Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Saturday, July 17, 2010
We recently sat down with Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, the fifth most popular website – only Google, Facebook, Youtube, and Yahoo are bigger. We talked about Wikipedia’s role in society as well as how and why Jimmy “made it.”
Watch the interview below, OR read the interview in its entirety – the transcript of the interview is below. (We’re trying this out for the first time. If you like the transcript idea, let us know, and we’ll look to do this for future interviews).
Before we go to the interview though, we’d like to highlight a few takeaways from our conversation with Jimmy, as it relates to failure.
As with the luminaries we’ve previously interviewed, Jimmy Wales is no stranger to failure.
In 1996, he tried to launch an internet-based lunch ordering system in Chicago, but it went nowhere. The people who needed to buy into his vision simply didn’t. As Jimmy put it, “If you (told a restaurant owner in the Chicago Loop in 1996 that) you were from the Internet, you might as well be from Mars. They had no idea what I was talking about at all. Nor did they care.” Jimmy still believes “ it’s a brilliant idea, it just didn’t work.” Well, not in 1996, it didn’t. But the idea is, empirically, a brilliant one – it’s made an incredible success out of Seamless Web in New York. Jimmy was simply ahead of his time (we joked about that in the interview, but it’s true.)
Later, he launched Nupedia, a precursor to Wikipedia. Jimmy readily admits that it failed. He also recognizes that this particular failure was a requirement for Wikipedia’s success. When Wikipedia launched, Jimmy already had an existing community in Nupedia, a group of loyalists to Jimmy’s vision – “a free encyclopedia for every single person on the planet” – a group that would not only help create Wikipedia’s content but also evangelize on its behalf.
Again, through Jimmy’s story, we see that not only was failure important to his success, but so too was his approach and attitude towards it. As Jimmy tells others, “I just say, ‘Follow your passion. Do something you think is super interesting. And if it fails? Hey, whatever. You spent a year doing something you loved.’"
Watch (or read) the interview to find out:
* whether the urban myth of Wikipedia’s Britannica-like accuracy is true
* how Jimmy stays relaxed in job that would drive most people crazy
* what he found when he entered a school unannounced in the Dominican Republic
* who the smartest person he knows is
The Popped Kernel (TPK): Today, we’re talking to Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia.org. Jimmy, Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.
Jimmy Wales (JW): Sure. Great.
TPK: What role do you see Wikipedia playing on the internet and on society overall?
JW: On the Internet, we’re now the fifth most popular website and have been in the same slot for a couple of years. We’re probably the most linguistically diverse site. We’re in over 175 languages that have at least 1,000 articles. And we’re really focused on our role in the developing world, in the languages of the developing world, and in that space online in many cases we’re going to be one of the first major websties to be there because we’re so supportive of that part of the world, and we can afford to be supportive whether that makes economic sense or not.
TPK: What do you mean by supportive?
JW: Our software’s translated into multiple languages. We have volunteers who are out there working to try to find people to work in those languages. I would say in a lot of the languages, there aren’t that many websites available. Some smaller local content but your Microsofts, Yahoos, Googles of the world, they – you know, it’s not a criticism of them – they really can’t afford to pay that much attention to smaller languages in a way that our community can, so that’s a part of the role that we play on the Internet.
And then in society more generally, I think everybody who is likely to see this video has had their life affected by Wikipedia and uses it on a regular basis. But I think that there’s a second wave of impact that I think we’re going to have that is kind of interesting, so if you’re speaking English or German or a European language or Japanese, Chinese, the biggest problem that you face with information is actually an overload of information. You go to a search engine and you type “Washington, D.C.” and you get back millions of things when maybe you just need the basic summary. And that’s what Wikipedia really can give you is a quick orientation to the subject.
