Jimmy Wales, the self-made guru of mass content and co-founder and chair of Wikia, Inc., is many things: A founding father of the open-source movement, a visionary internet entrepreneur, a tech pundit, and a media darling. The founder of Wikipedia has managed to -- for the most part -- stay above the backbiting that characterized the online encyclopedia as it mushroomed into the unstoppable arbiter of truth, usurping the mantle of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
With a bundle earned through options trading, Wales became a very early dot-com player, co-founding Bomis, an internet portal, in 1996. Bomis found its niche in erotica and adult content, making enough revenue from ads and paid subscriptions for premium X-rated content to support a few more intellectual sites.
One of those Bomis-funded projects was Nupedia, a stab at an online encyclopedia that Wales founded in 2000 with a single employee, Larry Sanger. At first, Nupedia followed the principles of academic journals, with an author submitting work that was then passed around for peer review, a process that seemed glacial in the dot-com boomtime. Things took off in 2001, when they launched Wikipedia, an experimental version using the wiki platform, which lets multiple people write and edit a page at the same time.
Jimmy Wales is co-founder and chair of Wikia, Inc.
In fact, Wikipedia was an early example of what has become the dominant model for internet content: Provide free tools for user-generated content, let the public have at it, and automatically place ads everywhere. However, Wikipedia, known for its snooty approach to contributions, has remained pure, forgoing advertising revenue and relying on donations. In 2003, Wales set up the Wikimedia foundation, a not-for-profit organization, and gave the foundation full and sole interest in Wikipedia.
Next, Wales co-founded Wikia, a venture-funded, for-profit company that's a more wild and wooly version of Wikipedia. If Wikipedia was a controlled experiment in user-generated content, with Wikia, Wales now aims to enable personal publishing on a similarly grand but less rigid scale.
On Wikia, individuals or groups can own their own wikis -- and ads appear all over the place. Wikia has more than 1 million pages of content in 70 languages, created by 350,000 or so registered users.
In 2008, the company launched WikiaSearch, a user-edited search platform. In February 2009, it got serious about ad sales, hiring Bob Huseby for the new position of senior vice president and publisher. He's tasked with creating sponsorship packages for consumer brands to integrate their messaging into the various Wikia communities.
Much-recognized for his contributions to internet culture and the information economy, Wales remains chief spokesman for Wikia, as he helps guide the future direction of the information economy. He's a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and a member of the board of directors of Creative Commons.
At the same time, as chair of Wikia, he's grappling with the same business-model conundrums as thousands of other publishing executives.
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