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Wikipedia Turns 10, Eyes Developing World

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Wikipedia Turns 10, Eyes Developing World

Digital Life

Wikipedia Turns 10, Eyes Developing World

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

It's now time for All Tech Considered.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, turns 10 this week. And if you've been on the site lately, you've seen a banner ad floating atop your search result that says, please read, an urgent appeal from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. It's a plea for donations because Wikipedia does not use advertising. Wikipedia recently reached its $16 million goal.

And to tell us what that $16 million is for, here's the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, who joins us from London. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JIMMY WALES (Founder, Wikipedia): Thank you. It's good to be here.

SIEGEL: And, first, what are you going to use the $16 million for?

Mr. WALES: Well, the money that we get goes to several different things. Primarily it's to keep the site on the air. That's our first and most fundamental goal at the Wikimedia Foundation. So we have the servers and the bandwidth, the developers. We have the site administrators, the technical operations people who keep the site running. And then, of course, in the office we have all of the normal functions of a nonprofit.

But this year we're actually engaging in some new projects. We're going to open our first office outside the U.S. in India to help further the growth of Wikipedia in the Indian languages.

SIEGEL: The operation that you're running seems so huge, the number of entries that are out there and the number of people using it just feels like $16 million seems like an awfully slim sum. I mean, it's obviously a lot of money. It sounds rather little. You're actually - what is the actual budget of the operation?

Mr. WALES: Well, our annual budget for the coming year is $20.1 million. So we raised $16 million in the annual campaign. We have money that comes in throughout the year from small donors. We have some grants, some major donors. It is a small amount of money. I mean, it's really astounding what we've been able to do with such a small amount of money but in part it's because of our nature as an online organization, as a really community-driven organization where all of the things that you see on the website are really in the hands of the volunteers and all of their social structures and things like that. And the foundation's job is primarily to keep the site on the air.

SIEGEL: If one could calculate the ratio of users of any outlet or publication in any medium, including the Web, to the number of employees or budgeted dollars at that outlet, Wikipedia would have to have the highest ratio on earth. What would it be?

Mr. WALES: As far as I'm aware, yes.

SIEGEL: What do you think it would be?

Mr. WALES: Well, we have around 50 employees right now. We're going to hire a few more this year. And we have about 400 million visitors to the website every month. So, you know, each of the employees is responsible for about eight million people. That's pretty amazing if you think about it.

SIEGEL: Here's an example of Wikipedia in action - and displaying a weakness. On Saturday, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. And in a very unfortunate moment, NPR had two sources, as it turned out, two bad sources saying that she had died. At least two cable channels, CNN and Fox said they confirmed our bad story.

As we were getting it wrong, you were getting it wrong, Wikipedia was getting it wrong along, too. I could tell you who got it wrong here, but at Wikipedia, a contributor identified only as 138.47.108.25 got it wrong. Why does anyone can edit mean anyone can edit anonymously?

Mr. WALES: Well, I mean, in a case like this, of course I don't think it shows a weakness in Wikipedia. I think we ran with the story for the same reason that lots of people did. And it was actually very interesting to look at the discussion and debate that emerged afterwards detailing specifically, well, how should we handle this? What should we tell people, and when and so forth? So it's quite an interesting community.

SIEGEL: But in this community, for example, I read about one of the contributors who took part in the Wiki edit of the Gabrielle Giffords entry, he's C.Fred. I know where he went to college, what he does for a living, that he's interested in the interstate highway system and the difference between Canadian football and U.S. football, but not his name. He doesn't sign with a name and take responsibility for his contribution. Why not?

Mr. WALES: Well, I mean, I think from our perspective, when we've looked at it, it really comes from purely empirical question, which is to say, does it really make any difference? If I look at your work and I see that you're doing really good work, knowing your actual name doesn't seem to really enhance anything or add anything to that.

Now, if we did a look at everything and we saw that, gee, when people supply their real name, they do a really great job and if they don't supply a real name they do a really lousy job, obviously we would change things. But it doesn't seem to actually matter.

SIEGEL: How many people are there who are contributing and editing items on Wikipedia?

Mr. WALES: Well, it's hard to really come up with a single number because some people are extremely active. They're on the website every day. This is the core community. Of those there's a few thousand. Then there's a broader group of people who are semi-regular editors and, you know, contribute from time to time. And we would say there's probably around 100,000 of those. And then there's a lot more people who just may make one or two edits every now and then. They see a little something wrong and they just chip in and help out.

SIEGEL: Is there a profile of a contributor to Wikipedia that would pretty much describe the typical contributor or no such thing?

Mr. WALES: Yeah, we've done some user surveys to find out who's contributing to Wikipedia. The average age is around 26. We're about 85 percent male, which is something we'd like to change in the future.

SIEGEL: Eighty-five percent male?

Mr. WALES: Eighty-five percent male. We think that's because of our tech-geek roots and I think it reflects a broader issue in society in many ways. But we're hoping as we change the software to make it more accessible for more people to edit that you shouldn't need to be a computer geek. We want to be welcoming to geeks who aren't computer geeks.

SIEGEL: How would you describe your ambitions for the second 10 years of Wikipedia's existence?

Mr. WALES: Well, the main thing that we're focused on going forward is the expansion of Wikipedia into the languages of the developing world. When we look at the really large, really successful Wikipedia languages, they are essentially the European languages, Japanese and Chinese. And then beyond that it falls off fairly quickly.

And what we're really looking at is, where are the places that we see a lot of activity that can be really supported and extended so that we can really fulfill the dream of Wikipedia, which is a free encyclopedia for every single person on the planet in their own language.

SIEGEL: Do you - are you all involved in apps and in access on mobile phones and the like and thinking that that's where the action is going to be for Wikipedia or like those of us who hang out in radio still, are you committed to the old-fashioned Web?

Mr. WALES: Well, you know, it's interesting. Certainly we do want to be active in the apps world and make sure that on mobile devices that Wikipedia is as useable as possible because in particular in the developing world, we know that tons of people are going to come online for the first time via mobile devices. And so that's a really important component of things.

On the other hand, I haven't decided yet if I'm just old-fashioned and wrong or if I'm right, but someone asked me recently, did you see Wired magazine's big story about the Web being dead? I said, yeah, I did see it, I read it on the Web.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALES: So, we'll see.

SIEGEL: Well, Jimmy Wales, good luck in the future at Wikipedia. And thanks for talking with us today.

Mr. WALES: All right, thanks.

SIEGEL: So, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, the site turns 10 years old on January 15th.

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