But in a lot of languages the real problem that they face is lack of access to information at all. Just one statistic that I’ve heard, and I don’t know if this is still true but a few years ago it was said that the number of books translated into Arabic every year is about the same as the number of books translated into German every day. Even though it’s a much larger population of people speaking Arabic, there’s just a real lack of flow of information into Arabic. It gets much worse when you think about a language like Swahili or Wolof – one of my favorite small Wikipedias now. We have 1,000 articles in Wolof, which is a language in Senegal. And in these languages, the access to information that people have in their mother tongue is just incredibly small.
So as we build Wikipeida in those languages, in many cases, it’s going to be the first opportunity that people have to get access to information about whatever a topic that they might be interested in. You can imagine that in Swahili, it’s probably not that hard to find information about London or New York, but it may be hard to find information about the USB standard and so your trying to learn technology, your trying to learn computers and you just have no information unless you learn English or French and that’s a big barrier to getting people online, getting people integrated with the global conversation, so I think that linguistic diversity is something we bring to the table that’s really important.
TPK: And is Wikipeida really more accurate than the Encyclopedia Britannica?
JW: (Laughs) Well, it varies…. The best academic evidence we have is, unfortunately, more than three years old now, and this was a study that was published in Nature. They sent a group of articles out from Britannica and from Wikipedia of similar length, similar topic. Experts reviewed them. And they found that Wikipeida had, on average, around four errors per article and Britannica had, on average, three. So three years ago we weren’t quite as good as Britannica. I think for a lot of people what was surprising about that wasn’t that there were four errors per article in wikipedia but that there were 3 in Britannica. Because people thinkg of britan as somehow handed down from on high and perfect. But it isn’t. and it’s a great encyclopedia but it’s full of errors, as all reference works are. That’s just the nature of the difficulty of doing good, quality reference work. These days I think with certain topics we’re definitely better than Britannica just because we cover the topics in a much more comprehensive way. But you know there’s still errors in wikipeida unfortunately and we’re doing our best to fix them but it takes time.
TPK: How did the idea for Wikipedia start?
JW: I was watching the growth of the free software movement - open source software, as most people know. And I saw that groups of programmers were coming together online to collaborate to build really largescale software projects, very successful, very high quality software. And I put a lot of thought into that. How is it possible? What makes that work? And as it turns out, the free licensing model is really important. You have to deal with certain incentives issue. When you have a group of people working on a project, they want to make sure that their work doesn’t get locked up and that it’ll always be free, so they need that license structure that gives everybody a comfort contributing to the commons. So that’s a big part of it. I was thinking well what – seeing this and seeing that it was really an important phenomenon in software made me realize that this could be apllied more broadly than just software. And realized that it makes sense that collaboration would start first with programmers because if they need a tool to be able to collaborate, they just build their own tools which is what they did. So they built CVS – converter versioning system – where they can check in and out code, and so different people can be working on the same project globally in different time zones. Those kinds of tools and coordination they built for themselves and I realized, "Hey, if I look at those kinds of tools, we could work together on all kinds of things." And that was kind of the early beginnings of the idea.
TPK: Now, you could have applied that to a lot of different contexts. What made you think of the online encyclopdia?
JW: Well, I think the main things is that encyclopedias seem easy to collaborate on and I still think that’s true. In fact, when I first had the idea, I was in a panic because I thought it was so obvious that everybody was going to do it, and two years later, nobdy else was doing it still. But the main thing about it is - if I say - encyclopedia article about the Eiffel tower, pretty much everybody knows what that is - what it’s supposed to be like at the end of the day. I mean we can quibble over the details but you pretty much have a good idea of what you’re trying to create and that gives you certain inherent standards, quality standards, direction. It just seems like a very easy thing. And also it’s a defined unit. It becomes useful very quickly. As opposed to if I said, "Let’s collaborate on wirting a novel" Right? A novel isn’t very useful until it’s done. It’s also a long sustaining road. It’s also - if I tell you that it’s a novel about pain and redemption, we have no guidance whatsoever. we have no idea what we’re doing. And so it’s just a fairly straightforward thing to write an encyclopedia article. So that was kind of it.
