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Jimmy Donal "Jimbo" Wales ( ; born August 7, 1966) is an American Internet entrepreneur and a co-founder and promoter of Wikipedia. "The Wikipedia project was founded in January 2001 by Internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales and philosopher Larry Sanger," quoted from the April 25th, 2004 first-ever press release issued by the Wikimedia Foundation.


Wales was born in Huntsville, Alabamamarker. He attended a small private school, a university preparatory school, and then earned bachelor's and master's degrees in finance. While in graduate school, he taught at two universities. Wales later took a job in finance, and worked as the research director of a Chicago futures and options firm for several years. In 1996, he and two partners founded Bomis, a web portal that targeted males, and which hosted, and provided the initial funding for, the peer-reviewed encyclopedia Nupedia (2000–2003) and for its successor, Wikipedia.

In 2001, together with Larry Sanger and others, Wales helped launch Wikipedia, a free, open-content encyclopedia which enjoyed rapid growth and popularity.

a b g h i "Wales, though, was a businessman. He wanted to build a free encyclopedia, and Wikipedia offered a very rapid and economically efficient means to that end. The articles flooded in, many were good, and they cost him almost nothing. [...] In 2003, Wales [decided to] diminish his own authority by transferring Wikipedia and all of its assets to the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, whose sole purpose is to set general policy for Wikipedia and its allied projects. [...] Wales’s benign rule has allowed Wikipedia to do what it does best: grow. The numbers are staggering."

c "Wales focused on the bottom-up strategy using Web rings, and it worked. Bomis users built hundreds of rings—on cars, computers, sports, and especially 'babes' (e.g., the Anna Kournikova Web ring), effectively creating an index of the 'laddie' Web. Instead of helping all users find all content, Bomis found itself positioned as the Playboy of the Internet, helping guys find guy stuff."

d e f "The wiki [technology] quickly gained a devoted following within the software community. And there it remained until January 2001, when Sanger had dinner with an old friend named Ben Kovitz. [...] Over tacos that night, Sanger explained his concerns about Nupedia’s lack of progress, the root cause of which was its serial editorial system. [...] Kovitz brought up the wiki and sketched out 'wiki magic,' the mysterious process by which communities with common interests work to improve wiki pages by incremental contributions. If it worked for the rambunctious hacker culture of programming, Kovitz said, it could work for any online collaborative project. The wiki could break the Nupedia bottleneck by permitting volunteers to work simultaneously all over the project." As Wikipedia's public profile grew, Wales became the project's promoter and spokesman. Wales is historically cited as the co-founder of Wikipedia, though he has disputed the "co-" designation in declaring himself the sole founder. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundationmarker, the non-profit charitable organization which operates Wikipedia. He holds its board-appointed "community founder" seat. In 2004, he co-founded Wikia, a privately-owned, free Web-hosting service, with fellow Wikimedia trustee Angela Beesley.

Wales has been married twice and has a daughter with Christine, his second wife, from whom he is separated. He describes himself as an Objectivist and, with reservations, a libertarian. His role in creating Wikipedia, which has become the world's largest encyclopedia, prompted Time magazine to name him in its 2006 list of the world's most influential people. Wales is the de facto leader of Wikipedia; his exact position on the project is a matter of public and press debate.

Early life and education

Wales was born in Huntsville, Alabamamarker, in the United States. Sources differ about whether he was born on August 7 or 8, 1966. According to his 1997 marriage certificate (to Christine Rohan) and some other sources he was born on August 7, though on his driver's license his birthday is given as August 8. His father, Jimmy, worked as a grocery store manager while his mother, Doris, and his grandmother, Erma, ran the House of Learning, a small private school in the tradition of the one-room schoolhouse, where Wales and his three siblings received their early education. As a child, Wales was a keen reader with an acute intellectual curiosity, and, in what he credits to the influence of the Montessori method on the school's philosophy of education, "spent lots of hours pouring over the Britannicas and World Book Encyclopedias". There were only four other children in Wales' grade, so the school grouped together the first through fourth grade students and the fifth through eighth grade students. Wales is sharply critical of the government's treatment of the school, citing the "constant interference and bureaucracy and very sort of snobby inspectors from the state" as a formative influence on his political philosophy.

After eighth grade, Wales attended Randolph Schoolmarker, a university-preparatory school in Huntsville, graduating at sixteen. Wales has said that the school was expensive for his family, but that "Education was always a passion in my household ... you know, the very traditional approach to knowledge and learning and establishing that as a base for a good life." He received his bachelor's degree in finance from Auburn Universitymarker (notable for its free market economists) and entered the Ph.D. finance program at the University of Alabamamarker before leaving with a master's degree to enter the Ph.D. finance program at Indiana Universitymarker. He taught at both universities during his postgraduate studies, but did not write the doctoral dissertation required for a Ph.D., something which he has ascribed to boredom.


