As co-founder of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, Wales helped create one of the wonders of our digital world. Launched as an experimental project in 2001, Wikipedia sprouted into a global community of volunteer contributors who have produced more than 45 million articles in 288 languages. Now the fifth-most-visited website in the world, it has become the first refuge for schoolchildren looking to mug up on photosynthesis and for adults wanting to settle an argument about who won the 1973 World Series. It also stands out as the only one of the top 10 sites that is not a commercial enterprise.
“The idea that, in your pocket, you’ve got this incredible storehouse of knowledge that’s completely free is kind of staggering, I mean, even today,” Wales says, as if he still cannot quite wrap his head around the phenomenon.
Setting up Wikipedia would count as a singular achievement in anyone’s career. But Wales is restless for more. From a cramped and anodyne office near London’s Paddington Station, the 51-year-old tech entrepreneur has spent the past few months planning a similar revolution in the news business. In a video announcing the formation of a new media organisation called WikiTribune, he grandly proclaimed: “The news is broken. But we’ve figured out how to fix it.”