Monday, 27 September 2010

Increased information flow vital for economic stability: Wikipedia co-founder

Increased information flow vital for economic stability: Wikipedia co-founder
Tags: Jimmy Wales | Wikipedia

Written by Emily Tan
Thursday, 23 September 2010 12:50

Market turbulence has to do with poor policy choices, not free flow of info, adds Wales

A decade ago, the concept of an online encyclopaedia that anyone could edit would have sounded like an invitation to anarchy. It was, in the words of its co-founder, Jimmy Wales: “a really dumb idea”. However, nine years after its launch, Wikipedia (the name of which is derived from the Hawaiian word “wiki” which means “quick”) has become one of the top 10 sites on the Internet. With over three million articles on everything from national leaders to muppets, the online encyclopaedia is now the first source of information for many netizens.In an interview via Skype on Sept 11, The Edge Financial Daily spoke to Wales, one of the keynote speakers at next week’s World Capital Market Symposium in Kuala Lumpur, on technology, the free flow of information and its impact on today’s economic landscape.

TEFD: Looking back to the launch of Wikipedia, how do you view its advance and impact on society?
Wales: In my own life as in everyone’s, access to Wikipedia has been really quite amazing because I use it all the time, of course, as everyone does. It’s amazing. People have a strong demand for more knowledge. They really are not satisfied with only a small amount of knowledge. They want deep explanations of everything. We are in the age of learning, study and information and there is a strong trend in that direction.

Over time Wikipedia has evolved quite a long list of rules for its users. Would you say it’s getting more or less open with time?
Actually, in the early days, it was not possible to allow everyone to edit everything due to vandalism. We adjusted software more and more to allow people to edit. Wikipedia is more open for the general public today than it ever has been in the past.

But there are a great many rules aren’t there?
Yes, there are a great many rules in Wikipedia. We have a very large community who is always discussing policy — what counts as a reliable source, how to achieve the highest amount of accuracy. Those are the issues that absorb us. One of the rules we’ve always had is ‘no personal attacks’. Within our community we don’t want people to have personal arguments and debates about each other. We require high standard of behaviour. Focus on the facts and get at the truth rather than have personal attacks and fights which is what people do all over the Internet. Bear in mind that having rules doesn’t imply that we don’t think the best of people. The rules of Wikipedia are generated by people to guide their own action and resolve conflict. We find that people do contribute in good faith and they are eager to help make Wikipedia as good as it possibly can be.

Some have said that the free flow of information and its rapid speed have in some ways contributed to today’s turbulent economy. Is there a connection in your opinion?
Absolutely none. None. Increased flow of information is critical for stability; any attempt to stem the flow of information is dangerous and leads to instability and violence. Turbulence in the markets has almost nothing to do with flow of information. It has to do with impact of poor policy choices. Nothing to do with information at all.

Is there a need then for any sort of information control? Gatekeepers perhaps?
Complete nonsense. Those are the words of the kind of tyrants who would sacrifice freedom and justice to their own ends.

Should every company start a ‘wiki’ of their own?
I’m not sure. Wiki is a tool but perhaps not the right tool for every situation. The general principle of being open and sharing info with shareholders, rethinking your approach to communication, is quite valid in today’s modern situation.

How then, in your opinion, should businesses manage the flow of information about their companies?
It’s very important to be very strong (on the principle) that you will be open, transparent, honest and clear. People get in trouble when they try to deceive or stop the flow of information. That’s when things go south. The important thing is to embrace information-sharing, be transparent and honest.

So you do believe in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ (the notion that the best ideas will arise out of free and transparent public discourse)?

How has Wikipedia and its form of information exchange impacted businesses?
Within all kinds of industries, it’s become increasingly important over the years that employees are well-educated, flexible, able to learn things. Wikipedia, as a part of the Internet, has been very influential in making sure people have access to information to learn new things. In the modern economy it’s important to go further and teach people the skills of how to learn for themselves throughout a lifetime. A more flexible style, creativity, lifestyle, value of information — then you’re more equipped for a lifetime of change.

What will you be speaking about at the World Capital Markets Symposium 2010?
I’ll be talking more generally about the flow of information in society, importance of knowledge for a vibrant economy. Different economies in the world are prospering through massive knowledge-sharing which allows the population to be more educated. The general theme is the growth of knowledge in society and how it brings prosperity.

The World Capital Markets Symposium with the theme “Transforming Capital Markets: Leadership, Change and Governance”, will be held on Sept 27 and 28 at the Shangri La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. It is hosted by the Securities Commission.

This article appeared on the Media & Advertising page, The Edge Financial Daily, Sep 23, 2010

Increased information flow vital for economic stability: Wikipedia co-founder


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