10 Questions for Jimmy Wales

The Wikipedia founder celebrates his website's 10th anniversary Jan. 15. Jimmy Wales will now take your questions

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Jill Greenberg / Corbis Outline

How did Wikipedia start?Anushka Gole, MUMBAI
Wikipedia was my second attempt at creating a free encyclopedia for everyone. The first attempt was called Nupedia, which was a failure. The model we used to try to create Nupedia was very top-down, very academic and not very much fun for the volunteers. I launched the Wiki in 2001, and it just grew and grew and grew.

Why did you decide to allow users to edit Wikipedia?Lewis Boone IV, KANSAS CITY, KANS.
The main reason we allow everyone to edit is quality. It's about allowing for an open, democratic dialogue to get the best possible entry that we can. The great beauty of the Internet is that it allows for a huge range of people to participate constructively.

Is the traditional encyclopedia dead?Peter Heidener, AARHUS, DENMARK
I'm not sure if it's dead, but it certainly is ailing--although it was ailing long before we came along. Britannica took a severe hit from Microsoft Encarta, which dramatically reduced the cost of the encyclopedia.

Does Wikipedia as it is now fulfill the expectations you had when you started it?Sharon Lecluyse, GHENT, BELGIUM
I remember, in the early days of Wikipedia, looking at a list of the top 100 websites and seeing an encyclopedia-reference site ranked around No. 50. I thought, If we do a really good job, maybe we can make it into the top 100. Now we're the fifth most popular website in the world, with over 400 million people visiting every month. It's much bigger than I expected.

Is Wikipedia financially sustainable?Joonpyo Sohn, SEOUL
We think it is. We exist through the donations of the general public. The vast majority of [them] come from our annual giving campaign. That gives us enough money for another year. Is it sustainable in the long term? I think it is, but time will tell.

Would you run ads if the need occurred? Or would you shut down Wikipedia?James Lillin, HAMBURG, N.Y.
We're opposed to having advertising on Wikipedia, but we will do what it takes to keep Wikipedia alive. In the event that the public was no longer willing to support us to the degree that we needed, we would first look at cost-cutting measures. We would eventually have to look at putting some ads in some obscure part of the site. [But] it's not something that we even think is likely to happen.

When is censorship of entries acceptable?Carlos Castellar, MIAMI
We need to make a very careful distinction between censorship and editorial judgment. Censorship is forbidding the publication of certain knowledge. Editorial judgment [means asking], Are these facts relevant? Are they verifiable? Every entry has to be subject to thoughtful editorial judgment. But it's never the case that we should accept censorship.

In what ways can the accuracy and integrity of information on Wikipedia be improved?Jawad Farooq, LONDON
By improving the software that's available to the community to monitor Wikipedia, the degree to which they can control things, diversifying the contributor base. We're very, very good on topics that are of interest to the late-20s, early-30s tech-geek male because that's our core contributor group. We need more participation in topics outside that range.

Do you worry that WikiLeaks is giving Wikipedia a bad name?Dennis Pope, RIVERSIDE, CALIF.
We have absolutely nothing to do with WikiLeaks. We shouldn't get credit for it, and we shouldn't get criticized for it. I've had a couple of cringing moments where I see some head of state who makes the error, and I'm like, Oh, come on.

What lie would you allow on your Wikipedia page?Jeremy Parilla, TAGUIG CITY, PHILIPPINES
[Laughs.] It should say, "He always has a clever response to every question." Absolutely a lie.