# Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales
Wales in August 2019
Born
Jimmy Donal Wales

August 7, 1966 (age 56)
Other namesJimbo (screen name)
Education
Occupations
Title
SuccessorFlorence Devouard (as Chair of Wikimedia Foundation)
Board member of
Spouses
• Pamela Green
(m. 1986; div. 1993)
• Christine Rohan
(m. 1997; div. 2011)
• (m. 2012)
Children3 daughters
AwardsSee below
WebsiteOfficial website
Signature

Jimmy Donal Wales (born August 7, 1966), also known on Wikipedia by the pseudonym Jimbo, is an American-British Internet entrepreneur, webmaster, and former financial trader. He is a co-founder of the online non-profit encyclopedia Wikipedia and the for-profit wiki hosting service Fandom (formerly Wikia). He has worked on other online projects, including Bomis, Nupedia, WikiTribune, and WT Social.

Wales was born in Huntsville, Alabama, where he attended Randolph School, a university-preparatory school. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in finance from Auburn University and the University of Alabama respectively. In graduate school, Wales taught at two universities; however, he departed before completing a PhD to take a job in finance and later worked as the research director of Chicago Options Associates.

In 1996, Wales and two partners founded Bomis, a web portal primarily known for featuring adult content. Bomis provided the initial funding for the free peer-reviewed encyclopedia Nupedia (2000–2003). On January 15, 2001, with Larry Sanger and others, Wales launched Wikipedia, a free open-content encyclopedia that enjoyed rapid growth and popularity. As its public profile grew, Wales became its promoter and spokesman. Though he is historically credited as a co-founder, he has disputed this, declaring himself the sole founder.

Wales serves on the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, the charity that he helped establish to operate Wikipedia, holding its board-appointed "community founder" seat. For his role in creating Wikipedia, the world's largest encyclopedia, Time named him one of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2006.

## Early life and education

Wales was born in Huntsville, Alabama, shortly before midnight on August 7, 1966; however, his birth certificate lists his date of birth as August 8.[better source needed] His father, Jimmy Sr., was a grocery store manager, while his mother, Doris Ann (née Dudley), and his grandmother, Erma, ran the House of Learning, a small private school in the tradition of the one-room schoolhouse, where Wales and his three siblings received their early education.

As a child, Wales enjoyed reading. When he was three, his mother bought a World Book Encyclopedia from a door-to-door salesman. As he grew up and learned to read, it became an object of reverence, but Wales soon discovered that the World Book had shortcomings: No matter how much was in it, there were many more things that were not. World Book sent out stickers for owners to paste on the pages to update the encyclopedia, and Wales was careful to put the stickers to work, stating, "I joke that I started as a kid revising the encyclopedia by stickering the one my mother bought."

During an interview in 2005 with Brian Lamb, Wales described his childhood private school as a "Montessori-influenced philosophy of education", where he "spent lots of hours poring over the Britannica and World Book Encyclopedias". There were only four other children in Wales's grade, so the school combined the first- through fourth-grade students, and the fifth- through eighth-grade students. As an adult, Wales was sharply critical of the government's treatment of the school, citing the "constant interference and bureaucracy and very sort of snobby inspectors from the state" as a formative influence on his political philosophy.

After eighth grade, Wales attended Randolph School, a university-preparatory school in Huntsville, graduating at sixteen. He said that the school was expensive for his family, but that "education was always a passion in my household ... you know, the very traditional approach to knowledge and learning and establishing that as a base for a good life." He received his bachelor's degree in finance from Auburn University in 1986. He began his Auburn education when he was 16 years old. He then entered the PhD finance program at the University of Alabama before leaving with a master's degree to enter the PhD finance program at Indiana University. At the University of Alabama, he played Internet fantasy games and developed his interest in the web. He taught at both universities during his postgraduate studies but did not write the doctoral dissertation required for a PhD, something he ascribed to boredom.

## Career

### Chicago Options Associates and Bomis

The staff of Wales' Internet company Bomis photographed in summer 2000. Wales is third from the left in the back row, with Christine Rohan.

In 1994, Wales took a job with Chicago Options Associates, a futures and options trading firm in Chicago, Illinois. Wales has described himself as having been addicted to the Internet from an early stage, writing computer code during his leisure time. During his studies in Alabama, he had become an obsessive player of Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs)—a type of virtual role-playing game—and thereby experienced the potential of computer networks to foster large-scale collaborative projects.

Inspired by the remarkably successful initial public offering of Netscape in 1995, and having accumulated capital through "speculating on interest-rate and foreign-currency fluctuations", Wales decided to leave the realm of financial trading and became an Internet entrepreneur. In 1996, he and two partners founded Bomis, a web portal featuring user-generated webrings and, for a time, erotic photographs. Wales described it as a "guy-oriented search engine" with a market similar to that of Maxim magazine; the Bomis venture did not ultimately turn out to be successful.

