Jimmy Wales: Founder of Wikimedia Foundation

Venture description

Wikipedia (founded 2001), which lead to the foundation of Wikimedia (founded 2003). Wikimedia manages Wikipedia and its sibling projects as a non-profit. 

Wikipedia is a free and open online encyclopedia. Wikipedia attempts at a “neutral point-of-view” and utilizes user-generated and user-curated content and for the most part is user-managed. The proposition of a free encyclopedia was unheard of when Wikipedia was founded in 2001 and proposed to bring knowledge to anyone with an internet connection.  

As history has proven, Wikipedia has been enormously influential.  Jimmy Wales was named one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2006 and Wikipedia is consistently ranked in the top 15 websites by Alexa. Additionally, Wikipedia has been a distributive technology affecting the web as a whole as we move towards Web 3.0 with an emphasis on user content.

The Founder

Jimmy Wales studied finance and received both an undergraduate and masters degree in the field and then pursed professional work.  He was interested in the internet and as hobbies coded as well as played virtual role playing games.

When working in the finance world, specifically in futures and options trading, he saw first hand the successes of the internet industry.  During this time, around 1995, the dot com was booming and he chose to leave finance to pursue internet entrepreneurship. It appears that Jimmy Wales had no commercial experience with the internet nor experience in management and was unqualified to pursue internet entrepreneurship.  Potentially, his understanding of the inner workings of financing or his business vision proved to be valuable.

Jimmy Wales was right in the middle of the dot com boom.  He first founded a site, BOMIS, in 1996, as an internet portal with some content geared towards a male audience (sporting activities, automobiles, and women). Nupedia was then founded by the company BOMIS in 2000 as an online encyclopedia.  Nupedia acted as a collaborative content curation website, using the new technologies of wiki for collaborative online editing, but the process to publish articles followed stringent academic processes such as peer-review ultimately lagging growth of the website. Wikipedia was then founded by BOMIS in 2001 to help develop content at a faster rate for Nupedia.  Ultimately, Wikipedia, developed the fastest and both the projects BOMIS and Nupedia were concluded.

All of the above ventures are originally designed to be for-profit businesses and it appears that an underlying motivation was financial. The decision was made in late 2002 to not host advertising on Wikipedia and to run Wikipedia as a non-profit. This is likely to be influenced by the dot com crash in 2002 which made it extremely difficult to earn revenue online and led to the decline of the BOMIS website.

Wikimedia Board of Trustees

The current Wikimedia board of trustees consists of extremely accomplished individuals and contain diversity in gender and nationality.  Members of the board of trustees range from business executives to non-profit founders and scholars.  The skills within the team are very diverse and suited for the needs of Wikimedia including high level management, education, open technologies, digital technologies, law, and activism. In addition to believing in what Wikipedia does, many of the board members believe in social communities/democracy and share the goal to empower under-represented groups.

One of the ten members of the board of trustees is Dr. James Heilman, a UBC faculty member of emergency medicine. Dr. James Heilman found Wikimedia Canada and continues to improve Wikipedia’s medical content, often collaborating with other organizations and institutes.

Want more?

Listen to the How I Built This episode on Wikipedia: Jimmy Wales (2018)

( Average Rating: 4.5 )

2 responses to “Jimmy Wales: Founder of Wikimedia Foundation”

  1. paul johnson

    5 stars for Wikipedia! I like that Jimmy Wales entered the tech space motivated by profits and yet has created a very influential knowledge exchange that everyone is familiar with, which runs as a non-profit! I understand that existing as a non-profit can in itself be a marketing tool but, either way, the influence of what he created is undeniable. How world-changers change the world can be an interesting thing, and not always a clear path. Great choice choosing Wikimedia and Jimmy Whales for the founder’s parade.

    ( 0 upvotes and 0 downvotes )
  2. tiffany ku

    I vividly remember Wikipedia as a foundational website in the early stages of the internet, and it continues to be a big presence in the online world. I certainly found it very interesting how Jimmy Wale’s vast range of experiences that he collected through his many jobs eventually led to the creation of Wikipedia. I can sense his determination as an entrepreneur through reading his bio, when he struggled being unqualified or not in the right place at the right time, yet he made a detour, picked up skillsets that he needed, and found a way in. I appreciate the talented people he surrounds himself with and the diversity in their board of trustees (60% women and 40% men), and their continuous work in advancing quality public education and activism.

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