TPK: And then how did you go from this idea of open-source-software-meets-encylcopedia to making it happen? and then from making it happen to making it big? Because those are two big jumps.
JW: Well, the first attempt to build the free encyclopedia was a failure. This was called Nupedia. It was a project that Wikipedia grew out of later. And basically, the issue was - I didn’t really understand about communities. There were a lot of things that nobody really knew at the time and so Nupedia was a very top-down, very highly structured, very academic project and one which in the end didn’t work because it was such a burden for the contributors to be able to participate. Wikipedia grew out of that - once we had the idea of the "wiki," which had actually been around since 1995 - invented by a guy name Ward Cunningham - and Wikipedia started in 2001. So for 6 years, wiki’s were a small underground phenomenon – this idea of website that you would then edit had been out there but nobody had really harnessed it into a big thing. So once I gave up on the Nupedia concept and launched the wiki, then it actually took off very quickly. We had more work done in two weeks than we had done in two years - still a very small community but it was pretty evident pretty early on that this was actually a great tool – you’re able to write; you’re able to correct each other’s mistakes; you’re able to expand. Somebody could start something by writing two sentences and somebody else could write two more sentences and someone else would look up the references and pretty soon we started to see something take shape. After that, it just was really a long, continuous road. Basically, our traffic was doubling every three or four months for a few years. We would see occassional spikes, when we grew fast, and occasional slowdowns, depending on school holidays and things like this. But overall, it was pretty steady. People always want to know, “What was the tipping point?” There wasn’t really a tipping point that I can identify, unless you say the day I put it on the web.
TPK: So you just put it on the web and sat back and said, “Let’s see what happens with this?” and it just took off?
JW: We were’t sitting back, no. We already had the existing community, the Nupedia community, so this was actually – when I say Nupedia failed, I should say it didn’t really fail, it grew into something else in the sense that we had a couple hundred people active on the mailing list who were excited about the prospects of building a free encyclopedia. And so essentially, we spent two years talking about how to make an encyclopedia and what it meant, what kinds of tools we would need, before we actually got started with Wikipedia. And so there was already an existing great community of people and then it just grew - it grew over time.
We got a lot of early press from the free software community. Sites like Slashdot covered us and sent us a lot of traffic. We were very active in terms of meeting volunteers and talking to people and evangelizing even in the early days. And then also, as the content grew, we would get more organic traffic from the search engines. They would crawl the site and find us and we would start to have kind of obscure topics that nobody else really had much on.
And other little things that I think we did right – the URL structure is super simple, so everybody knows exactly how to write down a URL for a wikipedia page. If you’re a blogger, I mean it’s really easy for you to link into us. You can say, “I’m going to mention Thomas Jefferson, so how do I link to that?” Well, you pretty much know how to write that URL, boom you’re there and that brought in more traffic.
TPK: What did you do before Wikipedia? Before Nupedia?
JW: Well, I used to be a futures trader in Chicago. Befre that, I was an academic in finance. So, pretty obvious.
TPK: So how did you go from being an options trader to then making a pretty big jump into something so different and doing quite well? What was that like? Can you take us into the psychology of what making that kind of jump is like?
JW: Yeah, well, that jump’s a little stark because I did – I was doing different things on the Internet and it grew organically, and so it wasn’t like one day I just walked off the trading floor and said let’s start an encyclopedia. But there actually are a fair number of things that did carry over. So in my academic career, I was very interested in game theory and modeling interactions. And that’s actually the way I think about the world in many cases, in a game theoretical way, so when I think about people coming together to collaborate - what are some of the incentives that people face individually? How do you harness those incentives in a healthy way? All the kinds of things when you think about institutional design and things like that. Some of it’s very basic economics – just as – we know in economics that just because you pass a law against something doesn’t mean people stop doing it – it’s the same thing - we can say, “Well, you have to cite your sources.” Right? But just saying you have to cite your sources doesn’t actually lead to sources cited. You have to have incentive structures in place and whole mechanisms for making sure that happens. So there’s a lot of overlap in the economic way of thinking about the world and human interactions.
