What was your first-ever search on Wikipedia? I don’t remember my first time, but I do remember when it clicked for me that Wikipedia was an amazing resource, really a gift to society. In 2009, I was doing some planning work for a WiMax start up in Africa, and I needed a lot of information about a lot of different countries and technologies. I went from reading Wikipedia through the occasional Google search to actively seeking information from Wikipedia. It’s the first and best source of information on just about any topic.
Have you ever edited an article for Wikipedia? I first tried editing Wikipedia when I learned of this very cool job opportunity at the Wikimedia Foundation. I thought I needed some qualification or expertise to contribute, so I looked at the article on ringtones. I used to run a ringtone company, so I felt comfortable there. I found an error in the article, which I corrected, citing general industry knowledge. However, I later realized you don’t actually have to be an expert on a given topic to edit its Wikipedia page. What’s really important is doing the research.
Who decides on the “feature article” for the day? Wikipedia is driven and maintained by its large, global community. Decisions about what appears on the front page are handled by a subset of that community, but anyone can nominate articles or information to be featured. Beyond that ‘featured article’ there are tens of thousands of other ‘quality’ articles that are given that designation by groups of experienced Wikipedians.
How did you get into the “knowledge” business? Personally, I came in through the mobile business, not directly from the knowledge business. I’m passionate about using mobile technology to improve people’s lives, and that is one of the exciting growth areas for us. Wikipedia Zero is already in 22 countries, providing free access to Wikipedia over mobile devices for an estimated 300 million people.
What do you count as Wikipedia’s greatest success so far? I could tell you about how many billions of page views Wikipedia gets, or that it is the fifth most popular website on earth and was created by an amazing group of volunteers working not for money but for the satisfaction gained from helping improve the world. All of that is a huge success. However, I think the greatest success Wikipedia has had cannot be quantified. How many young people got interested in science or history because of Wikipedia? How many people with no library in their village now have access to the world’s information? We will never know exactly how many people’s lives have been changed by Wikipedia, but you can be sure it is a monumental number.
Why is the mobile phone such an important vehicle for Wikipedia? For billions of people in developing countries who do not have access to computers, a mobile phone is their only way to access the internet, and their only way to read or contribute to Wikipedia. Wikipedia is first and foremost an educational resource, so mobile phones will provide the foundation that helps educate the next billion people.
We will never know exactly how many people’s lives have been changed by Wikipedia, but you can be sure it is a monumental number
What is the single most important factor for Wikipedia’s success in developing countries, such as Myanmar? Of course I want to say cost of mobile data, because that’s the barrier Wikipedia Zero addresses. But actually I believe that the biggest thing is awareness: people need to know there is an awesome resource which will open up a world of opportunity, and it’s literally in the palm of your hand. That’s a defining moment, after which people will develop an expectation of having any information they need at any time, and they’ll start using data services like Wikipedia more.
Does Wikipedia have a competitor or challenger? We don’t really think of it that way. Wikipedia is open and free for anyone, including private sector companies that want to use the Wikipedia content. So we’re not really focused on competitors so much as we are focused on compiling and spreading the sum of all human knowledge openly and freely.
Are there any threats to the future of Wikipedia? We focus a lot on supporting our community of volunteers who write, edit and protect the content on Wikipedia. Without them, Wikipedia would be vulnerable to vandalism and self-promotion. Reliable sources and neutral point of view are fundamental tenets of any great encyclopedia. The community of Wikipedians preserves and protects those values and so we as the Foundation must continue to help this community thrive.
What is Wikipedia doing to contribute to the development of societies now and down the road? In a way, you can look at everything everybody in the Wikipedia community does as contributing to the development of societies now and in the future. Wikipedia is one of the greatest human collaborative projects in history. The reason Wikipedia exists is because every single Wikipedian understands they are doing something to help spread free knowledge, support global education, and in turn help people and societies grow and develop.