The TH Interview: Jimmy Wales—Wikifying Green Knowledge (Part One)


If Wikipedia is the reincarnation of the encyclopedia, the Wikia family of sites represents the rest of the library—not just the printed pages, but all the side conversations and muffled chatter. At least this is how Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales sees it. Wikia Green is one of the latest additions to this growing family of special interest, wiki-based subworlds. Wales wants readers to be able to dive into Wikia Green to satisfy burning curiosities on green science and technology, DIY, sustainable living, and policy, all while drawing on a knowledge base fashioned after Wikipedia's model of free licensing and community review. ::TreeHugger Radio

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The music you hear is Ratatat.
Full text after the jump.TreeHugger: For anybody not up to speed, give me the elevator speech: what is Wikipedia, and what's the goal?

Jimmy Wales: Wikipedia is a freely licensed, general-interest encyclopedia written by thousands of volunteers all over the world and in every possible language. Right now we've got just over 10 million articles in a couple hundred different languages. It's become ubiquitous on the internet as the go-to place for the basic information on just about any topic.

TH: But,we're not talking about Wikipedia today. We're talking about Wikia, and this is something that is just starting to come up on people's radar. There are multiple Wikias. How do these differ from what people find on Wikipedia?

JW: Imagine that you've walked into a traditional library and you look around and you see the encyclopedia. It's a set of about 30 books there on the shelf. Now look around and think of all the other books in the library, all of the other things people might want to do.

We have everything from people doing things like Uncyclopedia, which is a parody of Wikipedia (which is actually really funny). And we've got the WOW Wikia, which is the World of Warcraft Wikia with 70,000 plus pages detailing this one video game that people are so into. So it's every other kind of book or work that people can imagine.

We're really trying to support a lot of different kinds of communities doing a lot of different things: political activism, sports. A lot of TV show fanatics are building really deep sites like Lost, about the TV show "Lost." People are really putting a lot of effort into fleshing out all the obscure and arcane details of tge show, and it's just something people enjoy doing.

TH: You actually bought Uncyclopedia, didn't you?

JW: Yeah, that's right. It's funny. Every now and then I get an email from somebody with a link and they're like, "Do you know about this site? It's a parody of Wikipedia."
And I'm like, "Yeah. I kinda like it."

TH: So, you're talking about Wikia actually being a larger repository of knowledge than Wikipedia itself?

JW: Yeah, in theory. In terms of traffic I guess it depends in the long run, but in terms of the actual physical number of pages or entries it obviously could be a lot bigger because you can have people coming at things from a lot of different perspectives.

Of course one of those perspectives is the green perspective. And so we're going to be launching this Wikia Green which is the site that really is trying to look at everything in the world basically from that perspective.

TH: If somebody starts digging into Wikia Green, what are they going to find?

JW: Well, I think it's going to be a lot of different things because in certain ways I am expecting it to look similar in a lot of ways to Wikipedia, except it is going to be really focused on green issues, sustainability issues.

I have been giving as an example, if you look up the Wikipedia entry on Leonardo DiCaprio you are going to find out a ton of stuff about his acting career. It's all very interesting, but in terms of his political activism or his interest in green issues you'll get, maybe, two or three sentences. Here, that would be the focus. In other words, here's a certain celebrity. Where does he come down on these issues, and what does he have to say about it and what has he done or not done? Those kinds of things.

And then you would see the same thing about a lot of different companies. Exxon, for example. Well, Exxon in Wikipedia, it's going to be a very general article about the whole company and their history and this, that and the other. This would be something similar except again it's focused on the green perspective.

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