Wednesday, April 19, 2006

James Wales Interview

Controversial? Yes. Revolutionary? Yes. A System that will undermine and fundamentally change the way we do things? Yes. Yet the question remains, who is the figure behind this Controversial Revolution, the system that will fundamentally change the way we do things? Can we get to know him a bit better. Its not a question of whether we can or should, its a question of the perspective we frame things in.

What would it be worth, to all of us, to hear it from the founder of the ever changing and expanding Encyclopedia of everything? This WikiNews author holds him in high regard, regardless of the controversies of the past, and looks forward to a future in meeting him for a sit down at some time in the future.

As I said in my Frugalware interview, it was the Spring that Vista never sprung...Yet the march of change through the seasons continues on. Where will you be this August when Harvard becomes Wiki Central, and the Mania commences? Given my options, I'd like to be dead center in all of it, just to see what kinds of possibilities arise.

> 1). You’ve been at Harvard for some time, just so we can get aquainted,
> roughly, how long have you been at Harvard?

Hmm, I am on a plane (as usual) right now and so I can't look it up.
For over a year now, anyway. But I am not actually physically AT
Harvard, I am a nonresident fellow of the Berkman center at Harvard Law
School. I get up there as often as I can.

> 2). You’ve been known to travel far and wide...What is the coolest locale
> you’ve discovered?

I am very lucky in that I get a lot of free trips everywhere. There is
a misconception (printed sometimes in Wikipedia itself!) that my trips
are primarily funded by donations to the foundation, but the truth is
that most trips are paid for by people who want to speak to me at
conferences, and I bear a lot of the routine expenses personally.

The coolest locale I have ever been to is India. I was totally and
completely absorbed by it. If I had the time (and I do not), I would go
to India and spend 6 months just travelling around and living as normal
people do there.

More recently, I had a spectacular time in Taipei, Taiwan. The
Taiwanese wikipedians are wonderful. One fellow told me a story that
nearly brought a tear to my eye, when he said that he used to think of
people in Mainland China as the enemy, but when he met kind and
thoughtful people through Wikipedia, he realized that this was not true
at all, that people are people everywhere. I love that.

> 3). People have accused Wikipedia of everything from being a Cabal to being
> outright Communist...There’s no truth to any of it is there?

I am personally a very dedicated advocate of laissez-faire capitalism
(though of course this has no impact on Wikipedia, since I firmly keep
my personal politics out of it and insist that wikipedia be neutral), so
the idea that Wikipedia is communist always makes me laugh.

For me, the most important social principle is the non-initiation of
force. So, you know, the idea of a cabal or communism is pretty strange. :)

> 4). What does it take to run the coolest hippest wealth of free knowledge on
> the planet, and not lose perspective?

I have to always remember that I am Tom Sawyer in the story of the
whitewashing of the fence. That is to say, by some lucky set of
circumstances I have attracted a large community of people who really do
all the work. In my travels, people come up to me and thank me for
wikipedia and my work. I really appreciate that, but I always say, do
not thank me, I didn't do very much of it. It is all my dear friends in
the community who built it, I am only here to encourage and love
everyone who does the real work.

> 5.) I noticed you checked up on your steak knife comment once...Can anyone
> really escape this sort of web narcissim? Or are we all doomed to it. I check
> on my own face about once a day...

Not sure I understand what you are asking here.

Someone showed me once, and I check fairly often for fun, that my
analogy between the design of restaurants and the design of social
software, was the #8 hit on google for the phrase 'steak knife'. If it
makes me narcissistic that I think this is funny and check on it every
now and then, I plead guilty. :)

> 6.) What do you think the up and coming resources that capture the public’s
> attention will be...?

I think Wikipedia is just the first exemplar of what is a huge and
ongoing movement for community knowledge sharing. My new company,
Wikia, is my concept to bring the same kind of principles of real live
respect for people to areas that don't easily fit into the nonprofit
education and research field. So far, so good.

With free software, there are many problems in we the people gaining
control of things as against proprietary software. There are network
effects which lock us in to old and expensive and bad ways of doing
things. But with knowledge and information, we can switch immmediately.

> 7.) MySpace has been accused of predatory behaviors by its users. Is this why Wikipedia has always had the standpoint that Wikipedia is not a children’s
> resource? And has that helped to some degree to improve its image?

I think the hype about Myspace is way overblown. Gee, teens are
interacdting in ways that freak adults out. That's just rock and roll
in the Internet age. I am not casual about real threats, but the media
hype around Myspace lately is just insane.

> 8.) When will Wikipedia fully integrate the Chinese Edition with the English
> Edition? Are you in need of translators, editors?

I do not understand the question. We do not try to integrate different
language editions. German wikipedia, the second largest after English,
is not a translation of the English edition. Nor should it be.

I just finished a wonderful trip to Taiwan, and in August after
Wikimania, I will be attending the Chinese Wikimedia Conference in Hong
Kong, which will bring together mainlanders, Hong Kong Chinese, and
Taiwanese, and more. I am very excited about the future of Chinese

Right now you might not guess it but in the long run, Chinese Wikipedia
is sure to be the second largest, and could possibly even pass English.
After all, there are a lot more native speakers of Mandarin and
Cantonese than English, and more and more people are coming online all
the time.

If the Chinese government drops their censorship policy, there is no
doubt in my mind that in 10 years, Chinese Wikipedia will be the largest
and finest collection of knowledge in the history of the world.

> 9.) What are the key items on the menu for Wikimania 2006 at Harvard in the
> beginning of August? What can be expected, and who will be the VIP’s thus
> far?

I am not involved in the direct planning process, but so far I know that
Larry Lessig will be speaking.

> 10.) What do you think of other services trying to position for similar ideas
> or spaces within the internet, like Everything2? Are these ideas good in and
> of themselves, and can they help or hinder the flow of information?

I think there is room for a wide variety of ideas and services on the

> 11.) Can you talk a little bit about the Creative commons liscense? What are
> the reserved rights and how can we find out about them?

I am not an expert on this topic. The best source of information will
be the Creative Commons website.