June 05, 2008

Economist: "The free-knowledge fundamentalist"

Very interesting article here about Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia, Wikia Search, and some Google-politics:
Economist: "The free-knowledge fundamentalist".
Yes, I've said this before, but bear with me. I get much flak for my views. Even if this is a tale told by an idiot, here's another case of where, in the business press, there's interesting nuggets and not just chump-fodder:

By the late 1990s, Mr Wales was investing in a website called Bomis, a sort of search engine or web directory where "99% of the searches had to do with naked babes," as Mr Foote, who was Bomis's advertising director, puts it.

Hee hee. Remember, they said it, not me! And money, money, money:

As Mr Wales struggles with such intellectual controversies, he now does so as a minor celebrity. Neither Bomis nor Wikipedia has made him rich -- if he is comfortable, it is mainly the result of earning money from speaking engagements, say friends. ...

All this has gone to his head, say former friends. Mr Wales "has created something of a mythology about himself," says one. "The image he created is that he is this benevolent millionaire who donates his time for this charitable project; that is not true." Instead, this acquaintance argues, Mr Wales is merely basking in the glow of Wikipedia's success. ...

Again, they said it, not me! And remember what fuels the value of those speaking engagements. That's you-Yes-YOU! Now, don't you want to buy him a jet too? As in:

So far Wikia's search results are embarrassingly poor, as reviewers have noted. And there are more fundamental doubts. Wikipedia succeeded because, in 2001, there was no free online encyclopedia. Today web search, by contrast, is a hyper-competitive industry. Mr Wales does not see it that way. Search has become a window to knowledge, and Google and its rivals have become its arbiters. "For me it's a political statement," he says. "We don't need secrecy. ...

See, you're supposed to work for free to build a search engine for Wikia to monetize, as a political statement. Against the arbiters, which are cast in a role of the new Evil Empire (which now means Google and its rivals, not Microsoft). And it's a bad rebel who wonders how much he or she gets paid for doing this (and further ponders how the grand rebellion will benefit the glorious leader's bank account).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on June 05, 2008 11:54 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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I had hoped you'd comment on this article. Aside from the nauseating Wales-love, I thought the article was a little contradictory when it explains wikipedia's supposedly open system of arbitration to achieve NPOV. It reads like the author knows better, but was told to:
1) support the idea that 'NPOV' is praiseworthy end unto itself,
2) describe the cliquish edit wars where super-editors may override anything they wish without explanation as "open and transparent".

No mention, either, of the acronym shibboleths and befuddling processes wielded by regular contributors to tyrannize the uninitiated.

It also took a swipe at people complaining about Wales controlling edits to his girlfriend's article. Like they were fawning over their celebrity, rather than calling him out.

Posted by: Travis at June 9, 2008 03:06 AM


Posted by: the zak at June 9, 2008 01:13 PM


Jimmy is obviously no saint but I doubt he is nearly as bad as you make him out to be...

I mean, if you would have shown that the I-made-my-fortune-on-the-stock-market claim was bull, I would have definitely listened; if you would have shown that he made a fortune from Bomis and has been hiding this, I would have listened but... earning honoraria as side benefit to having spent a huge amount of his own time on helping build Wikipedia is a real problem?

He could have tried to monetize Wikipedia and milk it for all it was worth or dump it if it wouldn't have worked out -- He *didn't* do this and I think he deserves respect for it (whatever his other failings may be...)


Posted by: Delia at June 10, 2008 12:32 AM

Travis: They know not to be overly critical of their subject. What's so interesting to me is that even an overall puff-piece is allowed to consider the financial questions, whereas in the "web 2.0" articles you're just supposed to mindlessly cheer at the buzzword-soup.

Delia: Moi? They-said-it-not-me :-). Actually, Wales himself denies the stock-market claim in places. But the issue is the alarm bells that should run when someone monetizes work they tell you (yes-YOU) to donate. And he did try to monetize Wikipedia early on, which didn't work, and did essentially dump it to the WMF - it's a fascinating story.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at June 10, 2008 02:35 AM

He *could* have monetized it, Seth -- nothing would have stopped him from putting ads on it, for instance. Dumping it would have meant selling it, as far as I see it (selling it to the highest bidder while it was still a for profit). He didn't do that -- he made it a non-profit instead (the opposite of what Craig did with craigslist)


P.S. And you *did* say it, Seth...

re: "And remember what fuels the value of those speaking engagements. That's you-Yes-YOU! Now, don't you want to buy him a jet too?"

Posted by: Delia at June 10, 2008 11:10 AM

Delia, regrets, I simply can't paste the early history of Wikipedia into this tiny comment box. It's far more complicated than might be apparent. Early on, nobody ever imagined it would be as valuable as it became later.

My comment about the speaking engagements is just a fact. They don't pay him big bucks on the lecture circuit because he once hung out with the naked babes and had a dot-bomb business for a while.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at June 10, 2008 12:17 PM

How much time do you think he has spent on this project by now? what if he would have spent in on Bomis-the-next-generation instead and forgot about Wikipedia altogether? that would have been the expected thing to do when he figured it wasn't going to be a financial success, no?


P.S. and I still think he could have gotten *something* for it if he would have sold it; also why not switch back to for-profit once it became clear that Wikipedia was valuable? (all he would have had to do is tell people he needed to collect some fees to pay the bills and then refused to disclose the profits -- nothing stopped Craig from doing that...); as far as I can see Jimmy has handled it with much more honesty and deserves respect for it... D.

Posted by: Delia at June 10, 2008 04:20 PM

You have it backwards - Wikipedia IS Bomis-the-next-generation! (in a poetic way).

Because when he tried to go for-profit, it looked like they'd lose everything, and that was deemed an unacceptable risk. As I said, the history is complicated.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at June 11, 2008 02:06 PM

I'd have to see that, Seth...


P.S. can you please email me the "early history of Wikipedia" you talk about (hopefully you have it in a relatively compact form, but anything under 100 pages I'd take a look at) D.

Posted by: Delia at June 11, 2008 10:31 PM