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tv   Talk to Al Jazeera  Al Jazeera  January 16, 2016 2:30pm-3:01pm EST

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business grow. >> and just a reminder you can catch up with the latest of all the stories we're covering on our website. the address is website, including the choice of what goes on the front page, the article of the day, picture of the day, all of that is controlled fully by the community. >> in 2001, the internet entrepreneur created the open content encyclopedia and decided it should be free. the reference site is now the world's largest. >> we have a policy, "neutral point of view," that wikipedia itself shouldn't take a stand on any controversial issue. >> anyone can edit the user-generated pages, but
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wikipedia's model has been accused of leading to a gender bias. >> but the truth is-- you know, your-- sort of the typical kind of-- wikipedia editor is a 26-year-old-- tech, male, computer geek-- single--. >> what makes for a noteworthy wikipedia subject and what isn't relevant enough, is open for debate. also of concern - vandalism. >> once-- my entry said-- "in his spare time, he enjoys-- playing chess with friends". it's not actually true (laughter) at all! i would like to be that guy who plays chess. >> he could have cashed in, but wikipedia remains a non-profit organization over which he yields significant influence. just how much, he's not sure. >> and i'm trying not to find out-- (laugh) much like the queen of-- the u.k.-- who knows how power she has? but, as long as she doesn't try to find out, no one will ever know. >> i spoke to jimmy wales when he was in new york.
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>> if you were able to talk to your younger self, a guy who was involved in finance... you were out there, trading futures in chicago, and you told them that you were going to create a not-for-profit internet encyclopedia, what would he have thought? >> i would have thought, "cool, that's sounds great". you know? i was always an internet geek from very early on. i think i first got on the internet itself in 1989 - that's pre-web days. and-- yeah, so i was very excited about doing stuff online. so, yeah--. >> but it was a natural move then... being somebody who was so interested in the internet, and especially with the internet exploding in the '90s, to go over and try to do something-- for profit. you did a male-content website; then you decided to create an online pro-- for-profit encyclopedia. how did you get to that? >> well, i mean, it was a great time of innovation and
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experimentation. i always love to give - i give a talk to young entrepreneurs where, the title is, "failure: jimmy wales is really good at it". and talk about all the different kinds of things i did. i-- one of the things i did was-- the concept was-- ordering food online for-- for lunch in downtown chicago-- which was a great idea; but, boy, it was way too early. so i tried a lot of different things. and so the idea of an encyclopedia - a free encyclopedia for everyone - really captivated me. >> did you ever expect that it would have the kind of explosive growth it had? >> i always say i'm a pathological optimist. so i did think it could be big. i mean, i thought, you know, "this is a-- this is something i wish existed in the world. and i would use it a lot. and so, it seems like it could be big". but now, today, wikipedia is the number five website in the world. so in that sense, exceeded my expectations, for sure--. >> was there a moment where the optimist said, "oh, this isn't
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just going to be good; this is going to be an international phenomenon". >> obviously, we didn't n-- i mean, getting, you know, 20 articles written in two weeks wasn't really a fundamental change in the world, but it was like, "hmm, this might work". >> later on, you know, there were various moments when we were seeing the traffic was-- doubling-- every three-to-four months. so, you know, your first few doublings, it's not much. but then, you get to the point where like, you know, "oh, suddenly, we need two servers--". >> (overtalk). >> and then, we need four. and then, we need eight and 16. and that was a-- sort of the-- a real crunch time. >> at any point in that process, you could have said, "we're gonna get some ads into this," and you could have made it for-profit--. and-- of course, as you said, this is one (laughter) of the most visited websites in the world, and the company is worth-- if it were a for-profit company, it would be worth billions and you would be a billionaire. w-- why did you resist that? >> well, i mean-- so, part of it is just the unfolding of history.
