Auburn Magazine Summer 2007
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39 Auburn Magazine For Alumni & Friends of Auburn University W Wales is the founder of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia composed of articles on just about everything, from the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 to classic rock band ZZ Top . money or become famous, you might end up doing uninteresting things, which seems awful to me. Q: Your commercial flight just crash landed on a deserted island with no Internet connection. Which one of the following books will serve as your survival manual and why: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged; Lynette Por- ter’s Unlocking the Meaning of ‘Lost’: An Unauthorized Guide; the Oxford English Dictionary; or the Bible? A: The Oxford English Dictionary. This is the full version, right? My second choice would be Atlas Shrugged, but I have already read it, more than once, and I’d get bored of rereading it. But the Oxford Eng- lish Dictionary could provide nearly endless stimulation and amusement. Q: You also run Wikia Inc., a for- profit company that develops various Web sites to which lay people can contribute. What are some of your other projects? A: Campaigns Wikia (www.campaigns.wikia.com) aims to serve as a central meeting ground for people on all sides of the political spectrum who think that it is time for politics to become more participatory and more intelligent. Television tends to focus on the quick sound bites and “Cross.re”-style talking heads screaming at each other. … [Community-based Web sites] tend to generate calm and reasoned discussions. (Wales also recently announced plans to build a wiki-based search engine to rival Google and Yahoo.) Q: “Wookieepedia.” Explain. A: It’s a “Star Wars” wiki. It rocks. (www.wookieepedia.com) Q: If you wrote your own epitaph, how would it read? A: “He set knowledge free.” Wales is the founder of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia composed of articles on just about everything, from the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 to classic rock band ZZ Top. Created by Wales and a colleague in 2001, Wikipedia recently made the list of top 10 most-visited Web sites in the world, generating 7 billion page views a month. Wikipedia’s key feature—and the one that generates the most controversy among scholarly types—is that anyone can contribute to it. Know a lot about the Ming dynasty, Victorian architecture or the properties of cloud formations? You, too, can be an encyclopedia author. Wales, who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 “People Who Shape Our World” last year, is a former options trader who quit the finance industry to pursue the use of the Web to expand his own mind as well as the minds of others. The entrepreneurial wizard of odds, who grew up in Huntsville and now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., recently pulled back the curtain to answer a few questions for Auburn Magazine. Q: Which Wikipedia entry did you view most recently and why? A: I view so many Wikipedia entries, it is impossible to remember. (For the record, Wikipedia’s most-viewed entries include: Battle of Thermopylae; Naruto; United States; “Heroes” TV series; World War II; World War I; and List of Pokémon.) Q: You’ve identified “the child in Africa” as the ultimate beneficiary of Web-based knowledge. Do you relate to that child on some gut level and, if so, why? A: Well, the point is, the only thing that can make progress in the world is the individual human mind operating rationally. It is a tragedy that so many people do not receive the tools to enable them to learn how to do that. … The human mind is our greatest asset. If we think about how much of that goes to waste in the world, it’s truly a global problem.” Q: Name all Facebook groups to which you belong. A: “Hey Baby, I’m a Scientist…Isn’t that Cool? No? OK, I’ll Go Over There” “If Wikipedia Says It, It Must be True” “Access to Research Now!” “Researchers Researching Researchers” “Glorious Union of Peoples Named Wales” “Wikipedia Lovers!” Q: Which is more attractive, making money or becoming famous? A: Neither strikes me as particularly attractive, as compared to doing interesting things. If you do interesting things, you might make money or become famous. But if your goal is to make