TPK: So you started in the academic world, then you became an options trader, then you started Wikipedia. How did you come to the conclusion that you would stop what was probably a more secure gig in the options trading world to pursue something that was a lot more unpredictable in Wikipedia?
JW: Well, I mean, I was doing stuff on the internet by this time.
TPK: And was it for a job or was it for personal interest?
JW: No, I had a company, an internet company, a search engine that wasn’t very successful but it did ok and, you know, in the Boom, everything did ok. But it’s funny – I just don’t think in those terms. I never have. I just get up everyday and do whatever seems like the most fun thing to do. So once Wikipedia started, I was pretty obsessed with the idea. And Nupedia – I was obsessed with it, but I didn’t know what to do. Once Wikipedia started I was pretty obsessed with the idea and pretty much devoted myself to it in a really serious way, but just because that was the most interesting thing I could think of to do each day, and I just trusted I would find someway to make a living of it somehow.
TPK: So you just decided, “This is fun. I’ll figure out a way to make a living from it”?
JW: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And, I actually think if - I’m asked by young people, “What should I do?” I just say – it’s the cheesiest, the most cliché advice possible but it’s actually true – I just say, “Follow your passion. Do something you think is super interesting. And if it fails? Hey, whatever. You spent a year doing something you loved, and now, you can always get a job at Procter & Gamble or wherever" – no offense to Procter & Gamble; it’s a lovely place to work, but it wouldn’t be many people’s first choice if their dream was something entrepreneurial.
And I think one of the great things – and I see this actually culturally in different parts of the world, it’s different. So one of the great things – there’s many things we can criticize about American culture – but one of the great things about American culture is this high tolerance for failure, this idea that you can step off a career track and do something interesting, entrepreneurial, (and if) it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t really damage your long-term prospects. Whereas in Korea, for example, I was meeting with some young entrepreneurs in Korea and they said it’s completely terrifying to them because if you start a venture, first of all, everybody is against it when you start it and then if it fails, it’s a huge black mark on your record. And people think it’s horrible, especially your mother-in-law or what have you. Families don’t necessarily support in the same way. And so I think it costs in a lot of places, it costs innovation.
TPK: What do you tell those Korean entrepreneurs? Because I’m sure there are some folks in America who have the same mindset towards entrepreneurship and failure.
It’s a spectrum everywhere, right? I mean everywhere there are going to be people who want to do something and they don’t feel like they’re going to get support from their family, their friends. Their current employment is going to look down on it. They’re going to risk a certain career track, and those are tough things. I mean you have to respect that. People have very tough decisions to make. Still for me, I just say, “At the end of the day, you only have so many years on the planet. You got to spend them somehow.” And if you try something, it might succeed and be something you’re really proud of or it might fail and be something you’re really proud of. Then you did it at least. I don’t know, that’s just my ethic.
TPK: You mentioned Nupedia before as being a failure or the perfect step in creating Wikipedia. Outside of that, do you consider yourself having ever failed at anything?
JW: Oh yeah.
TPK: At what? And why?
