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Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia speaks about global positioning software and how the web is loosening copyright practices on the Digital Giants series as part of the SuperPower Season on BBC.
Wikipedia was formally launched on 15 January 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger using the concept and technology of a wiki pioneered by Ward Cunningham. Initially Wikipedia was created as a complement and "feeder" to Nupedia, an expert-written online encyclopedia project, in order to provide an additional source of draft articles and ideas. It quickly overtook Nupedia, growing to become a large global project in multiple languages, and originating a wide range of additional reference projects.
Today Wikipedia includes 15 million freely usable articles in over two hundred languages worldwide, and content from a million registered user accounts and countless anonymous contributors.
Jimmy Wales is a self-avowed "Objectivist to the core"; Objectivism being an 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.
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 Hayek's 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".
From his background in finance and working as a futures and options trader, Wales developed an interest in game theory and the effect of incentives on human collaborative activity, a fascination to which he credits enabling much of his effort with Wikipedia. He has rejected the notion that his role in promoting Wikipedia is altruistic, which he defines as "sacrificing your own values for others", stating "that participating in a benevolent effort to share information is somehow destroying your own values makes no sense to me".
Digital Giants is a series of monologues in which the digital world's top thinkers share their visions of the future with the BBC from 8 to 19 March, online, on tv and on radio.
SuperPower is a season of programmes across online, radio and television, investigating how the internet affects lives and has become the catalyst for a fundamental change in societies around the world.
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