February 18, 2010

Chatting with Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales about community

Jimmy Wales
(CC) photo by Joi Ito

JD LasicaYesterday I wore two hats as a guest and co-host on David Mathison’s Be the Media Radio podcast on BlogTalkRadio along with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. The topic was online communities — how to grow, nurture and sustain them,

Here’s our hourlong conversation — Jimmy Wales comes in about 20 minutes into it:

It was a wide-ranging conversation about the democratization of media, the birth of Ourmedia and YouTube, the thriving global open source development community of WordPress, Creative Commons licenses, Ning, entrepreneurial journalism, Silicon Valley’s mantra of embracing failure, and the state of Wikipedia. (Disclosure: I’m mentioned in a couple of chapters of Mathison’s book, Be the Media.)

wikipedia-entryI conveyed to Wales an observation by author and friend Howard Rheingold, who literally wrote book on virtual communities: All online communities have life cycles, he said. When they mature, it becomes more difficult to maintain a fresh flow of newcomers. Mature online communities can continue for years, but there is a danger of stagnation that accompanies longevity. Howard has tried a number of different approaches with his own communities, providing a “fresh space” for newcomers.

Wales said it was a thoughtful point and an ongoing challenge for Wikipedia, which is now coming up with innovative ways to keep people engaged, particularly making the editing experience more intuitive for nongeeks. (Even for a geek like me, figuring out how to do something as simple as adding a footnote remains obdurately difficult.)

Professor Bill Densmore of MediaGiraffe called in and asked about the Wall Street Journal story about how Wikipedia’s growth has stagnated. Wales chuckled and said, “Several of us joked that we couldn’t find the edit button on the Journal’s story.” He called the account “completely false” and that more than 380 million people in January used Wikipedia. We didn’t get to talk about his for-profit venture, Wikia, which has turned a profit and seems to also be doing remarkably well.

David Meerman Scott and Craig Newmark are among future guests on the Be the Media hour.


6 questions for the author of ‘Be the Media’ (Socialmedia.biz)

Google Gives $2 Million to Wikipedia (blogs.wsj.com)

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JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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One thought on “Chatting with Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales about community

  1. Sounds like you're another one in the spell of Jimmy Wales, right down to calling him “founder” of Wikipedia, even though bringing the wiki architecture to the encyclopedia project was Sanger's doing, the “Wikipedia” was named by Sanger, and Sanger crafted and oversaw many of the guidelines and policies that remain a part of Wikipedia today.

    As for Wikia's profitability… let me know when the initial venture investors have made a profit on the $14 million that's been dumped into that project.