Jimmy Wales

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Jimbo Wales speaking at FOSDEM 2005 in Brussels, Belgium.
Jimbo Wales speaking at FOSDEM 2005 in Brussels, Belgium.

Jimmy Donal "Jimbo" Wales (born August 7, 1966) is a U.S. Internet entrepreneur and a wiki pioneer who is best known as the founder and leader of Wikipedia, an international collaborative open-source free encyclopedia on the Internet.


Early life

Wales was born in Huntsville, Alabama. His father was a grocery store manager while Wales was growing up (his father has since retired). Wales's mother Doris and grandmother Irma ran a small private school, "in the tradition of the one-room schoolhouse," where he also went to school. There were four children in his grade most of the time, so the school grouped together first through fourth grade and fifth through eighth grade. A Time magazine interview incorrectly reported that Wales was home schooled. Strictly speaking Wales was not, but he did note that his schooling experience was "in a sense similar" since his mother and grandmother were his primary teachers. Students had a fair amount of freedom to study whatever they liked; the school's philosophy of education was significantly influenced by Montessori. Wales spent many hours poring over the World Book Encyclopedia during this time. After eighth grade, Wales went to Randolph School, a college prep school, which was and is an early adopter of student computer labs and other technology for direct student use. This prep school was expensive for the family, since they had few means, but Wales reports that his family believed education was very important: "[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 undergraduate degree from Auburn University and his masters from the University of Alabama. Later, he took courses offered in the Ph.D. finance programs at the University of Alabama and Indiana University. He taught at both universities during his postgraduate studies, but he did not write the doctoral dissertation required to earn a postgraduate degree at these institutions. Wales went on to become a futures and options trader in Chicago, and within a few years had earned enough to "support himself and his wife for the rest of their lives." (March 2005, Wired article)

In 1996, Wales founded a search portal called Bomis which sells original content, and included a "Bomis Babes" blog based on Slashcode. Wales is no longer president or CEO of Bomis, and now devotes most of his time to his wiki projects.

In March 2000, he founded a peer-reviewed open-content encyclopedia Nupedia.com ("the free encyclopedia"), and hired Larry Sanger to be its editor-in-chief.

Recent work

Development of Wikipedia

Main article: History of Wikipedia

On January 15, 2001, Wales and Sanger set up Wikipedia, a similar wiki-based site intended for collaboration on early encyclopedic content before submitting it to Nupedia for peer review. Wikipedia's rapid growth soon made it the dominant project and Nupedia was mothballed. Sanger did most of the early development of Wikipedia, while Wales mainly provided the necessary capital. Because Sanger was Wales's employee, Wales considers himself the sole founder of Wikipedia, though Sanger continues to call himself the "co-founder". Sanger has since dropped out of the project. His resignation can be seen at his Wikipedia user page. Sanger has since criticised Wales's approach to the project - [1] - painting Wales as being "decidedly anti-elitist". Wales disagrees with Sanger's viewpoint, saying that he was not anti-elitist, but "perhaps anti-credentialist. To me the key thing is getting it right. And if a person‘s really smart and they‘re doing fantastic work I don‘t care if they‘re a high school kid or a Harvard professor, it‘s the work that matters. ... You can‘t coast on your credentials on Wikipedia... you have to enter the marketplace of ideas and engage with people."

Jimmy Wales in Paris, France
Jimmy Wales in Paris, France

In mid-2003, Wales set up the Wikimedia Foundation, a St Petersburg, Florida-based non-profit organization, to support Wikipedia and its younger sister projects. Since then, he has become increasingly involved with promoting and speaking about the foundation's projects. As of 2005, Wales is the foundation's president and chairman of the board.

In 2004, Wales had been quoted as saying that he spent around US$500,000 on the establishment and operations of his Wiki projects. By the end of the foundation's February 2005 fund drive, the Wikimedia Foundation was being supported entirely by grants and donations.

Other projects

More recently, perhaps inspired by the success of Wikipedia, Wales has founded the for-profit company Wikia, which hosts various wikis, and manages the Wikicities project.

Wales was appointed a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School in 2005. Later that year, on October 3, Wales joined the Board of Directors of Socialtext, a provider of wiki technology to businesses (Socialtext press release).

In order to promote Wikimedia, Wales travels the world, both to conferences and Wikimedia functions (like "Wikimeets" and Wikimania). He has frequently been engaged as a speaker.


Published works

  • Robert Brooks, Jon Corson and J. Donal Wales, "The Pricing of Index Options When the Underlying Assets All Follow a Lognormal Diffusion", in Advances in Futures and Options Research, volume 7, 1994. Abstract available online from the Social Science Research Network [2].


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