The entire project is one of love

April 21, 2007 § Leave a comment

I had the chance to meet Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales over the past couple of days. Nice guy, humble and pretty wise. Sometimes the wisdom can sneak across the into online community building dogma. I guess you’re entitled if you helped become the most used encyclopedia in the world on almost no budget. And, of course, I’ve been caught spouting a lot of the same dogma over the years.


Jimmy was talking at the University of the Western Cape‘s Digital Freedom event. He said two things I will carry with me for a while:

Thing one: “The entire project is one of love.” Sounds corny to describe wikipedia this way, but also explains at some quintessential level why it works. Quality control, scale, trustability, cost, languages and the like are all important bits and pieces of the engine. However, the human spirit – love, passion, ego, hatred and, over time, understanding – are the real fuel.

Thing two: “wikipedia is 10% technology and 90% community.” This is a total no brainer statement for anyone who thinks about these things. However, it’s nice to have it laid out in simple(istic) math. Most ideas / projects / companies that start out with community in mind spend 95% of their up front energy thinking and arguing about technology, data models and structure. Being able to whip out a pithy little Jimmy Wales
quote and then say “hey, really, you are putting your energy in the wrong place” is very useful when being asked to advise people like this. I’ve already done it once (and to good end) in the last 24 hours.

All in all, a good talk … and I am a guy who hates ‘talks’. Dinner with Jimmy, Bobbi Kurshan from Curriki and others was also interesting. There was a debate about incentives in online community, with Jimmy arguing for peer cred, personal passion, etc. and Bobbi arguing that you need more substantial and traditional incentives if you are going to work with audiences like teachers. I suspect they are both right: you need think differently for different audiences (teachers vs. geeks), but you also need make sure that it’s still all about love.

PS. I think you can find a raw version of all the talks from Digital Freedom on their web site.

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