Chicago Options Associates and Bomis

In 1994, rather than writing his doctoral dissertation, Wales took a job with Chicago Options Associates, a futures and options trading firm in Chicagomarker, Illinois. By "speculating on interest rate and foreign-currency fluctuations," he had soon earned enough to "support himself and his wife for the rest of their lives," according to Daniel Pink of Wired. Wales had been addicted to the Internet from an early stage and used to write computer code as a pastime. During his studies in Alabama, he had become an obsessive player of Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs)—a type of virtual role-playing game—and thereby experienced the potential of computer networks to foster large-scale collaborative projects.

Inspired by the remarkable initial public offering of Netscape in 1995, he decided to become an internet entrepreneur, and in 1996 founded the web portal Bomis with two partners. The website featured user-generated webrings and that, according to The Atlantic Monthly, "found itself positioned as the Playboy of the Internet." For a time the company sold erotic photographs, and Wales described the site as a "guy-oriented search engine" with a market similar to Maxim s. Bomis did not become successful, but in March 2000 hosted and provided the initial funding for the Nupedia project.

Nupedia and the origins of Wikipedia

Though Bomis had struggled to make money, it provided Wales with the funding to pursue his greater passion, an online encyclopedia. While moderating an online discussion group devoted to the philosophy of Objectivism in the early 1990s, Wales had encountered Larry Sanger, a sceptic of the philosophy. The two had engaged in detailed debate on the subject on Wales' list and then on Sanger's, eventually meeting offline to continue the debate and becoming friends. Deciding to pursue his encyclopedia project years later, Wales invited Sanger—who at that time was a doctoral student in philosophy at Ohio State Universitymarker—to be its editor-in-chief, and in March 2000, Nupedia ("the free encyclopedia"), a peer-reviewed, open-content encyclopedia, was launched. The intent behind Nupedia was to have expert-written entries on a variety of topics, and to sell advertising alongside the entries in order to make profit. The project was characterized by an extensive peer-review process designed to make its articles of a quality comparable to that of professional encyclopedias.

In January 2001, Sanger was introduced to the concept of a wiki by extreme programming enthusiast Ben Kovitz after explaining to Kovitz the slow pace of growth Nupedia endured as a result of its onerous submission process. Kovitz suggested that adopting the wiki model would allow editors to contribute simultaneously and incrementally throughout the project, thus breaking Nupedia's bottleneck. Sanger was excited about the idea, and after proposing it to Wales, they created the first Nupedia wiki on January 10, 2001. The wiki was initially intended as a collaborative project for the public to write articles that would then be reviewed for publication by Nupedia's expert volunteers. The majority of Nupedia's experts, however, wanted nothing to do with this project, fearing that mixing amateur content with professionally researched and edited material would compromise the integrity of Nupedia's information and damage the credibility of the encyclopedia. Thus the wiki project, dubbed "Wikipedia" by Sanger, went live at a separate domain five days after its creation.


Early development

Neither Sanger nor Wales expected very much from the Wikipedia initiative. Wales, anticipating "complete rubbish", hoped that if they were lucky, Wikipedia might yield a couple of rough draft entries for Nupedia. To the surprise of Sanger and Wales, within a few days of launching the number of articles on Wikipedia had outgrown that of Nupedia, and a small collective of editors had formed. Many of the early contributors to the site were familiar with the model of the free culture movement, and, like Wales, many of them sympathized with the open-source movement. Wales has said that he was initially so worried with the concept of open editing that he would awake during the night and monitor what was being added. In spite of this, the cadre of early editors created the robust, self-regulating community that proved so conducive to the growth of the encyclopedia.

Sanger developed Wikipedia in its early phase and guided the project. The broader idea he ascribes to Wales, remarking in a 2005 memoir for Slashdot that "the idea of an open source, collaborative encyclopedia, open to contribution by ordinary people, was entirely Jimmy's, not mine, and the funding was entirely by Bomis", adding, "[t]he actual development of this encyclopedia was the task he gave me to work on." Sanger worked on and promoted both the Nupedia and Wikipedia projects until Bomis discontinued funding for his position in February 2002; Sanger resigned as editor-in-chief of Nupedia and as "chief organizer" of Wikipedia on March 1 of that year. In the early years, Wales had supplied the financial backing for the project, and entertained the notion of placing advertisements on Wikipedia before costs were reduced with Sanger's departure and plans for a nonprofit foundation were advanced instead.


