essjay, Citzendium, and Stephen Colbert. But there were also questions about China blocking access to Wikipedia, how the articles across the different languages are kept in sync in terms of quality and coverage, and about the problem of making money as a contributor to Wikipedia.
One specifically interesting answer concerned what lessons Jimbo thought Wikipedia might have for other online communities. Jimbo asserted that the Wiki philosophy drives people towards compromises: that for a Wiki community to survive and grow required a group consensus based on a shared vision -- which is not always the uniquely Wikipedian idea of a Neutral Point of View. He cited the example of Uncyclopedia, where the shared vision is that the content must be funny forced its community to compromise along that basis.
I only wished I had more notice so I could have gotten the word out better, but as Dmcdevit said, this was very much a last-minute event.
Technocrati tags: Jimmy Wales, Reed College, wikipedia
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