### Nupedia and the origins of Wikipedia

Nupedia's logo

Though Bomis had at the time struggled to make money, it provided Wales with the funding to pursue his greater passion, an online encyclopedia. While moderating an online discussion group devoted to the philosophy of Objectivism in the early 1990s, Wales had encountered Larry Sanger, a skeptic of the philosophy. The two had engaged in detailed debate on the subject on Wales' list and then on Sanger's, eventually meeting offline to continue the debate and becoming friends. Years later, after deciding to pursue his encyclopedia project and seeking a credentialed academic to lead it, Wales hired Sanger—who at that time was a doctoral student in philosophy at Ohio State University—to be its editor-in-chief, and in March 2000, Nupedia ("the free encyclopedia"), a peer-reviewed, open-content encyclopedia, was launched. The intent behind Nupedia was to have expert-written entries on a variety of topics and to sell advertising alongside the entries to make a profit. The project was characterized by an extensive peer-review process designed to make its articles of quality comparable to that of professional encyclopedias.

The idea was to have thousands of volunteers writing articles for an online encyclopedia in all languages. Initially, we found ourselves organizing the work in a very top-down, structured, academic, old-fashioned way. It was no fun for the volunteer writers because we had a lot of academic peer review committees who would criticize articles and give feedback. It was like handing in an essay at grad school, and basically intimidating to participate in.

— Jimmy Wales on the Nupedia project New Scientist, January 31, 2007

In an October 2009 speech, Wales recollected attempting to write a Nupedia article on Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert C. Merton, but being too intimidated to submit his first draft to the prestigious finance professors who were to peer review it, even though he had published a paper on Option Pricing Theory and was comfortable with the subject matter. Wales characterized this as the moment he realized that the Nupedia model was not going to work.

In January 2001, Sanger was introduced to the concept of a wiki by extreme programming enthusiast Ben Kovitz after explaining to Kovitz the slow pace of growth Nupedia endured as a result of its onerous submission process. Kovitz suggested that adopting the wiki model would allow editors to contribute simultaneously and incrementally throughout the project, thus breaking Nupedia's bottleneck. Sanger was excited about the idea, and after he proposed it to Wales, they created the first Nupedia wiki on January 10, 2001. The wiki was initially intended as a collaborative project for the public to write articles that would then be reviewed for publication by Nupedia's expert volunteers. The majority of Nupedia's experts, however, wanted nothing to do with this project, fearing that mixing amateur content with professionally researched and edited material would compromise the integrity of Nupedia's information and damage the credibility of the encyclopedia. Thus, the wiki project, dubbed "Wikipedia" by Sanger, went live at a separate domain five days after its creation.

### Wikipedia

External video
Jimmy Wales: The birth of Wikipedia, TED, 2005
Q&A with Jimmy Wales, C-SPAN, 2005
Lecture Jimmy Wales: Understanding failure as a route to success, Maastricht University, 2015

Originally, Bomis planned to make Wikipedia a profitable business. Sanger initially saw Wikipedia primarily as a tool to aid Nupedia development. Wales feared that, at worst, it might produce "complete rubbish". To the surprise of Sanger and Wales, within a few days of launching, the number of articles on Wikipedia had outgrown that of Nupedia, and a small collective of editors had formed. It was Jimmy Wales, along with other people, who came up with the broader idea of an open-source, collaborative encyclopedia that would accept contributions from ordinary people. Initially, neither Sanger nor Wales knew what to expect from the Wikipedia initiative. Many of the early contributors to the site were familiar with the model of the free culture movement, and, like Wales, many of them sympathized with the open-source movement.

Wales has said that he was initially so worried about the concept of open editing, where anyone can edit the encyclopedia, that he would awaken during the night and monitor what was being added. Nonetheless, the cadre of early editors helped create a robust, self-regulating community that has proven conducive to the growth of the project. In a talk at SXSW in 2016, he recalled that he wrote the first words on Wikipedia: "Hello world", a phrase computer programmers often use to test new software.

Sanger developed Wikipedia in its early phase and guided the project. The broader idea he originally ascribes to other people, remarking in a 2005 memoir for Slashdot that "the idea of an open-source, collaborative encyclopedia, open to contribution by ordinary people, was entirely Jimmy's, not mine, and the funding was entirely by Bomis. Of course, other people had had the idea", adding, "the actual development of this encyclopedia was the task he gave me to work on." Sanger worked on and promoted both the Nupedia and Wikipedia projects until Bomis discontinued funding for his position in February 2002; Sanger resigned as editor-in-chief of Nupedia and as "chief organizer" of Wikipedia on March1 of that year. Early on, Bomis supplied the financial backing for Wikipedia, and entertained the notion of placing advertisements on Wikipedia before costs were reduced with Sanger's departure and plans for a non-profit foundation were advanced instead.