Wales has asserted that he is the sole founder of Wikipedia, and has publicly disputed Sanger's designation as a co-founder. Sanger and Wales were identified as co-founders at least as early as September 2001 by The New York Times and as founders in Wikipedia's first press release in January 2002.
 —Larry Sanger. In August of that year, Wales identified himself as "co-founder" of Wikipedia. Sanger assembled on his personal webpage an assortment of links that appear to confirm the status of Sanger and Wales as co-founders. For example, Sanger and Wales are historically cited or described in early news citations and press releases as co-founders. Wales was quoted by The Boston Globe  as calling Sanger's claim as "preposterous" in February 2006, and called "the whole debate silly" in an April 2009 interview.

In late 2005, Wales edited his own biographical entry on the English Wikipedia. Writer Rogers Cadenhead drew attention to logs showing that in his edits to the page, Wales had removed references to Sanger as the co-founder of Wikipedia. Sanger commented that "having seen edits like this, it does seem that Jimmy is attempting to rewrite history. But this is a futile process because in our brave new world of transparent activity and maximum communication, the truth will out." Wales was also observed to have modified references to Bomis in a way that was characterized as downplaying the sexual nature of some of his former company's products.

b "Even Wales has been caught airbrushing his Wikipedia entry—eighteen times in the past year. He is particularly sensitive about references to the porn traffic on his Web portal. 'Adult content' or 'glamour photography' are the terms that he prefers, though, as one user pointed out on the site, they are perhaps not the most precise way to describe lesbian strip-poker threesomes. (In January, Wales agreed to a compromise: 'erotic photography')." Though Wales argued that his modifications were solely intended to improve the accuracy of the content, he apologized for editing his own biography, a practice generally frowned upon at Wikipedia.


In a 2004 interview with Slashdot, Wales outlined his vision for Wikipedia: "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing." The growth and prominence of Wikipedia made Wales an Internet celebrity. Though he had never traveled farther than Canada and Mexico prior to founding the site, Wikipedia saw him flying internationally on a near-constant basis as the public face of the project.

Wales' unpaid role in the Wikipedia community has been characterized as benevolent dictator, constitutional monarch and spiritual leader. He is also the closest the project has to a spokesman. Despite his non-intensive involvement in the day-to-day operation of the encyclopedia, Wales has denied intending to reduce his role, telling The New York Times in 2008 that "Dialing down is not an option for me ... Not to be too dramatic about it, but, ‘to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language,’ that’s who I am. That’s what I am doing. That’s my life goal."

Wikimedia Foundation

In mid-2003, Wales set up the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), a non-profit organization founded in St. Petersburg, Floridamarker, and based in San Francisco, Californiamarker. All intellectual property rights and domain names pertaining to Wikipedia were moved to the new foundation, whose purpose is to establish general policy for the encyclopedia and its sister projects. Originally its chairman, and an initial member of the Board of Trustees, Wales has held the honorary title of Chairman Emeritus of the foundation since 2006. His work for the foundation, including his appearances to promote it at computer and educational conferences, has always been unpaid. In a 2007 interview, Wales stated that he thought that "donating" Wikipedia to the foundation was both the "dumbest and the smartest" thing he'd done. On the one hand, he estimated that Wikipedia was worth US$3 billion; on the other, he weighed his belief that its donation made possible his success.

In March 2008, Wales was accused by former Wikimedia Foundation employee Danny Wool of misusing the foundation's funds for recreational purposes. Wool also stated that Wales had his Wikimedia credit card taken away in part because of his spending habits, a claim Wales denied. Then-chairperson of the foundation Florence Devouard and former foundation interim Executive Director Brad Patrick denied any wrongdoing by Wales or the foundation, saying that Wales accounted for every expense and that, for items for which he lacked receipts, he paid out of his own pocket. Later in March 2008, it was claimed by Jeffrey Vernon Merkey that Wales had edited Merkey's Wikipedia entry to make it more favorable in return for donations to the Wikimedia Foundation, an allegation Wales dismissed as "nonsense."


In 2004, Wales and then-fellow member of the WMF Board of Trustees Angela Beesley founded the for-profit company Wikia, Inc. Wikia is a wiki farm—a collection of individual wikis on different subjects, all hosted on the same website. It hosts some of the largest wikis outside Wikipedia, including Memory Alpha (devoted to Star Trek), Battlestar Wiki (Battlestar Galactica) and Wookieepedia (Star Wars). Another service offered by Wikia was Wikia Search, an open source web search engine intended to challenge Google and introduce transparency and public dialogue about how it's created into the search engine's operations, but the project was abandoned in March 2009. Wales stepped down as Wikia CEO to be replaced by angel investor Gil Penchina, a former vice president and general manager at eBay, on June 5, 2006. Penchina declared Wikia to have reached profitability in September 2009.

In addition to his role at Wikia, Wales is a public speaker represented by the Harry Walker Agency, which characterizes him as "the founder" of Wikipedia.


