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I spent an hour with Jimmy Wales, the guy who set up Wikipedia, in Davos on Saturday afternoon and shot the breeze. It’s winding down here and Wales was even more tired than I was. Here’s what he said through post-party yawns on a couple of topics.
He talked to Bill Gates last night about the flap concerning Microsoft paying someone to edit a wikipedia entry. Wales said the whole incident was blown out of proportion on the web. Still, he said that wiki culture discouraged people from editing an item on behalf of a particular organization or corporation, especially if they are getting paid. A dispute resolution process is well-established on wikipedia. Just send the correction to a discussion page, make it public in good faith and let the wiki community around the world see and discuss your point. They will make changes. Anyone can complain and challenge and many do but it is up to the community, not one paid person, to make the changes, said Wales. “That process is so much healthier.”
What happened was that two articles were written about two competing formats, one favored by IBM and one by Microsoft. Wales said the articles were too arcane for him to follow. Microsoft felt one or both were inaccurate and biased against its standard. Wales said “I have no idea if they were right. I read them but didn’t get it.”
Microsoft then went to an outside expert, according to Wales, who is well-known in the field and paid him to correct what it saw as mistakes. This person blogged on his own site that he was doing it—so it went public. At that point, the whole incident blew up on the blogosphere.
That’s version from Wales. “This was pretty much a non-event,” he said. “It was a David vs. Goliath kind of thing, with Microsoft being the David.” Chuckle.
Wales also talked about his new for-profit open source search engine that he hopes will compete with Google. Wales has raised money for it. He thinks Google search is not transparent, you can’t see into the decision-making process. Open source is an alternative model for search. There are problems with spammers and the porno people but the community can deal with that as it does on wikipedia, said Wales.
Maybe so Jimmy. Maybe so. I liked Wales. He’s pretty low-key, casual but he talked to Newsweek a couple of hours before he talked to me so he’s clearly getting the message out about his new for-profit ventures and his contretemps with Microsoft. And why not.
Jimmy’s wearing a red shirt to the soiree tonight. Time for me to get dressed, party and say goodbye.
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