Jimmy Wales — Wikipedia Father, Philantropist, Freedom Fanatic, Fraud Fighter

Benevolent dictator for life (BDFL) is a prestigeful title familiar to some, but for those unfamiliar with the concept I’ll give you a brief description. It is essentially a title given to leader-type members of open-source software projects granting them the last verdict in eventual arguments between community members. Several well-known internet personalities like Linus Torvalds for Linux and Matt Mullenweg for WordPress can pride themselves with the label. However, one of the absolutely most famous people to retain the esteemed epithet is Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales.

His role has shown varying levels of necessity throughout the online encyclopedia’s history, but has been required in an array of epistemological discussions. Chiefly, this has one sole reason; the editors are among the most passionate people on this earth concerning everything from the correct spelling of a video game character’s name to the status of Catalonia’s national sovereignty. They engage in these heated arguments for no monetary compensation but for the single purpose of battling ignorance and promoting knowledge.

This is the community that “Jimbo” Wales laid the foundation for and he has been a dedicated member of it since the site’s creation. Wales has however with an exponentially increasing pace withdrawn from his commitments involving hands-on work with the site itself. This has on the other hand freed up a lot of time for him to help preserve, maintain and improve the site and its community in other ways.

With the reliable community handling the day-to-day operations Wales has shifted his focus on to other ventures beneficial to the Wikipedia project in charitable manners, customary for non-profits. Wales has from the beginning expressed continuously that the ultimate goal for Wikipedia is for everyone to have access to a free encyclopedia, regardless of geographical position or societal status. One of the projects developed to fulfill this purpose is Wikipedia Zero.

It was first started in 2012 and the Wikimedia foundation announced last month that it would be discontinued, incrementally dismantling the project, planning on ceasing all operations before the end of 2018. This is not caused by failure however, but quite the opposite. A successful 6 year tenure has effectively connected an estimate of 800 million people with no prior access to Wikipedia through collaborations with 97 different phone operators in 72 different countries.

The latest addition to Jimmy’s efforts to fulfill his goal for worldwide access to knowledge has shifted focus to journalism. Last year it was announced that this would take shape under the appellation WikiTribune. The website employs a staff of 10 professional journalists to conduct unbiased and factual news reporting and a theoretically limitless amount of volunteer journalists to enforce these standards through discussion, spell checking and other forms of article auditing. He expressed the community-curated news source’s goals in his introductory entry post-release:

“My goals are pretty easy to understand, but grand in scope (more fun that way, eh?): to build a global, multilingual, high quality, neutral news service.”

Upon inspecting the website there are some things that are made clear; Wales is personally invested in this project in all of its processes. When examining his profile on the website it becomes evident that most articles are perused and commented with constructive criticism by the creator himself. It’s apparent that this project is his new baby, and some people can even nostalgically notice the “PILOT” disclaimer adorning the site’s logo, as it once did Wikipedia’s.

As one of the few people who has been bestowed the honor of being part of the “Time 100”, listing the most influential people in our world, it’s not unexpected that Wales has both a knack and a predilection for journalism. He is often caught reminiscing in interviews about his Alabama paper route throughout his earlier childhood as well as invariably declaring his strong stance against the dismantlement of local journalism. He has also publicly declared his aversion for fake news and reportedly decided to pull the trigger for the WikiTribune project when Kellyanne Conway first mentioned “alternative facts”.

Wales has throughout his career sported an optimistic joie de vivre and a trust for the public that many misanthropic journalists can only describe as unfathomable. What is certain is that it takes an astounding level of insanity to take on a meticulously planned incentive from Microsoft (read: Encarta) by employing volunteer besserwissers and a donationware business model. What is also certain is that he won against the Gates-juggernaught and has during Wikipedia’s whole existence vehemently turned down practically every opportunity to monetize the corroborative encyclopedia-behemoth that is Wikipedia. In conclusion, what is certain is that this insanity is what has driven him to all decisions that others labeled as naive and bound for failure but ultimately led him to the position he is in today. Taking risks no one else is willing to take to fulfill your ultimate goal, that is what being an entrepreneur is all about.

Jimmy Wales will be visting us here in Stockholm tomorrow the 14th of March to speak at the Nordic Scale-up Summit, hosted at Epicenter Stockholm.