JW: Well, my internet company. We went from 16 employees at the height of the Boom and then when the crash came, I did the classic young entrepreneur thing, which is I didn’t recognize reality for too long. I should have laid off half the staff immediately when we lost our first big ad contract, which was supporting us. Instead, I just kept believing it was going to come back. I didn’t want to face up to the fact that the Boom was over and that it was actually a real crash. And so I ended up a year later essentially running out of money and having to go from 16 people down to 4, put the thing on bare bones. That wasn’t a good idea actually. But then even within that, different projects, different things that we attempted that even today – we attempt stuff all the time that fails. I mean I just –
Recently, I was giving a talk to some teenagers from junior achievement. They’re all interested in starting businesses and things like this. And so I just decided that the most inspirational talk I could give was a series of slides of all these different projects that I had tried and failed. I remember I had a website – my first commercial website was – I still think it’s a brilliant idea, it just didn’t work – was called Loop Lunch. So I was working in Chicago and the downtown area of Chicago is called The Loop. And I saw all these people eating lunch everyday and there should be an online ordering system and so started setting it up. Did the programming. Contacted restaurants. This was back in 1996 or so I think. And let me tell you, small restaurant owners in the Chicago Loop in 1996 – if you said you were from the internet, you might as well be from Mars. They had no idea what I was talking about at all. Nor did they care. And it was just a tough slog. And basically, we couldn’t get customers; we couldn’t get traction. Even the software we wrote was pretty bad and didn’t work. And it failed. And now – I don’t know about Chicago – but in New York, there’s Seamless Web which is fabulous. You go on; there’s hundreds of restaurants; you order; they bring the food to you. It’s perfect. It makes perfect sense. I invented that idea (said with sarcastic smile) .
TPK (Laughs): You were ahead of your time.
JW (Laughs): Ahead of my time. Right. I also had no clue what I was doing. I actually think we failed not because it was ahead of its time, but also just because the thousand things we did wrong at the time. So, whatever - I’m proud of Loop Lunch. It was a cool failure. But I mean I think that’s - for me, that tinkering, experimenting, trying something fun, interesting, new – that’s always more interesting than – so I’ve, in recent years, started a search engine project that we had to close down, mostly because of the economy – I was actually happy with the progress of it. But when the economy went to hell, there was just no – it was not obvious how we were going to raise the money to continue to fund the research for two more years, so we closed it down, and some different critics of mine, giving grief on the internet, “Ah, yet another failed project.” I’m like, “Hey, I tried. I didn’t see you start a search engine.” So, whatever.
TPK: Have you noticed a theme that through failure comes some moniker of success?
JW: Yeah, sometimes. I mean, sometimes it just sucks. I think there’s always an opportunity to learn something. And many things – I think that – also a very common cliché, but whatever – you sometimes learn more from a failure than a success. So, you know, there’s a lot of things that worked about Wikipedia that we’re not – even to this day, nobody quites knows everything about why it worked, right? What degree this factor and that factor played in the whole thing. Because it worked, we just kept doing what was working. Some of it was probably just pure superstition. It’s like, “This is working. Let’s keep doing it.” And meanwhile, it’s going for some unrelated reason we don’t even understand. But then, when there’s a failure, you often know exactly what went wrong and you can kind of say, “Oh, OK. This doesn’t work because the restaurant owners don’t know about the Internet yet. They just don’t care. And we can’t convince them to pay us anything to do this." So, it just depends.
TPK: If you don’t mind switching gears a bit – and just ask some questions about you.
JW: Mm Hmm.
TPK: Some might be a bit quirky, but just to get at who you are…
JW: Mm Hmm
TPK: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
JW: Oh, a scientist. Maybe that or an astronaut, but scientist seemed more interesting. I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, which is where the space program was headquartered. That’s where the rocket scientists were, inventing the rockets to go to the moon, and things like that. And when I was a small child, sometimes the windows would rattle on the house when they were testing the rockets, which was pretty inspirational in a way – this idea of astronauts going to the moon – it’s a big deal. So I was also very excited about science and technology and things like that. So, yeah, scientist.
TPK: And you ended up following that path.
JW: Kind of. Yeah.
TPK: You’re a computer scientist at heart, it sounds like.
JW: Yeah, I’m a really bad programmer (Laughs), which is as close as I got to computer scientist.
TPK: What are you passionate about?
