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Finn meets Jimmy Wales
Founder of Wikipedia

Finn meets Jimmy Wales | Kidspiration

Imagine it’s 1986 and you have to do a school report on lions. You may have seen one in a zoo or watched a TV nature show, but you’ll probably have to go to a library and look for an encyclopedia with a story on lions. Maybe you can also photocopy a picture for your report.

Now imagine your report is due this Friday. Your assignment will be a lot easier than thirty years ago, thanks to Jimmy Wales. Today, you’ll get on the Internet, search for “lions,” and instantly find thousands of entries. At or near the top of the list will be the Wikipedia page on lions, with pictures and links to all sorts of other lion-related information, all for free.

Mr. Wales was an American financial trader, but he wanted to set up an Internet encyclopedia that would be free for everyone. He and his colleagues couldn’t write all the entries themselves, so after a few attempts, Mr. Wales decided to make Wikipedia “open source” —where the readers write, edit, and add more information to the entries themselves, supervised by the Wikipedia staff.

Wikipedia launched in January, 2001. Today it is the world’s largest encyclopedia, with over 38 million articles in 250 different languages. It’s part of the Wikimedia Foundation, along with fifteen other Wiki websites. The Foundation is non-profit which means Mr. Wales hasn’t become a billionaire. He’s just the biggest information guy in the world!

Finn interviews Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales at the Wellcome Collection.



Finn:
Hi. My name is Finn and today we’re talking with Jimmy Wales. Jimmy is the founder of Wikipedia, the biggest source of information on the internet with over 38 million articles and up to 280 different languages. It’s an incredible resource for people all over the world. Let’s go and meet the man that started it all.

Hi, Jimmy, it’s nice to meet you.

Jimmy:
Hi, Finn.

Finn:
Can you tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Jimmy:
Sure. I’m Jimmy Wales. I’m the founder of Wikipedia. And I spend my time doing lots of different things, but I will work a lot on Wikipedia.

Finn:
What happened if someone put something on there that wasn’t true? How would you check it to make sure?

Jimmy:
Sure. I mean this is one of the classic things that people always want to know about Wikipedia is how do we make sure things are true. And it really comes down to having a great community. Having volunteers who are very passionate about making sure that Wikipedia’s right. And then in the software there’s a lot of mechanisms for people to be able to quickly check what’s changed since the last time they were around, to get notified if something’s changing. And, of course, if you go in and you start misbehaving, we can very quickly just see all of your contributions and revert them. And if people are misbehaving they get blocked. Sometimes we have to block schools if the kids have access and they start messing around on Wikipedia. But it’s not just about kids. One time we had to block the US Congress because they were misbehaving at Wikipedia. So we blocked the whole Congress for a day. And said you have to behave yourselves. So.

Finn:
Yeah. Yeah. I was thinking about a thing like Wikipedia but ‘Kidapedia’. So for kids to go on to help with their homework and stuff.

Jimmy:
Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting. I mean obviously a lot of kids do use Wikipedia, but oftentimes the articles are written at too technical of a level on certain topics. So you gotta be a pretty clever kid to get through some of the Wikipedia entries. A lot of them are pretty straightforward for anybody to read. But there’s actually – we’ve talked about this idea of an encyclopedia more for kids. And it’s actually really hard. In some ways it’s harder than writing for other adults. Adults generally have a pretty good idea of what a generally educated adult can read and understand. You can look at it and you can say, well, look, anybody who is, you know they’ve finished high school and maybe they’ve done some university, they could read this entry and understand it. But if you ask the typical adult what does a seven year old know, what does a nine-year-old, 11-year-old, 13-year-old? Obviously that’s very different across all those age groups. And it’s also hard to remember, like, okay, what level should I be writing at? That’s relay hard to do. To understand the differences. And so that’s one of the reasons an open system for a kids’ encyclopedia would be a challenge. I still think it’s a good idea but it’d be a lot of things to think about.

