Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” went from being a weird online experiment 21 years ago to one of the mainstays of the modern internet with astonishing speed. Even more astonishing, it has maintained its reputation and functionality since its founding, even as the rest of the social internet seems hellbent on tearing itself apart.
As Twitter, Facebook, and others are consumed with controversy over moderation, governance, and the definition of free speech, Wikipedia continues to quietly grow in utility, trustworthiness, and comprehensiveness; there are now nearly 6.5 million articles on the English version alone and it has held its place in the top 15 most visited sites on the internet for well over a decade.
Reason spoke with Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, who was predictably modest about what he got right. A key ingredient to Wikipedia’s success is its high degree of decentralization. After this interview was conducted, Elon Musk made a bid to buy Twitter, bringing new salience to the battle over who controls the flow of information (and disinformation) online.
Reason last spoke with Wales 15 years ago, and the resulting profile ended up becoming a source for Wales’ own Wikipedia entry. At that time, we talked about the future of online speech, improving the algorithms that shape our lives, and the role that Friedrich Hayek played in Wales’ thinking. This conversation picked up where we left off.