JW: Well, these days I’m really passionate about the growth of the Internet, Wikipedia in particular, in the developing world. To me, that’s a really exciting development that’s going to be – I think we don’t even really understand all the ramifications of what’s going to happen as the next billion people come online, partly because, right now, so far, the first 1.8 billion people who’ve come online, well, increasingly they’re from places we don’t interact with and cultures we don’t know much about but in the first wave, it was, you know, US, Europe, Japan. And now we’ve got hundreds of millions of people coming online – China, in South America, all over the world. And I think that’s really interesting. And I think we don’t really know all the dynamics of what that’s going to imply in terms of culture, the transmission of ideas across cultures. I mean it’s really interesting. I’ve traveled a lot all over the world. And just had some really amazing and interesting experiences.
Just not long ago, I was in the Dominican Republic and they took me out for a school tour with the Minister of Education, which was a fairly ridiculous show. We went to the best high school and the poor kids – they made them stay after school the day before until 6pm working on a presentation about wikis for me, and then I came in; they gave the presentation; a girl sang; and it was ridiculous. And I was like – it was very sweet of the kids, but I mean basically I didn’t learn anything about education there.
So then I went sort of unannounced with someone from the First Lady’s office who took me, and we just drove out to one of the slums just outside the city where they’re building computer labs. And there’s a computer lab there where the kids come after school, and they can do their homework, and they can get on the internet. And they just built this. And, it’s an area with – they’ve had electricity – legal electricity – for a couple of years now. It’s tin roofs, shacks, and so on. And, I walk into this computer lab completely unannounced and there’s [sic] the kids online doing IM, and they’re on Google, and they’re on YouTube, and they’re on Wikipedia. And talk to some of the kids – they were completely gobsmacked that I was there. They loved Wikipedia - they use it everyday for their homework and things like that. And you start to realize, “Hey, there’s this whole generation of kids who, 40-50 years ago - they would have been sitting with no text b--- you know, very little of anything, and now they have - the world is open to them. And yeah, they don’t have a computer at home; they don’t have a laptop. But hey, every afternoon, they can go onto the computer and they can find out about the world. I think that’s really powerful. They also all have cell phones, of course, and wanted to take pictures with their cell phones.
So that kind of penetration of IT throughout the world – I’ve seen the same kinds of things in India, the slums of India. You’ll see people who are online. Maybe it’s slow, but it’s coming there very quickly. And I think that’s pretty transformative in lots of ways that are very subtle. You can’t really say exactly – simple things, “Well they can get an education, get a better job.” Yeah, sure, but they can also just have a level of learning and actually get the idea that there’s something really amazing about reading and learning stuff about the world and getting excited about that. That’s really powerful in ways I think that are hard to predict.
TPK: Did you ever think that Wikipedia would be as big as it is today – the fact that you can go into a village in the Dominic Republic unannounced, and the kids are on Wikipedia?
JW (laughs): It’s funny because I was very optimistic. You know, the big picture vision is a free encyclopedia for every single person on the planet – in their own language. So, that’s a pretty big concept. But I thnk it never – it’s not real to you until you’re there and can see it and realize that you go into a college class in India or in a computer lab in the slums in the Dominican Republic and see that people are using it. That’s pretty powerful. That’s pretty amazing. And even today, I get a kick out of it. And I actually get a bit of a funny kind of – interesting thing, so in China, we were banned for three years. So whereas most places around the world we’re like in the top 10 anyway, but normally we’re like number four, number five in terms of the popularity of the website, in terms of the number of people who come on in a month. In China, we’re still – we’re number 60.
TPK: What relaxes you? What allows you to unplug and recharge?
JW: Well, I’m a pretty relaxed guy, so I don’t really get stressed.
TPK: You never get stressed.
JW: Not much.
TPK: Is that right?
JW: I mean, of course, everybody does but – I mean I have to have certain zen-like calm to live my life the way I do, which is in airports a lot, which is – you know, if you can’t let go and sort of go with the flow in an airport, you’re just going to kill yourself, so –
TPK: So where does that come from – the ability to – because I think a lot of people in your position would be stressed pretty often and the fact that you’re not is admirable. If someone wanted to tap into that, how would you...
