Archive:Founder letter

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Letter from the Founder - April 2005


Jimbo Wales speaking at FOSDEM 2005 in Brussels, Belgium.
By Chrys.

Wikimedia's mission is to give the world's knowledge to every single person on the planet in their own language. As part of that mission, Wikipedia is first and foremost an effort to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality. Asking whether the community comes before or after this goal is really asking the wrong question: the entire purpose of the community is this goal.

I don't know of any case where there is a genuine tension between these two things, either. That is to say, the central core of the community, the people who are really doing the work, are all passionate about this point: that we're creating something of extremely high quality, not just building an online community for its own sake.

The community does not come before our task, the community is organized around our task. The difference is simply that decisions should always be made, not on the grounds of social expediency or popular majority or traditional credentials, but in light of the requirements of the job we have set for ourselves.

I do not endorse the view, a view held as far as I know only by a tiny minority, that Wikipedia is anti-elitist or anti-expert in any way. If anything, we are extremely elitist, but we are anti-credentialist. Attracting and retaining academic specialists is one of our goals. That is, we seek thoughtful intelligent people willing to do the very hard work of collaborating with others to be both accurate and balanced, and we don't accept anything less than that. A PhD is valuable evidence of that willingness, but it is not a substitute for these qualities.

There may be cases of PhDs who think that no one should edit their expert articles, or who can't stand seeing their point of view challenged, and have no patience for discussion. In these cases, their expertise is of limited value; if someone is unable to work in a friendly, helpful way in a social context, and feels that their credentials entitle them to the last word on a subject, this is a problem for them and for us. We will always have to make complex judgments about how to handle such situations.

I'm 100% committed to a goal of a "traditional encylopedia or better" quality for Wikipedia, and all of our social rules should revolve around that. Openness and inclusiveness are indispensible for us, but these are our radical means to our radical ends.