Wikipedia founder says he's no businessman

By Sam Holmes

SYDNEY - Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales believes he's not much of a businessman despite starting and growing one of the world's most popular websites.

Having preached the virtues of open content for the past few years, Mr Wales is now turning his attention to promoting Wikia, the for-profit arm of the nascent knowledge kingdom.

The 40-year-old American earlier this month unveiled plans for Wikia to launch a new search engine to rival Google and Yahoo, which he believes could capture five per cent of the search market.

Six years after founding Wikipedia, the former futures trader says profit is yet to become a significant driver of his business or his life.

Wikia, which is commercially independent of the encyclopedia site, secured about US$4 million ($5.65 million) in venture capital from a range of investors and additionally received US$10 million from online book seller Amazon.

"I'm not much of a businessperson," Mr Wales said.

"I just think, if we provide something people enjoy, they'll come and we'll figure out how to make money. How much money? I don't know.

"I don't really get analysts on these things, I just do what I think sounds cool."

According to one count, Wikipedia is currently the world's 11th most popular site in terms of web traffic. But unlike recent commercial hits such as YouTube or MySpace, Wikipedia is yet to draw a long list of suitors.

The encyclopedia is part of the charitable Wikipedia Foundation and does not contain any online advertising unlike Wikia, which features more specific content.

Wikia allows users to organise information in much the same way as Wikipedia but is tailored to developing niche-focused content for affinity groups, such as Star Wars or Muppets fans.

Mr Wales believes that while making the concept commercial inevitably affects people's expectations of standards, it does not change the way knowledge is shared.

"When we're moving out part of the tradable element, people are building things that they don't expect have a great charitable purpose," he said.

"They expect a higher degree of customer service in exchange for the ads put on site.

"If you're going bowling with your friends, the bowling alley as a commercial enterprise doesn't really impact your game."

Mr Wales makes his first visit to Australia next month to speak at a conference hosted by technology agency Education.au on a range of matters including Australian copyright laws.

He says the novelty of the jet-set life has yet to wear off and that he would likely travel more if he had more money.

But so far, being able to cast vision, build communities, meet people and see the world is enough incentive for him to see Wikipedia and Wikia grow.

"I go to parties with Bono and things like that, so I don't know what I'd do with more money, exactly," he said.

"I suppose I could have my own jet instead of riding in commercial jets but I'm just not that interested in that.

"Really, it's about doing something creative that I find stimulating."

- AAP

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