JW: Well, part of it, for me, I think is, I’ve been pretty good about realizing what kinds of stuff I really suck at and I try not to do those things, so, in terms of both my – Wikipedia, the nonprofit, Wikimedia, the for-profit, there’s a CEO who actually runs things on a day-to-day basis. So nobody’s reporting to me. I try not to be a bottleneck in any process. This gives me the freedom to go out and evangelize. These are things I’m good at - talking to people and getting people excited about our work and what we’re trying to accomplish. And that’s kind of important. That means that most of the headaches belong to somebody else – thank – there are people who are actually good at these things. So that’s a part of it. And I think that’s applicable more generally than just me.
I think everybody should assess what they’re doing and if something’s causing you a great amount of stress, try to find a way to rearrange it, so you’re doing a different part of the work, or something, that doesn’t freak you out. I mean a lot of people just beat their heads against the wall for decades of their life doing something they pretty much hate, when they could make some modification and probably have a much happier life.
TPK: Are there certain things that clear your head – a good book, a good movie, a good glass of wine, a hike?
JW: Yeah, I mean you’ve listed a few things there. I do like a good glass of wine.
Well, my daughter is actually – so I go to Florida where I live, and my daughter lives there with her mom, and I have her on the weekends, every other weekend, so I go and spend time with her and talk to her and we do projects together. She’s learning programs, so we do programming, which is fun for me; I never get to code anymore, so that’s kind of fun teaching her programming – we’re doing that together. And so, things like that are pretty good.
And hiking. We just went this summer. We went into the woods. We went deep into the back country. We were there for five days. No cell phone access, no nothing. Just hiking through the woods with backpacks and the whole thing. And she’s a real trooper; she’s only – 8 at the time – she’s 9 now, but had her backpack, did a great job. So that was good, getting offline for a little while was good.
But I, I also just – I’m really lucky, in a sense, that I’m addicted to the internet and somehow turned that to good purposes. So I avoid things like – I don’t play World of War Craft or anything like that because I know that would be – I have actual work to do in the world – I’d be sucked in for a year, so I just avoid that. But the things I enjoy doing are getting online and talking to people and that’s my job, so it works out pretty well.
TPK: Now, since you’ve become “Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia”…
TPK: … has anything changed in terms of the interaction you have with people?
JW: Umm. Not really. I mean, there is [sic] some aspects of life that are different – you meet somebody and they’re like, “Oo, wow” - but mostly no. I mean, people get used to me pretty quickly. I’m just a guy – some guy from the Internet.
TPK: Some guy from the Internet who has the top 5 website in the United States.
JW: Yeah, well.
TPK: Do you think that is a result of hard work or luck or skill?
JW: Which is?
TPK: The face that Wikipedia is what it is.
JW: All three. All three. I mean, I can say with no false humility that there was a lot of luck involved, right? And I would be an idiot if I didn’t think that, right? It’s absolutely true. At the same time, I think it’s ok for me to say, “You know what? I actually had a good idea and I worked really hard on it. And I’m proud of that.” Lots of things could have gone wrong, but some of the things that could have gone wrong, I fixed, right? And I’m proud of that. Some of the things that could have gone wrong did go wrong because I didn’t fix it, right? So, I mean, I think it’s really all of those things. I’m proud of my work, but at the same time, I’m not dumb enough to think I did anything super powerful or anything. I mean, I did a decent job.
TPK: When you wake up every morning, what’s the first thing you do? Do you have a particular routine?
JW: Well, I check email. That’s probably the first thing I do
TPK: On a Blackberry or…?
JW: No, I normally get on my computer. I don’t have – my work email doesn’t come to my phone. My personal email comes to my phone. And a few people have that for work purposes, if they really need me, but – yeah, I find that having my work email put on my phone would be a bad idea. You know, it’s just too much. No, I hop on my computer and check email. Lately I’ve been trying not to do that as much. I actually think it’s a bad idea to check your email first thing in the morning. I think you should do something else for a little bit.
