April 14, 2009

Larry Sanger: "An open letter to Jimmy Wales"

Echo: Larry Sanger - "An open letter to Jimmy Wales" (updates), about Jimmy Wales denying him credit as Wikipedia co-Founder:

I recently read the "Hot Press" interview with you. The lies and distortions it contains are, for me, the last straw, especially after this came to light, in which you described yourself as "co-founder" in 2002.

Strong stuff, not mincing words:

"I resent being the victim of another person's self-serving lies." ...

"What angers me is not any one error, but the accumulated weight of your lies about me ..."

It was originally posted on Jimmy Wales's personal discussion page on Wikipedia, which of course set off extensive edit-warring on removing and replacing it. But interestingly, that did seem to have some effect. The information was apparently conveyed to some people among a small core group high up in the Wikipedia hierarchy, who otherwise apparently would not have seen it.

Notably, in a mailing-list discussion, Florence Devouard, former Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation (the Wikimedia Foundation is the parent organization of Wikipedia), sent a supportive message

I know it will only be a small satisfaction, but I wanted to mention that in the French speaking user guide book I recently co-wrote with Guillaume Paumier, you are recognised as a co-founder. ...

I have had enough opportunities to see that what the public/journalists say and believe is frequently highly different from the reality and I fear we all have to live with this. For many, Jimmy is still the one doing all the work at the Wikimedia Foundation, and sometimes even the one approving any article before publishing. LOL. ...

If anyone following my writing didn't know, I've read extensively through the background, and my assessment is that Larry Sanger has the right of it. Truth is not in the middle here. He was regularly termed "co-founder" of Wikipedia for several years, even after he left the project, until it appears around the time Jimmy Wales started seriously to commercialize the ideas of Wikipedia. And while it can't be proven absolutely that the commercialization led to a rewrite of history, it's a powerful motive and very suspicious timing.

I'm surprised none of the Usual Suspects covered the issue (not even the gossip site Valleywag, and that's really surprising). And of course, a few posts on blogs simply won't be heard compared to the huge megaphones Jimmy Wales gets for his "sole founder" story because of the hype around Wikipedia :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on April 14, 2009 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

Subscribe with Bloglines      Subscribe in NewsGator Online  Google Reader or Homepage


Lest we forget, there was some repeated off-shore shelling, softening up the beaches for Sanger's big landing:


(And, no, that editor wasn't me.)

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at April 16, 2009 04:21 PM

Hmmm, so what is your definition of the word "co-founder"? I think the fact that Larry was Jimmy's employee indicates he wasn't a founder in the *usual* sense of the word. Certainly if this was a commercial project he would be regarded as "employee number one" or a "founding employee" rather than as a co-founder, and although the actual founder(s) might choose to label him a co-founder some of the time, I'm not sure if that morally binds them to affirm he was a co-founder in the future.

Jimbo certainly appears to be in the wrong in some of his statements. But I think the fact that Larry now heads a competing encyclopedia project and that there is clearly some personal animosity between the two is probably more responsible for his attitude than his desire to boost his personal fortune via Wikia. I guess it's hard to tell.

Here's one question that I think might be pertinent: Once Larry was no longer being paid by Jimmy, did he volunteer to continue being "Chief Organizer" for Wikipedia and get rebuffed? Or did he go onto other things, and then eventually decide to fork Wikipedia and go into direct competition with his old boss?

Posted by: Seth Wagoner at April 16, 2009 11:23 PM

Hmmm. At least as of this moment in time, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Wikipedia#Early_roles_of_Wales_and_Sanger appears to cover the history quite nicely, and at least in my opinion, the truth *is* "in the middle" as you put it, in that it seems fair for Larry to claim he's a co-founder, and it also seems fair for Jimbo to claim that he wasn't. It all depends on how you define "co-founder", which isn't a word that currently has an objective definition - at least, not in my opinion.

It does seem to me that Jimbo would be better off engaging with the issue than avoiding it, but, meh, is it really worth worrying about?

Given that the issues appear to be explained from a NPOV on that page, and that on Jimmy's own page it currently says, right up near the top;

"Together with Larry Sanger and others, Wales helped lay the foundation for Wikipedia, a free, open-content encyclopedia launched in 2001, which subsequently enjoyed rapid growth and popularity.[8][9] As Wikipedia's public profile grew, Wales became the project's promoter and spokesman.[10] Wales has been historically cited as the co-founder of Wikipedia but he disputes the "co-" designation,[11] asserting that he is the sole founder of Wikipedia.[12]"
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Wales

...I just don't see where the *news* (or even exciting gossip) is that Valleywag or others should supposedly be reporting on here.

Posted by: Seth Wagoner at April 16, 2009 11:57 PM

@Seth Wagoner: I would say that the *news* is that this guy who has financially profited from an image of being the great leader of the world's largest collection of "verifiable" information, has built this reputation on a series of lies and diversions. The news loves a hypocrite (see Eliot Spitzer, e.g.).

I mean, really. Has Larry Sanger ever asked his minions in an IRC chat room to begin calling him "Sole Founder" of Wikipedia? The hubris would crush any but the most comically narcissistic man.

If a reputable news organization really took off the gloves and did the piece on Jimmy Wales that looked at the FACTS, not the MYTH, it would be a ratings blockbuster.

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at April 24, 2009 03:07 PM