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i don't regret it at all. but, at the time-- that w-- it was the only way forward, the only obvious way forward, to say, "you know, we need to-- we need to buy more servers. there is no business model here, so we're just going to try to get donations". and so, we just moved in that direction--. >> even if there were a business model, could it have succeeded-- do you think, if it had been for-profit? >> well, so this is the interesting thing. because, if we had gotten-- venture capital funding-- let's say we had-- we had been a year earlier or something, before the crash happened, and, if we had gotten-- you know, $10 million in funding, there's a lot that we would have never tried. we were actually forced-- we were kind of a child of the crash in the sense that, (throat clear) you know, if you see something-- you've got a community website, and you see, "oh, there's some problems here and there," your immediate thought is, "oh, we need to hire some moderators". so we would have gone out and hired moderators-- to do things. and, instead, there was no money for moderators. so we suddenly had to think in a very innovative way about, "how could the community moderate itself"? what are the things that we need
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to do in the community, the institutions we need to build of people so we have, you know, admins-- volunteer admins in the community? so the-- a lot of the social innovation came about because there was no way to hire people to do those things. and we would have never gotten very far--. >> so how does the organization work now? >> so everything you see on the website, including the choice of what goes on the front page, the article of the day, picture of the day, all of that is controlled fully by the community. >> so what happens then, when there is-- especially hot-button issues, when you've got... abortion rights or... gun rights, things that people are very passionate about where you've got people who are gonna go in and edit those pages with completely different opinions? so how does that get-- you know, who's the referee? >> so, basically, what we do-- wikipedia-- we have a policy, "neutral point of view," that wikipedia itself shouldn't take a stand on any controversial issue. and, as it turns out, if you get together a very kind, thoughtful-- catholic priest and a very kind, thoughtful planned parenthood activist-- they can come together, and they can say,
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"look. we're never going to agree-- about the topic of abortion. but we can still write a good summary of the issues". and so, the-- the catholic priest will understand wikipedia can't say, you know, "abortion is a sin". but it can say, "the catholic church position on abortion is thus-and-such. the pope has written this, and critics have responded that". so, those two people can, if they are kind and thoughtful people, at the end of the day, at the end of a period of work, they can point to the entry, and they can say, "yeah, that's good". >> well, what happens if those two kind people don't manage to agree? >> well-- it works more often than not. if-- if-- there are people who-- aren't so kind and thoughtful. and-- and they really have an agenda they push. and those people don't do very well in the wikipedia community. if you come in and--. >> but how do you stop them from getting their--. >> well, so we have-- a lot of behavioral policies. so, if you insist on continually "edit-warring," we call it, where you're just trying to push an agenda over and over, you'll be-- first thing, you'll be temporarily blocked.
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it's-- you know, "look. take a break, 24 hours or whatever". ultimately, people do get banned. activists come in and try to push an agenda, or pr people come in and try to push an agenda. so it actually works most of the time. but people do have to be banned, and it does happen. >> on the other hand, there's the argument that the model itself lends itself to bias, because of the fact that the people who are gonna have access to it and to be able to edit are-- almost by definition, have to be wealthier, they have to have access to the internet --. >> sure. >> they have to have computers. >> yeah. >> they have to have the time to be able to do that, which makes them generally-- and-- and the passion to do this kind of thing, which--. >> they have to have good grammar. (laugh). >> and good grammar, (laughter) which-- tends to make them-- not on the grammar side, but (laughter) that it makes... t-- tends to make them m-- much more male, fewer minorities represented, and, again, mostly voices from the developed world. >> yeah, that's absolutely right. although, people say, "isn't it true that wikipedia's, you know, only written by white men"?
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i say, "well, obviously, you've met the chinese wikipedians; they're all chinese men". but it is a problem. and it's one that we really are taking seriously in the sense that we know that-- you know, diversity in the community is very important. and it's not so much about overt bias in the entries; it's more-- you know-- people write about what they know and what they care about. and so, our community is very good about trying to make sure that, "okay, we want to reflect different viewpoints even if we don't hold those viewpoints ourselves". but the truth is-- you know, your-- sort of the typical kind of-- wikipedia editor is a 26-year-old-- tech, male, computer geek-- single-- you know, they're at a certain point in life-- typically, a college graduate, you know, reasonably well-educated, reasonably well-to-do. but that means that some entries-- so, if you go to our entry on the usb standard, which is, you know, usb plugs for your
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computer, and you want to learn about that, it's a fantastic entry-- really well-written. it's easy to understand. but-- the further down you go, it gets more and more technical. it's a really good entry. but, you know, as a parent, i can tell you our entries on early childhood development, well, they can be a bit thin. they're a bit thin, because your 26-year-old male, single, computer geek doesn't know anything about children, and doesn't think about it very much, (laughter) and just doesn't take an interest. at the foundation level, we are supporting-- various kinds of initiatives to try to address the problem. >> and-- that is a recent criticis-- criticism that you've faced, is that it's become tougher to edit. >> yeah. >> that m-- it really becomes inaccessible--. >> yeah. so we're--. >> --so-- the whole open, collaborative model gets narrower and narrower--. >> yeah. well we're-- we're getting closer. so we've invested a lot in our visual editor. it continues to improve. some people are now using it by default. and so, it's starting to be easier. so, when you click "edit," you should get-- it should look more like a word processing document. so something everybody's familiar with doing to make it easier for people to contribute. we-- we try to be welcoming to
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newcomers, but we know it's gotten harder. and, also, in the early days, it was really easy. you could-- you could be the first person to say, "new york city is a city in new york state". you know? and it's like, "okay, that's not a very good entry". >> yeah, right. >> but it was easy to get started. now, if you want to contribute to the entry on new york city, well, it's quite comprehensive; it's meticulously researched. >> there are more languages on wikipedia than there are countries in the world. coming up: jimmy wales on the linguistics of the the site.
