#528: Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia, on Wikipedia’s Real Genesis Story, Best Business Decisions, Understanding Financial Markets, Developing a Questioning Mind, and the Value of Optimism | The Tim Ferriss Show

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Key Takeaways

  • Imagine a world where every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge, that is what Wikipedia is
    • The exponential value of user-generated content is incredible when moderated correctly
    • But it is weird to look at your own Wikipedia page, “It’s your obituary but it’s written while you’re alive”Jimmy Wales
  • “If you design (your internet space) for the worst people, you fail to design for good people” – Jimmy Wales
    • Internet spaces need to have participation incentive structures that align with a universal code of conduct to be fair and productive for everyone
    • “The minute anyone gets online, in whatever space you’re in, you’re subjected to the design elements of that space” – Jimmy Wales
  • Jimmy Wales Startup Advice: Your career is not doomed if your startup fails, the lessons you learn along the way are invaluable. You’ll always have the opportunity to go back to the big company if need be. Society should encourage and appropriately recognize innovation and even just the attempt at innovation.
    • Having a backup plan can help you take more risks with your real passions
  • Author Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism had a profound impact on Jimmy Wales’ entrepreneurial outlook 
    • “If what you draw from Rand’s philosophy is the idea that you have a fundamental moral responsibility to think about what’s right and what’s wrong for you, that’s good” – Jimmy Wales

Intro

  • Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) is an internet & technology entrepreneur and is most well known for creating Wikipedia. Jimmy and Tim discuss the genesis of Wikipedia, analysis of modern internet spaces, and the beauty of entrepreneurship.
  • Host: Tim Ferriss (@tferriss)

Jimmy Wales

  • Born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama but it wasn’t like you would think…
    • After World War II, Huntsville was actually where they migrated all the German rocket scientists to work on the space program.
    • At one point, Huntsville had the highest amount of PhDs per capita in the U.S 
    • “The scientists were like our hometown sports team”Jimmy Wales, which is how he got introduced to technology
  • Jimmy’s mother was a school teacher in a one-room schoolhouse where there were 4 grades together at a time
    • She created a very unstructured educational program that nurtured his entrepreneurial mindset and passion for searching for deeper knowledge
  • In high school, he was very interested in finance and the stock market and went on to study it in college and professionally
    • Jimmy appreciates the intellectual challenge and extreme rationality
    • He works on long term value investments, not timing the market
    • Compound interest is so valuable for the young investor to understand

Startup Journey

  • He worked in Chicago as a stock advisor for a financial firm, since the markets were only open until early afternoon, so he had plenty of time to explore his programming hobby
    • Jimmy was writing his own web browser when Netscape went public with a massive valuation. Knew his product wasn’t better but it was good enough to receive a fraction of that valuation.
    • Initially had ideas for online auto sales and online food ordering but both industries looked at him like he was crazy, so he then transitioned to his own ideas
    • Felt he could take risks with his ideas because he always had the financial markets to fall back on
  • Bomis – Web directory search engine, known as a webring which links relevant websites together. This was Jimmy’s first successful project.
    • Functioned on a user-generated content concept, as Wikipedia would eventually use
  • Slashdot – Popular news site that open-sourced their code
    • Jimmy used this code to open various different blogs to leverage the web traffic they already had with Bomis
  • At the dotcom boom, NBC contracted Bomis to attempt to compete in the internet market against companies like Yahoo
    • Negative profitability led to contract disagreements
  • Startup Advice: Your career is not doomed if your startup fails, the lessons you learn along the way are invaluable. You’ll always have the opportunity to go back to the big company if need be. Society should encourage and appropriately recognize innovation and even just the attempt at innovation.
    • Many startups begin with a guaranteed audience of 1-2 people
    • Scratch your own itch, you’ll never regret it

Wikipedia

  • This was the point where they started the encyclopedia project Nupedia which eventually assimilated into Wikipedia
    • Wikipedia was a child of the dotcom crash
    • The lack of money from investors resulting from the crash led them to really lean into the volunteer and community aspect in their moderation and contribution model for Wikipedia
    • Found the community model to be better at the peer review process than small academic research panels
  • Wiki – website that anyone can edit
    • A good Wikipedia contributor can uphold neutrality and use reliable resources without letting their political or other biases influence the content
    • Wikipedia would never introduce any sort of like system because it is very un-human and leads to biased motives that don’t match the values of an encyclopedia
  • Jimmy Wales tries not to pay too much attention to his own Wikipedia entry
    • “It’s your obituary but it’s written while you’re alive”Jimmy Wales
    • Wikipedia introduced and categorized him as an American Atheist, which is true but doesn’t centrally define him

Internet Spaces & Social Media

  • Twitter is a challenging platform for understanding people and conversation in Jimmy’s opinion
    • “The minute anyone gets online, in whatever space you’re in, you’re subjected to the design elements of that space” – Jimmy Wales
    • Block, report, or reply (yell, argue) are easy options for a response on Twitter which is unnatural to communication in real life
    • A ‘like’ is not social, it is the most limited form of human engagement
  • Usenet groups – Peer to peer system spread across many networks which made it uncensored but eventually devolved into more moderation after excessive abuse and flame wars
    • First discussion board Jimmy was apart of
    • Researched incentive structures involved with participation within early internet spaces:
      • Spamming advertisement?
      • Being the loudest yeller?
      • Pushing ideology?
        • Code of conducts are incredibly valuable for creating a safe and productive internet space
  • “If you design (your internet space) for the worst people, you fail to design for good people” – Jimmy Wales
    • Analogy: At a steakhouse, we don’t lock everyone in a cage at their table because they have a knife. We trust people to be good rather than limit the rare occurrence of a bad person using a knife.
    • Jimmy thinks this can be applied to social media. We should allow open-sourced editing of content and comments because more good than bad would come of it.

Objectivism

  • Wales’ objectivism influence derives mainly from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  • Ayn Rand is well known for her advocacy of free-market capitalism and rational self-interest
    • Rand’s ideologies often get misjudged as exaggeration or cartoonish
  • “If what you draw from Rand’s philosophy is the idea that you have a fundamental moral responsibility to think about what’s right and what’s wrong for you, that’s good” – Jimmy Wales
    • Whether you agree with her views on economics or politics is not the point; the point is that her philosophy is designed for you to have the freedom to establish your own moral rights and boundaries

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