Wales in June 2008
Wales is a self-avowed "Objectivist to the core"; Objectivism being a rationalist and individualist philosophy developed by writer Ayn Rand in the 20th century. Wales first encountered the philosophy through reading Rand's novel The Fountainhead while an undergraduate, and in 1992 founded an electronic mailing list devoted to "Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy". Though he has stated that the philosophy "colours everything I do and think", he has said "I think I do a better job—than a lot of people who self-identify as Objectivists—of not pushing my point of view on other people." When asked about Rand's influence by Brian Lamb in his appearance on C-SPAN's Q&A in September 2005, Wales cited integrity and "the virtue of independence" as important to him personally. When asked if he could trace "the Ayn Rand connection" to having a political philosophy at the time of the interview, Wales reluctantly labeled himself a libertarian, qualifying his remark by referring to the United States Libertarian Party as "lunatics" and citing "freedom, liberty, basically individual rights, that idea of dealing with other people in a matter that is not initiating force against them" as his guiding principles. An interview with Wales served as the cover feature of the June 2007 issue of the libertarian magazine Reason. He rejects the notion that his mission in promoting Wikipedia is altruistic, which he defines as "sacrificing your own values for others", stating "[t]hat participating in a benevolent effort to share information is somehow destroying your own values makes no sense to me".

Wales cites Austrian School economist Friedrich von Hayek's essay "The Use of Knowledge in Society", which he read as an undergraduate, as "central" to his thinking about "how to manage the Wikipedia project". Hayek argued that information is decentralised – that each individual only knows a small fraction of what is known collectively – and that as a result, decisions are best made by those with local knowledge rather than by a central authority. Wales reconsidered the essay in the 1990s, while reading about the open source movement (which advocated that software be free and distributed). He was moved in particular by "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", an essay and later book by one of the founders of the movement, Eric S. Raymond, which "opened [his] eyes to the possibilities of mass collaboration".

Personal life

Wales has been married twice, and has one child. He met his second wife, Christine Rohan, through a friend in Chicago while she was working as a steel trader for Mitsubishi. The couple were married in Monroe County, Florida in March 1997, and had a daughter before separating. Wales moved to San Diegomarker in 1998, and after being dissuaded by the housing market there, relocated in 2002 to St. Petersburg, Floridamarker, where he has remained .

C "Greatest misconception about Wikipedia: We aren’t democratic. Our readers edit the entries, but we’re actually quite snobby. The core community appreciates when someone is knowledgeable, and thinks some people are idiots and shouldn’t be writing."

Wales had a brief relationship with Canadian conservative columnist Rachel Marsden in 2008 that began after Marsden contacted Wales about her Wikipedia biography. After accusations that Wales' relationship constituted a conflict of interest, Wales announced in March 2008 on his Wikipedia user page (and later on his personal blog) that there had been a relationship but that it was over and claimed that it had not influenced any matters on Wikipedia. Marsden claimed that Wales had made statements to the contrary via instant messenger, and further claimed that Wales ended the relationship "via an announcement on Wikipedia".

Honors, awards and positions

  • Mid-2005 — Wales is appointed as a member of the Berkman Center for Internet & Societymarker at Harvard Law School.
  • October 3, 2005 — Wales joins the Board of Directors of Socialtext, a provider of wiki technology to businesses.
  • 2006 — Wales joins the Board of Directors of the non-profit organization Creative Commons.
  • May 8, 2006 — Wales is listed in the "Scientists & Thinkers" section of the 100 influential people special edition of Time magazine.
  • June 3, 2006 — Wales receives an honorary degree of doctor of laws from Knox Collegemarker.
  • May 3, 2006 — The Electronic Frontier Foundation awards him a Pioneer Award.
  • 2006 — Wales is appointed to the advisory board of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.
  • January 23, 2007 — Forbes magazine ranks Wales twelfth in its first annual "The Web Celebs 25".
  • 2007 — Wales is recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the 'Young Global Leaders' of 2007.
  • May 2008 — Wales co-chairs the World Economic Forum on the Middle East 2008 in Sharm el-Sheikhmarker, Egypt.
  • 2008 — CORUM awards him The Global Brand Icon of the Year Award for 2008.
  • 2008 — Wales accepts on behalf of the Wikimedia project the Quadriga award of Werkstatt Deutschland for A Mission of Enlightenment.
  • October 30, 2008 — Wales is awarded the Business Process Award at the 7th Annual Innovation Awards and Summit by The Economist "for public collaboration as a form of product and content development."
  • November 04, 2009 — The Nokia Foundation annual award (2009).

Published work


  1. In support of this date, the Britannica article cites: * * *
  2. Wikia homepage. Retrieved on 2008-10-31.
  3. Wales, Jimmy (March 31, 2009). " Update on Wikia - doing more of what’s working". Retrieved on May 4, 2009.
  4. " Knox College Honorary Degrees", Retrieved on 2008-10-31.
  5. " People: Advisory board", Retrieved on 2008-10-31.

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