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>> this is talk to al jazeera. i'm antonio mora. my guest this week, jimmy wales - an entrepreneur and founder of wikipedia.
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>> i know, early on, you-- were kept up at night worrying-- in your words, that "extreme rubbish" would find its way (laughter) on-- onto wikipedia. how concerned are you now about accuracy? because-- i mean, i don't-- i don't know the numbers-- i'm sure it's thousands of edits--. >> oh, yes. >> maybe more a day--. >> huge, huge. yeah, many, many thousands-- yeah--. >> so how do you possibly--. >> yeah. well--. >> --control that? >> so part of it is that communities inherently scale. so the more people you have editing, the more people, by definition, you have editing, the more people you have looking at it, the more people you have discussing things. i worry about, you know, we-- we seek to be comprehensive-- and that's a good thing, to be comprehensive. but we do have limits on what we can write about--. >> wikipedia's in all these different languages. >> yeah, yeah. >> so talk about controlling it. and i was looking at-- and, according to wikipedia two of your ten largest language editions are filipino language that aren't even-- the main language of the philippines.
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so how does that happen? >> well-- some of that, tho-- those numbers are a bit skewed in a way that i think we should do something about the list-- actually. so some languages have experimented with-- machine translations, or experimented with auto-generating entries from databases. i'm not a big fan of it, but it just shows that sometimes the article count number isn't really a valid count of activity. we have some more sophisticated measures, but they're hard to explain. >> you've been described as a benevolent dictator-- i've read that you prefer (laughter) "constitutional monarch". but, (laugh) as you know, constitutional monar-- monarchs living in england now don't have that much power. so how much power do you have? >> i-- i don't know. (laughter) and i'm trying not to find out-- (laugh) much like the queen of-- the u.k.-- who knows how power she has? but, as long as she doesn't try to find out, no one will ever know. no-- the truth is, in terms of power in the traditional sense-- very little. and that's by design, that-- basically, everything we do is-- consensus-based and open
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discussions. in terms of influence, i have an enormous amount of influence. and i-- i think one of the reasons i have enormous amounts of influence is that i've always stuck to the same principles and values that built the community. >> when you talk about quality, does it ever wrangle you that colleges and high schools will tell their students that wikipedia should not be used as a primary source? >> no. that's actually something that's very, very interesting. so our goal is to be as high quality as possible. but, when i was at college we weren't allowed to cite encyclopedia britannica-- not because of the quality, but because, i mean, you're in-- you're at a university now, and that's not the role of an encyclopedia in the research process. an encyclopedia gets you oriented. it should be a good quality introduction to a subject. but, at that level, you should be digging deeper. and so it's interesting. so we, having-- using wikipedia as an academic source is not really a goal that we have. >> do you care to have the same respect that an encyclopedia britannica has?
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or is the reality that you're much more important than the (laughter) encyclopedia britannica already? >> yeah, some of-- some of the latter. at the same time, we do want to-- you know, we want people to-- we want to be good enough that people can feel comfortable relying on it. we also want to make sure people are educated about-- wikipedia. so one of the things we do-- there's a very common, you know-- "citation needed". right? everybody knows this expression. because, in wikipedia, if somebody writes a claim and didn't put a footnote, and the claim seems a bit bold or possibly wrong, somebody will tag it and say, "citation needed". and, you know, i always say, "i wish the new york times would occasionally print, "citation needed," you know, (laughter) when they're reporting something. or, you know, put a note at the top saying, "we had a big argument in the newsroom as to whether this was, you know, good enough to run with. we didn't resolve the argument, but we're gonna give it to you. but here's a warning". right? warning sign: "we're not 100% sure about this. some people thought we shouldn't run it. we'll give it to you anyway". they never say that. so they always write in a very authoritative way even when they're not quite sure.