#### Controversy regarding Wales's status as co-founder

Wales with journalist Irina Slutsky at SXSW 2006, taken from her program Geek Entertainment TV

Wales has said that he is the sole founder of Wikipedia, and has publicly disputed Sanger's designation as a co-founder. Sanger and Wales were identified as co-founders at least as early as September 2001 by The New York Times and as founders in Wikipedia's first press release in January 2002. In August of that year, Wales identified himself as "co-founder" of Wikipedia. Sanger assembled on his personal webpage an assortment of links that appear to confirm the status of Sanger and Wales as co-founders. For example, Sanger and Wales are historically cited or described in early news citations and press releases as co-founders. Wales was quoted by The Boston Globe as calling Sanger's statement "preposterous" in February 2006, and called "the whole debate" "silly" in an April 2009 interview. In 2013, Wales told The New York Times that the dispute is "the dumbest controversy in the history of the world".

In late 2005, Wales edited his biographical entry on the English Wikipedia. Writer Rogers Cadenhead drew attention to logs showing that in his edits to the page, Wales had removed references to Sanger as the co-founder of Wikipedia. Sanger commented that "having seen edits like this, it does seem that Jimmy is attempting to rewrite history. But this is a futile process because, in our brave new world of transparent activity and maximum communication, the truth will out." Wales was also observed to have modified references to Bomis in a way that was characterized as downplaying the sexual nature of some of his former company's products. Though Wales argued that his modifications were solely intended to improve the accuracy of the content, he apologized for editing his biography, a practice generally discouraged on Wikipedia.

#### Role

In a 2004 interview with Slashdot, Wales outlined his vision for Wikipedia: "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing." Although his formal designation is board member and chairman emeritus of the Wikimedia Foundation, Wales's social capital within the Wikipedia community has accorded him a status that has been characterized as benevolent dictator, constitutional monarch and spiritual leader. In two interviews with The Guardian in 2014, Wales elaborated on his role on Wikipedia. In the first interview, he said that while he "has always rejected" the term "benevolent dictator", he does refer to himself as the "constitutional monarch". In the second, he elaborated on his "constitutional monarch" designation, saying that, like Queen of the United Kingdom Elizabeth II, he has no real power. He was also the closest the project had to a spokesperson in its early years. The growth and prominence of Wikipedia made Wales an Internet celebrity. Although he had never traveled outside North America before the site's founding, his participation in the Wikipedia project has seen him flying internationally on a near-constant basis as its public face.

When Larry Sanger left Wikipedia, Wales's approach was different from Sanger's. Wales was fairly hands-off. Despite involvement in other projects, Wales has denied intending to reduce his role within Wikipedia, telling The New York Times in 2008 that "Dialing down is not an option for me ... Not to be too dramatic about it, but, 'to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language,' that's who I am. That's what I am doing. That's my life goal." In May 2010, the BBC reported that Wales had relinquished many of his technical privileges on Wikimedia Commons (a Wikipedia sister project that hosts much of its multimedia content) after criticism by the project's volunteer community over what they saw as Wales's hasty and undemocratic approach to deleting sexually explicit images he believed "appeal solely to prurient interests".

### Wikimedia Foundation

Wales appearing as a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees at Wikimania 2007

## Personal life

Wales with his second wife, Christine Rohan

Wales has been married three times. At the age of 20, he married Pamela Green, a co-worker at a grocery store in Alabama. They divorced in 1993. He met his second wife, Christine Rohan, through a friend in Chicago while she worked as a steel trader for Mitsubishi. They were married in Monroe County, Florida, in March 1997, and had a daughter before separating in 2008. Wales moved to San Diego in 1998, and after becoming disillusioned with the housing market there, moved in 2002 to St. Petersburg, Florida.

He had a brief relationship with Canadian conservative columnist Rachel Marsden in 2008 that began after Marsden contacted Wales about her Wikipedia biography. After accusations that Wales's relationship constituted a conflict of interest, he stated that there had been a relationship but that it was over and that it had not influenced any matters on Wikipedia, a statement Marsden disputed.

Wales married Kate Garvey at Wesley's Chapel in London on October 6, 2012. Garvey is Tony Blair's former diary secretary; the couple met in Davos, Switzerland. Wales has three daughters: one with Rohan and two with Garvey.

Wales is an atheist. In an interview with Big Think, he said his philosophy is firmly rooted in reason, and that he is a complete non-believer.

Wales has lived in London, England since 2012. He became a British citizen in 2019. In 2021, on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, he revealed that he secretly moved to Argentina for one month after reading Ferriss's book The 4-Hour Workweek.

Wales says that he is a passionate chef.

## Distinctions

Wales at the 2011 Gottlieb Duttweiler Awards Show
Wales receives an honorary doctorate from Maastricht University, 2015
Jimmy Wales accepting the Dan David Prize at the Tel Aviv University, 2015