Wikipedia != Jimmy Wales

by on March 5, 2008 · 4 comments

What he said:

Personally, I couldn’t care less whether Jimbo is sleeping with Rachel Marsden (other than the fact that she appears to be insane), or what they say to each other in their IM chats. I don’t care whether Jimbo has had marital problems, or whether he’s had disagreements with the foundation over his expenses. All that says to me is that he’s human, and has made mistakes.

But the implication is that because he’s made some mistakes in his personal life, that somehow Wikipedia itself is demeaned or invalidated in some way, as though someone had discovered that Mother Theresa was skimming money, or running drugs through the orphanage. To me, Jimmy Wales is nothing more than the guy who set Wikipedia in motion; it has become much more than a one-man show, if it ever was. What he does in his personal life is of no interest to me, nor do I think it’s particularly relevant to what matters about Wikipedia.

I think this is roughly akin to the argument that because Enron was cooking its books, capitalism is fatally flawed. Wikipedia is a large community of people that’s fundamentally defined by its decentralized decision-making process. Jimmy Wales has more influence than anyone else in that community, but his benevolent dictatorship is sharply constrained by the need to keep the foot soldiers happy. Whether he’s personally corrupt (and just to be clear, none of the dirt that’s been dug up thus far proves anything of the sort) or not is beside the point, he’s grown the site to the point where it could easily carry on without him.

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