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and that's a little bit problematic. >> how big a problem is vandalism? >> i think sorta outright vandalism is-- you know, there's always some of it going on. and then, it's just a dull roar in the background; and we fix it, and it-- it-- it's not a major problem. i'm more worried about-- subtle vandalism. you know, people coming in and inserting something that seems plausible but isn't. particularly if the-- you know, it's-- it is v-- very difficult to vandalize the entry on barack obama. >> because so many people look at it every day--. >> because-- yeah, it's-- it's-- it's very well monitored. and, in fact, usually, it's semi-protected so that you have to have had an account for a while before you can edit it. but, if it's-- you know, a fairly obscure politician in a local city, and you put in something plausible but false, it might last longer than we would like. and-- and that's-- you know, that's not good. now, normally, it's also harmless. because it's-- it's-- you know, it-- if it's an accusation of something horrible, people will catch it very quickly. i always give this example.
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once-- my entry said-- "in his spare time, he enjoys-- playing chess with friends". it only lasted for a day or two, something like that. okay, but, i mean, it sounds great, but it's not actually true (laughter) at all. i-- i would like to be that guy who plays chess. "ah, yes--". >> doesn't happen... (laugh). >> doesn't happen. but what was interesting is, during that small period of time when it was vandalized to say that, a-- biography magazine-- picked that up, and-- and, basically, said it as if it were true. which meant n-- then-- then there was a source for it. i guess an otherwise respectable magazine said it. fortunately, i had already said, "no, this is wrong". so we didn't put it in. but-- we do get that-- that can happen sometimes, that-- an error in wikipedia then gets repeated. >> do you face censorship in-- in some countries--. >> we do. >> like china. >> yeah. uh-huh (affirm). >> you might have to deal with tough defamation and libel laws in other countries. so how-- how do you deal with that? >> well-- so, we have a very--
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principled stand. we'll-- we will never cooperate-- with government censorship. and we never have; we never will. which means that-- we try to be diplomatic. we try to reason with governments if they're doing something. oftentimes-- they-- they don't want to lose access to wikipedia; they know it's very important-- and very worthwhile. >> and, sometimes, if they-- once they begin to understand, "okay, like wikipedia is-- strives for neutrality," and so, it's not one-sided rants and things like that. still, not every government is comfortable with neutrality. so we still do face problems around the world. >> one of the recent developments is, because of the-- nsa spying, amongst other reasons, and because of the general p-- very positive trend, in my opinion-- trend towards-- encryption everywhere-- online-- so, the increasing security of the internet is a really
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important topic-- now, wikipedia is encrypted. every-- when you go to visit wikipedia, it's the same as going to visit your bank. no one can see what is being said between you and-- and-- and your bank, only that you're talking to your bank. what this means is that governments no longer have the ability to filter just certain pages out. so they used to do that. they would say, "oh, no. we'll just block these pages about, you know, opposition political figures," or whatever it might be. now, they don't have that option. now, they can either have all of wikipedia or none of wikipedia. and we're finding, by and large, they're opting for all of wikipedia. >> on the knowledge front, do you see google as-- a competitor? and-- and, if you do-- how do you compete as a non-profit with this behemoth? >> yeah. no, we don't really think of google as a competitor. but part of that is because we don't think about competitors at all. like it's just not in our nature. we've always been a community. and so, we don't think much about, you know-- how to defeat competition or-- or what it
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means. >> obviously, we have to-- you know, in terms of-- strategic thinking at the organizational level, so not in the community, but in-- in the wikimedia foundation, we do think about, "okay, what are some of the changes that are taking place on the internet? the shift to mobile, the rise of social networks, and so on, how does that impact us? how do we make sure that we stay nimble? how do we make sure we are on top of technology so that we don't get left behind"? and, obviously, thinking about google and-- and rankings and things like that is a piece of that work. but we don't really think of google as a-- as a competitor. they're not-- obviously, google-- sends us a lot of people, you know? (laughter) and, actually, one of--. >> an awful lot of people, i'm sure--. >> an awful lot of people, yeah. but, i mean, one of the interesting things about that is, if you think about-- you know, when you search. if you go to wikipedia right now, and you search for "queen victoria," i can pretty much guarantee you-- i haven't done this recently-- but wikipedia's going to be first or second link. but, when you type, "queen victoria," there's-- generally