TPK: Why is that?
JW: Because the next think you know it’s noon and you’re just doing email and whatever it was you planned to do, you didn’t actually do, so – and a lot of it can wait; a lot of it doesn’t need doing. There’s a lot – email is very dangerous; it can really suck you into all kinds of time sinks. And I’ve actually gotten much better over the years at things like - things I recognize as a procrastinator several years ago I don’t do anymore, so getting involved in long, philosophical discussion and debate on a mailing list, I just don’t do that anymore. Actually, that’s part of the benefits of having become “Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia” is that I can’t just go onto a public mailing list and start yapping with people because then it ends up in the newspaper. So, it’s like, at least I don’t waste time with that anymore. So I do private emails, but even then I’m much more resistant and resilient than I used to be about getting sucked into things that are just super interesting, really valuable, but not actually on point of what I’m trying to accomplish.
TPK: How do you determine…?
JW: Yeah, just over time – sometimes – you still want to have – I mean, I would foolish if I didn’t engage in any kind of philosophical discussion or debates. I’m just more choosey about them now.
TPK: So when you don’t go to the Internet first thing in the morning, what do you do? however mundane or ordinary.
JW: (Laughs) Yeah. I do actually go on the Internet. Well, I do go on my computer anyway, but I just shouldn’t be doing email. I should be working on a project, reading something important that somebody has sent me, and things like that.
TPK: Do you eat breakfast?
JW: Yeah, yeah. I eat breakfast.
JW: No. So when I’m in Florida – I guess we have to divide my lifestyle up into when I’m at home which is a rarity and when I’m on the road. So when I’m in Florida. I do. I get up. I have my daughter. We make breakfast. We sit out – we live in Florida, so we can sit outside on the patio and have breakfast and plan our day and things like that and drink coffee. I drink coffee; she doesn’t drink coffee, but – when I’m on the road, it’s very – it’s highly volatile. I just depends on – sometimes I have to get up – well, you met me in Davos, where it’s like basically, you get up and you’re rolling to some breakfast, lunch, dinner, night cap – you know, the whole thing is an intense period of time. But other things are like that too – I’m somewhere. I get up. I have a speech at 9am, so I’ve got to get up and get ready and review my slides, and things like that. It just varies. My favorite thing to do it sleep, so...
TPK: Is that right?
JW: Whenever I can.
TPK: Do you actually get more than 8 (hours) a night?
JW: I try. Yeah.
JW: Yeah, I mean, I really – I often do – I mean, this is one of the techniques I have for dealing with jet lag is that I’m really, really lazy, so just sleep a lot.
TPK: Jimmy, you’ve been gracious with your time – just have one last question.
TPK: And that is: What inspires you? What gives you great ideas?
JW: Umm. I would have to say my daughter actually. Yeah, she’s – I’m famous for the neutrality of Wikipedia. I’m very, very neutral - and she’s the smartest person I know. She’s not well-educated yet – she’s only 9 – but it’s really interesting watching her as a – I consider myself a digital native, if you want to talk about that term. I’ve been on the Internet since – I’ve been on the computer since I was 13. I consider myself a native. But 13’s not really native, right? When I was her age – and she’s 9 – I had never touched a computer. We didn’t have computers then. And so watching her and the way she uses her computer and the way she expects things. She blogs. She’s composing movies on iMovie. She’s doing all kinds of things that are completely natural and normal to her. And she’s 9 years old. I mean she’s not a normal person; she’s like super smart, but – still, part of it is she’s had a computer since she stole her mom’s laptop, when she was about four, and she never gave it back. So she’s been online basically her whole life, and that’s a part of it. But that’s also part of why she’s so smart I think. She really is exposed to technology and information and loves to really deep [sic] into things. So it’s always interesting talking to her. She always has a bunch of great ideas.
TPK: Excellent. Well, we’ll leave it there.
TPK: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.
JW: Yeah. Great.