Meeting Jimmy Wales

Weeks ago I put my hand up to attend a seminar featuring Jimmy Wales – the founder of Wikipedia – then promptly forgot about it.

Personally while I find wikis useful in terms of finding information I haven’t really felt the need to edit a page but I recognise that as a part of Web 2.0 we need to “get on board”. Also I’ve been questioning my career aspirations lately – is this the right role for me – could my skills be used better, or at least in a way that engages my interest better?

Anyway suffice to say I had no expectations when I showed up for the seminar this morning.

The seminar was presented by education.au and started with a welcome to country Рa very personal account and quite accessable WTC, although I got the feeling the organisers thought it went on a bit.

Then we had Marget Collins from the WA Department of Education. From her introduction I discovered two new things. First – she used the term Digital Natives rather than Gen Y, which was interesting… I suspect to qualify you have to grow up with computers, which makes me a digital immigrant…and I’m not sure I like that term! And she said that the average age for teachers is 46.

At first I was horrified … 46!!!! That seems so old! But I guess if you consider teachers retire in their sixties, and don’t start teaching until they are 21ish… well maybe that’s just past the median point… They are unlikely to be digital natives though and that was her point.

Me and Jimmy WalesThen we met Jimmy Wales. Chairman, Wikia Inc. and founder of Wikipedia.

[for fashionistas out there he was wearing a velvet like pin-striped jacket over a laced up cream shirt over a black tee, black trousers and black rubber soled shoes]

Here are some interesting points from his speech:

Jimmy predicted the cost of textbooks and other learning materials (videos etc) would drop to zero, and that laptops would drop to $100, decreasing the digital divide.

He talked about the next billion users online – and how they would change the online community – being from places like Africa, South America, China and India.

He quoted a Nature article which said Wikipedia had an average of 4 errors per page, while Encyclopedia Brittanica had an average of 3. And their differences in reaction – EB threatened legal action, Wikipedia corrected the errors!

Monocultures are unsafe.

Jimmy said when you think of social networking software many think of all the bad things that can happen and design gatekeeper models.

A restaurant using this model would have each patron in a cage in case they stabbed eachother with the steak knives.

Rather developers need to use the accountability model.

To set up a Wiki community Jimmy recommends:

  • Have a simple, clear vision for what the wiki is about.
  • Have a core of people – 5-10 to impel it forward in the first instance.
  • Allow, as much as possible, the wiki community to come up with its own solutions.

He said that neutrality was important. That disputes should be editorial rather than political or personal.

But what I liked most about his talk was that he said “the entire project is one of love”. How many projects can say that?

Then we had a forum with a number of education focussed bods, which was quite interesting and a workshop where we talked about how to implement a wiki in a work situation.. The bottom line for our group was that people had to feel safe to contribute – in terms of their IP, and their job – and that to get buy-in people needed to feel adding/using a wiki would value add to their work.

It was truly inspiring to meet someone with such an altruistic ideal as Jimmy.

Yep. I’m a fan.

And I love the fact his laptop is covered in stickers!