Jimmy Wales

Internet Entrepreneur and Founder of Wikipedia

Jimmy WalesWales was born in Huntsville, Alabama. He first attended Auburn University and later, the University of Alabama for his undergraduate studies. Afterwards, 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 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 became financially secure and independently wealthy.

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

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 “the free encyclopedia”, and Nupedia was mothballed. (Sanger did most of the early development of Wikipedia, while Wales mainly provided the necessary capital. Because Sanger was Wales’ employee, Wales considers himself the sole founder of Wikipedia, though Sanger continues to call himself the “co-founder”.)

In mid-2003, Wales set up the Wikimedia Foundation, a Tampa-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.

Wales is sometimes wryly referred to as Wikipedia’s “benevolent dictator” or its “God-King,” though he rarely tells the community what to do. Wired magazine’s Daniel Pink, while profiling Wikipedia for the magazine’s March 2005 issue, quipped that “The God-King drives a Hyundai.” Despite the creation of the Wikimedia Foundation, Wales retained ultimate control by appointing, in addition to himself, two business partners who are not active Wikipedia editors to the five-member board, thus effectively having a controlling three-vote majority, although he has stated that if the two members of the board who edit Wikipedia vote the same way on something, he will cast his vote in their favor, effectively giving them the controlling majority.

More recently, perhaps inspired by the success of Wikipedia, Wales has founded two for-profit projects: Wikia, which runs Wikiasari, a wiki-style search engine; and Wikicities, a wiki hosting service.

Wales was appointed a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School in 2005.