February 8, 2012
Cyber-Crusader: Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales On the SOPA Blackout, PR Input and His Booming Wikia Site
By Jim Sinkinson, Publisher, Bulldog Reporter
The Daily 'Dog caught up with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales before his keynote presentation at Hult International School of Business in San Francisco last week to ask him about PR's access to Wikipedia, Wikipedia's role in the SOPA/PIPA copyright protection controversy, and Wales's latest venture, the for-profit Wikia. Eleven-year-old Wikipedia is now the Web's fifth largest website, with some 460 million unique visitors a month. Here are some of the answers Wales gave us:
Many PR people perceive that Wikipedia is an insider's club, where some companies have access and others don't — that it's not a level playing field. How true is that in your opinion?
JW: That's not accurate. We want to present better protocols, and I know there has been confusion around access. But we're intending to get something out about best practices. If you're having trouble, just send us an email — firstname.lastname@example.org — or visit the WikiProject discussion and let us know. But you've got to be respectful and not confrontational. (Editor's note: "A WikiProject is a group of editors that collaborate on encyclopedic work at the collection of pages devoted to the management of a specific topics or family of topics within Wikipedia." Reach any article's discussion section using the Talk tab.)
What can a PR person do if false information is posted about a company or a personality?
JW: Anytime there's false information, just post it to the discussion page. We have people monitoring them, and their response is pretty fast. If it's a person, you want to go to the Biographies of Living Persons notice board. The bios are called BLPs. You can go to the article talk page or just write to email@example.com. Our editors will become an advocate for anyone with a complaint or a problem.
How rampant is the controversy you've faced with regard to accuracy and verification?
JW: Well, that's died down quite a bit. Our quality continues to improve, and the story has gotten a bit old. Our editorial community is one of several thousand people, and they're extremely conscientious about accuracy.
How successful was the blackout protesting the SOPA and PIPA legislation?
JW: It was a huge success. The bills have been completely shelved — they've become radioactive. It's all going to lead to a more serious discussion about piracy and reform. For the most part it had been a one-way conversation between the movie and music industry and legislators. Internet interests were not taking part, but that's obviously starting to change.
Would you do it again?
JW: We don't know if we'd do it again, but we hope not. It was a community process, a decision of the Wikimedia Foundation, and we hope it won't be necessary to repeat. It's possible that a more organized approach will emerge — Silicon Valley has never had to confront the RIAA or the MPAA. We have to ask, how do we make sure the voices of the Internet community are heard? But officially, the Wikimedia Foundation is neutral in all things.
But where does Wikipedia stand with regard to copyright protection?
JW: There are those who want everything on the Internet to be free. There's a joke among Internet geeks: Free as in speech, not free as in beer. We shouldn't be giving everything out free, but copyright law is muddy. It's a very small minority who want everything to be free. Most players in the industry want to protect copyrights, but the rules need reform.
How is Wikia going?
JW: It's going really well. We now have about 50 million unique visitors a month, it's profitable, and it's a great deal of fun. It covers lifestyle, entertainment and gaming — and we're now the number two gaming site. Anybody can start any wiki, and they can post anything they want.
Editor: Stay tuned for the Daily 'Dog's interview with Wikia CEO Craig Palmer.