Finn:
What do you do in your spare time?

Jimmy:
In my spare time, well, I travel a lot for work. I have to go all around the world to meet people, to talk about Wikipedia. We’re partly – well, we’re currently blocked in China. The Chinese government doesn’t – they’re not so open about different political information that’s gone on in China and so they’ve blocked us. So I had to go to China to meet the minister there to try to convince him to not block Wikipedia. Didn’t succeed yet but I’ll keep trying. And then, you know, when I’m at home in London I’m basically just a boring, boring person. In my spare time I go home and I see my kids and put them to bed and then I either get back on my computer or watch something on TV.

Finn:
I just play on my computer. I watch videos or play games.

Jimmy:
Yeah, what games do you like?

Finn:
I like games like Minecraft and stuff.

Jimmy:
Minecraft. I love Minecraft. Minecraft is so awesome. You want to know like one of the coolest things I ever did. I had to give a speech over in Sweden, which is where Notch lives. Who’s the creator of–

Finn:
The creator of Minecraft. Yeah.

Jimmy:
I went to his office and I met Notch. It was like the coolest thing ever.

Finn:
Cool. Did you get some information to put on Wikipedia from there?

Jimmy:
No, no. I was just doing it for fun. My daughter is a big Minecraft fan as well. It’s a great game.

Finn:
Have you ever done a crime? Sort of an odd question.

Jimmy:
A crime?

Finn:
Well, cause my dad, like he tied himself to a tree to stop people cutting down the trees –

Jimmy:
Oh, okay. Yeah, like a protest thing. Yeah.

Finn:
But he had to go into prison for the night.

Jimmy:
Yeah, no, that’s cool. So I would call that civil disobedience rather than a crime necessarily. But, yes, it is technically against the law but it’s to illustrate a point as opposed to just, you know robbing a store or something like that.

Finn:
Yeah.

Jimmy:
No, I’ve never been involved in a protest like that. Where I – yeah, I just haven’t done that. I would do it I think, but I’ve not done it. I’ve always found I’m better helping people in other ways. I have driven over the speed limit. I got a speeding ticket once. That was pretty –

Finn:
Yeah.

Jimmy:
My mom was really not very happy with me. I was a teenager at the time.

Finn:
What advice would you give to kids?

Jimmy:
Well, I mean I think most of the advice that I give is quite standard. Like people say these things that sound kind of clichéd. But they’re clichés for a reason. It’s cause they’re actually true. Like if you want to be successful do something you love. Because if you don’t love what you’re doing you’re not gonna be very good at it. And so, you know if there’s something you’re really passionate about, pursue that as your life career because I mean it’s amazing. If you can have the opportunity to do something that you love every day and they pay you for it, wow, it’s like a miracle. It’s amazing.

Other things I tell people are fail faster. It’s a great Silicon Valley expression. And the idea is try little experiments. Don’t bet everything all on one thing. Try little experiments. If it doesn’t work out, try something else. You know that it’s okay to fail at something because you can always do something new and something different. And sometimes people are afraid to try something because they built up in their mind, like, oh, if I try this and I fail it’s gonna be heartbreaking and so on. You can get through that if you go, I’ll just give it a try. If I don’t like it, you know then I’ll just do something else.

Finn:
Don’t set goals too big for yourself otherwise you’re never gonna get them.

Jimmy:
Yeah, but don’t be afraid to set a big goal because you might get there. So just try to have fun.

Finn:
So it was really nice to meet you Jimmy and it was nice to find out about how you made Wikipedia and all those things about you.

Jimmy:
Yeah.

Finn:
It was really fun.

Jimmy:
Well, thanks. It was great talking to you. I should interview you next. I’d like to know more about you.

Finn:
Yeah.

I use Wikipedia a lot. And meeting the guy that actually created it was amazing. Jimmy was fun to talk to and I hope you enjoyed it. See you next time.