The Washington Post

Wikipedia founder ‘cautious’ about Twitter

A tip for journalists from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales: Click on Wikipedia’s “Talk” tab for a highly-informed discussion of a particular topic or person. That part of Wikipedia, says Wales, features exchanges on points that “thoughtful Wikipedians aren’t sure of.”

Wales offered the advice in a 40-minute discussion this morning with Post reporters and editors. The Internet entrpreneur is in town for the Wikimania conference, which is being held at George Washington University.

Wales expressed satisfaction that his crowdsourced online encyclopedia has improved steadily as a reference for journalists over the years. “As a journalist, you should double-source everything,” said Wales, agreeing that we’ve “moved beyond the don’t-use-Wikipedia” phase. “When we’re doing our job well, we give you the references to dig deeper,” he said.

Wikipedia wants to dig not only deeper but wider, as well. The site, says Wales, has too much guy-based DNA, which is why Wikipedia is trying to attract more female editors. Asked to identify three areas in which the gender imbalance surfaces, Wales said it’s tough to break down the inconsistencies by topics. Yet he did say that, for example, coverage of prize-winning male authors is more robust than it is of comparable female authors. “The 26-year-old male computer geek isn’t reading female-written literature,” says Wales, referring to the Wikipedia demographic prototype.

Another example of the disparity, in Wales’s words: “Our coverage of scientific literature on childhood compared to [coverage of] the USB standard, which is incredible.”

No discussion of technology and journalism is complete without mentioning Twitter, which, according to Wales, hasn’t yet matured into a reliable source for Wikipedia entries. He said it would be “bizarre” for Wikipedia to use tweets as references. Blogs, he suggested, are in the same general referential territory.

Other thoughts:

*Wales is optimistic about the app model as a revenue stream for journalism. Apps, says Wales, enable impulse purchases.

*Wales dissed the efforts of newspapers to promulgate civility and community in their comments sections. But what about the new Gawker comments thing? “I don’t read Gawker,” Wales announced, adding that he had, indeed, read about the site’s much-discussed comments system.

*Wales pronounced himself satisfied with Facebook’s efforts to keep data private. “I use Facebook a lot, so I guess I must” be okay with its privacy protections.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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