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speaking, when i have checked it in the past, there's no ads. because what are you gonna sell someone who's-- searching about queen victoria? maybe a book about queen victoria. you know, it's like you're not really shopping. if you search-- you know, "cheap hotels in las vegas," guess what? wikipedia is nowhere to be seen. (laughter) lots of ads, lots of commerce is happening. so the truth is we fill in, you know, for google-- when people are doing information-based searches. so google-- we're, you know, symbiotic in a certain sense. so. >> you've got another project going on now that just debuted in the u.s., that's for-profit, but it also has a charitable component. >> yeah. very excited about it. so we're a mobile phone company-- tpo-- which stands for "the people's operator". and-- the idea of tpo is 10% of your bill goes to the cause of your choice-- 25% of the company's profits go to charity. our prices are a really good value in the market. so how can we afford that? and the answer is we cut out the marketing budget. so we say to you, "oh, well, you can stay with-- you know, one of
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the major four carriers, and-- they'll spend more than 10% of your money on tv commercials, billboards, magazine ads, newspaper ads, fliers in the mail, you know, you-- everywhere you turn, s-- physical stores, those are a very expensive form of marketing. or you can switch to us, and we'll spend 10% on something you care about. but what we ask in return is tell your friends, tell your family. >> still ahead on al jazeera: jimmy wales talks about politics and his proudest achievements.
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>> i'm antonio mora. you're watching talk to al jazeera. i'm speaking this week with wikipedia founder, jimmy wales. >> you're politically active in-- in-- in many ways. you attend-- w-- world economic forums. you advise governments. you write op-eds. but i'm confused.
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because, (laughter) as i read about you-- i've s-- i've seen that you are-- that you've said you're center-right, that you're a libertarian but you don't have a good opinion of the u.s. libertarian party. i've also read you support labour in-- in england-- so who are you? (laughter). >> well, i-- i always say-- so-- so the-- the most mysterious of that would be the labour party, i think. i actually married into the labour party-- you would say. my wife-- worked at number 10 downing street for many years with tony blair and his, you know, sort of-- new labour through and through. >> you marry into the labour party. tony blair not happy with the-- the recent election of-- the labour party leader. and-- you haven't been shy about your (laughter)-- i mean, you called-- jeremy corbyn, "extremely bonkers". >> yes. yeah--. >> so-- are you getting involved in british politics now? >> i try not to. i actually-- you know, twitter is very dangerous, because you sort of spout off and then it's in the news. but-- (laugh) but, yeah.
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no, i mean, i think it's-- it's-- it's really unfortunate, right, that-- the labour party has gone down a path of-- having-- the leader of the party-- they'll go into the next election with him as the leader. and he's not going to appeal to the mainstream; he's very, very extreme. i am center-- center-right. you know, i'm not a radical; i like to see slow, thoughtful change over time. >> you've disrupted the way-- people in the world get knowledge, or have access to knowledge. and you want people to have access to knowledge around the world-- in every way possible. quite the legacy for your-- for your daughters. what do you tell them-- especially the older one, who's probably old enough to understand-- about how view the world? >> well-- you know, i'm just like any parent, try to set a good example. for me, one of the things that i really, really value and hope that my children value is-- thinking. education, thinking. i'm upset by the fact that
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people seem to form opinions first and then scramble around looking for evidence to support their opinions. and i think that's a fundamental-- failing in our educational system, that we don't-- from an earlier age, really sort of say to people-- "train children like, you know-- you-- you-- you don't have the right to have an opinion until you've earned that right in your own heart, in your own mind, by understanding the topic". and-- well, that's-- for me, that's what i hope wikipedia helps people to do, is-- is, "let's learn about things and then have an opinion". >> as somebody that uses wikipedia, who knows how many times a day... i (laughter) will thank you. >> great! >> celebrity chef, marcus samuelsson. >> i've had the fortune to live out my passion. >> his journey from orphan to entrepreneur. >> sometimes in life, the worst that can ever happen to you can also be your savior. >> and serving change through his restaurants. >> we hired 200 people here
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