Don’t Say Crowdsourcing to Jimmy Wales

I was lucky enough to go see Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, speak last week in Trinity College, hosted by The Phil. Jimmy was a fascinating speaker and I’ve no doubt I’ll get a number of blog posts out of the themes he touched on – from digital natives, drawing on his own young daughter who was sitting in the audience busily updating her blog as he presented, to the future of the social web, extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivations of his contributors, and the ethics of setting up in censored countries.

One particularly interesting exchange happened after the main talk, when Jimmy took a Q&A. Mark Little, who is himself pursuing a digital project this year, was facilitating. Mark started out by saying that in the spirit of meeting the Wikipedia founder, he had crowdsourced his questions on Twitter that day. I thought this was a great idea.

However, the word “crowdsourcing” seemed to strike a nerve with Jimmy. He immediately took issue with the term which he said stemmed from the word “outsourcing”, whereby companies send out their grind work to cheap labour in developing countries. He seemed sensitive about the term as applied to his initiatives, no doubt because of questions which often arise about whether Wikipedia contributors should be paid.

This isn’t as heated a point for Wikipedia, seen as it’s a non-profit organisation providing an invaluable resource for everyone. Wikia however, is Jimmy Wales’ new venture, and is a “for profit” company. Wikia is essentially collection of individual wikis on different subjects, all hosted on the same website. They are almost like magazine sites, on any topic which generates conversation or has an active community, ranging from TV to Sports to Food – to any number of niche or cult topics. The biggest hitters unsurprisingly are the wikias for Star Trek, Battlestar Galatica and Star Wars.

There’s already banner advertising on these pages and they offer an intriguing and hyper-targeted route to specific audiences. Jimmy showed us a graph tracking it’s progress and although traffic is still relatively low, it is following the same growth rate path as Wikipedia in it’s early days. Wikia is based around tapping into one of the most powerful dynamics of the internet – “Communities”, something we’ve been talking about a lot in OMD this year. More on this to come…

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