I managed to catch a brief interview with Jimmy Wales on the Simon Mayo programme on BBC - Radio Five Live this afternoon. The programme is archived, but I believe only for a day or so at the most, so if you're interested in the entire thing, you might want to go to the site and see if you can track it down.
I've attempted to provide the main points, but this is not verbatum, nor am I promising that it's absolutely accurate, given that they were talking much faster than I was able to type. Consequently please don't take this as gospel!
SM:The Wikipedia appears to be indispensable. Can you
explain what it means?’
JW: Provided a definition; people creating content, tracking changes, mass collaboration. ‘Quick collaboration’.
SM: What a preposterous idea! (Jokingly)
JW: What’s interesting is how well it does work, it really is about realizing that the majority of people are of good will and that makes the overall result ok.
SM:How does the editing process work? My children edited my
entry and it was very straightforward. However, in other cases people who want to cause
harm can do so.
JW:People all over the world monitor changes; there is a strong close knit community, that maintains the quality, checks and judges the changes. Some of the news and criticism of the site is fair and unfair, particularly if it’s a problem that lasted for months, but if there's a criticism about something that's been up for a few seconds he really doesn't think is valid.
SM: How many trouble makers are there?
JW: A lot of the kinds of trouble are pretty easy to spot and we have stringent rules on biographies of living people, and negative comments are properly sourced. People constantly vandalizing and others fixing… goes on all the time and is background noise.
JW talked about meetups, mentioned that they’re very popular
in Europe, less so in the US
SM:If you were to print the English version, how big would
JW: I have no idea. 1.5 million articles and growing, in terms of words several times larger than Britannica.
SM: Why choose Wikipedia over Britannica?
JW: We do a better job in certain areas, current, contemporary than EB. Britannica is a slower process with regards editing. The Wikipedia is strong in technical areas, and depth of coverage of many topics. EB better in some areas. (But he didn't say which ones).
SM: Given the size and amount of information, Is it possible check the data?
JW: We can only do this because of the community checking facts. The broader the community the better we can be.
SM: If I want the history of World War One I’d want authoritative information, and I can't be sure I'm going to get that from the Wikipedia. Is that a valid criticism?
JW: A single expert writing an article will only have one view of a subject, while an encyclopedia article should be a broad overview.
SM: Just because a number of people say it’s doesn’t make it
JW: I’d agree with that. We’re very old fashioned with things like sources and our big debates will be on politics and religion, but our community debates are on which sources are reliable.
Forest Whitaker joined the conversation, said that he used the Wikipedia to check out directors etc, but he’d been led that way by SM. Discussion then moved onto his latest film, before returning.
SM:All the knowledge in the world available to everyone – that's a huge
JW: We’ll see the next billion people come online in the next decade and not from places we know much about and that’s going to be exciting.
SM: The printing press dramatically affected our lives – can you assess any
political/cultural implications of the availability of data that we're experiencing now?
JW: People are producers and consumers, and people want their information made available and most people want to share their data. [Goes on to explain the Creative Commons] The free culture movement is huge, and he thinks it’s a new economy of sharing.
SM:Does it change how we live?
JW: Some of our laws, such as intellectural property laws are strained and a one size fits all copyright doesn’t help – eg text books that are out of date by about 15 years – we could have them in the Wikipedia in weeks if we were allowed to.
SM:How big is your entry Jimmy?
JW: A few screenfuls full.
SM: Can you edit your own entry?
JW: Yes, but we don’t encourage it because it raises conflict of interest.
SM: Have you done it?
JW: Yes, but openly. We advise people not to.
SM:What if your kids do it?
SM:Reads out comments about how good the Wikipedia is.
JW:I like the audience!
SM: Areas like religion and philosophy are not as good as they perhaps could be if they were left up to experts.
JW:Some truth to that, though wouldn’t use philosophy as an example. There are some areas that lay people can’t easily write about. However, in general we’re looking at a broad overview, and that needs to be accurate of course, but not highly specialized.
SM:What about the area of consensus?
JW:It’s easier to get consensus that I would have thought. People can agree to state the problem fairly, even on difficult subjects like abortion. Viewpoints can be presented as a consensus presentation.
SM:How do you become an editor?
JW: Explains the basics, but encourages people to get a user account, meet some people, get involved with the community.
SM:Is the Wikipedia in China China China
JW:Currently blocked in
SM:Will politics be changed by greater access to
JW: Hopes so. Debate in Wikipedia is measured and calm, in comparision to other dialogues and debates. Clear, fact based analysis is encouraged.
All in all it was a very interesting and measured discussion, and one that I could have listened to all afternoon.