The role Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, plays at the organization that supports the user generated and edited encyclopedia is changing as he shifts more of his time to activities in the wiki and open source communities, and shares time with his for-profit venture, Wikia.
But despite a much busier schedule, he believes he'll be able to keep up with the new changes, and they'll give more people in the community a chance to step up and shine. The organization that collects the donations that support Wikipedia and other wiki projects, the Wikimedia Foundation, in fact, plans to double in numbers over the next year or so as it tries to build itself into a model organization similar to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Wales talked about his changing role at the Wikimedia, plans for the future, and other topics during an interview with IDG News Service.
Wikia has been up and running for a few years now, how are you splitting time between the company and the foundation?
My main role in the for profit company is really sort of high level vision, design of where we're going. Gil [Penchina, CEO of Wikia] takes care of a lot of the day-to-day stuff at Wiki, so that frees me up to take care of community stuff.
On the foundation side, it's been great. In the early days, I used to literally do everything. There's always been this idea of Wikimedia being like the Red Cross of information. It needs to be a real organization (like the Red Cross) that is sustainable without me, and this transition has really helped make that happen. It's allowed others to come in and fill new roles, and I'm not in the limelight as much as before. But it's been a lot of work.
How close do you see the Wikimedia Foundation to becoming more like a Red Cross, a foundation that the open source and free software communities can use as a model for building a sustainable organizations?
The foundation as an organization, in two or three years, we think will be a "model" organization that people can look to. In the past, I would say that is not the case. Wikipedia (by contrast) has been very well run. The foundation behind it has not been nearly as on top of things. We've had a lot of growing pains.
It was a purposeful decision to make the foundation as lean and mean and efficient as we could, because that way we don't have this enormous overhead expense to worry about. Particularly in the early days, we didn't know how funding was going to go. Now that we're a little more financially comfortable and we have a bit more experience with fund raising, we are reaching out to major donors, we are getting the capacity to write grant proposals. We're getting more comfortable to say okay, we can add more staff to actually do more things and become a more professional organization which is a great relief to a lot of people in the community because traditionally, it's been difficult to get the foundation to do things because there isn't anyone to do things.