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‘Give the community the tools it needs’

March 17, 2008 10:00 by

Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia

Wiki has revolutionized Internet to a large extent. Do you think it is a positive contribution and where do you take it from here?

Well, I think it has been a very positive experience for the Internet because it is a good clean source of information. There are problems with Wikipedia of course, but it is mostly pretty good and what is really important to me about it is that we are in so many different languages. So our goal is to have a free encyclopedia in every single language.

In Arabic as well?

In Arabic we have a very large project. I don’t know if I have the numbers right, but it is maybe around 50,000 to 100,000 articles now and growing quickly. I think this is really important that people everywhere have a basic, neutral encyclopedia something where they can come together and contribute information.

What advice would you give to any company that wants to harness the power of users.

My advice is the same I would give to anybody: trust the community. Give the community the tools they need to be able to police each other and to be able to take care of things, and they will. When you do not trust the user you end up in a situation where things do not go so well.

Authenticity has been a major problem with the Internet. How do you think that can be addressed?

Well 100 percent reliability is impossible for any medium, so I think that is an unreasonable standard. Anybody who is doing honest journalism will tell you that newspapers have errors everyday but you correct them and you try to make it right in the long run. So it is very difficult to be a 100 percent accurate. But what we strive for is to be always improving, always get better and better accuracy, always looking for different techniques in the software to get the community more control. We’re actually very old fashioned in a way. We really care about things like sources and clear, concise writing.

Wiki gives the option of modulating the content that is already posted online. Are you trying to bring in more control in that area?

Well, the community controls everything and so we have administrators who can block people if they are misbehaving and things like this. But when we look at developments to try to improve the quality of the content what we find is the most promising developments have to do with making it easier and making it more participation, not less. Blocking things down does not help but opening things up does help.

The Internet can make anybody a publisher but that can mean a battle between knowledge and information.

Well, in general the internet is full of information. So we really do need to have these collaborative environments where people can come together and summarize, sort of boil it down to the basics. I think there is room for both on the Internet, sometimes you need lots and lots of diverse information, and that is fine. But I think we also need some clarity and some simplicity.

Do you see mobile devices becoming a major vehicle for Internet content?

Absolutely. I think in particular in the developing world the mobile is the ubiquitous device. It is going to be the first way that most people get online. There is a real limitation in doing Internet on a mobile but at the same time it is a platform we have to learn to deal with. By its very nature, it is good for point to point communication, but it is also good for getting information. Granted, it’s not so good for actually producing content.

As people come online in the developing world, we do not want to just sort of give them things that the West created. We want to have them join the conversation, and I think it will be an interesting thing.

What happened to the good old habit of reading books? Is it possible to tell a child that books should be your best friend when he is being pulled into these different directions?

Yes, I think so. I mean I think that my own view is that the classic technology of the book, the paper book, is still dramatically better than a lot of other proposed technologies. It is very inexpensive. It is very light weight. If you read in the bathtub and if you drop it you do not electrocute yourself or ruin an expensive item. You can just replace it.

I don’t think books are going to go anywhere anytime soon. And I actually think that we are raising a generation now, the connected generation, the net generation who is so much more bathed in information and knowledge, they read more, they write more, and this is going to translate as well into reading and writing more, sort of longer form things and books and things. I’m actually an optimist about this.

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