Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Wikipedia, Britannica and Wales

Lest anyone accuse me of bias against the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, here is something about the inadequacy of its arch-rival Britannica, and its articles about Wikipedia.

Britannica on the origin and growth of Wikipedia: " In 1996 Jimmy Wales, a successful bond trader, moved to San Diego, Calif., to establish Bomis, Inc., a Web portal company."

On Jimmy Wales: "From 1994 to 2000 he was an options trader in Chicago, amassing enough money to allow him to quit and start his own Internet company."

There are almost too many errors to count. First mistake, if you are going to be wrong, at least be consistently wrong.  Elementary logic suggests it is unlikely that he was both in Chicago and San Diego at the same time, unless he was commuting frequently.  Was he a bond trader or an options trader?  Did he start Bomis in 1996 or 2000?

Second, the facts, as far as I can establish.  Wales never traded bonds but rather futures and options, which are derivatives of bonds and other interest rate instruments.  He was probably not trading to begin with, as he joined Chicago Options Associates in June 1994 as a research associate.  He probably stopped trading in 1998, although he gives conflicting accounts of his time as a trader.  He moved to San Diego around August 1998, not 2000.  He had already established Bomis in 1996, but not as a Web portal company, that came slightly later, probably in October 1997.  Wales and the other founder, Tim Shell, explored many other ideas, including an online takeaway service, before they settled on the idea of the 'portal'.

What else?  There is no compelling evidence that Wales was a 'successful' trader.  In early interviews such as this, he claimed that he had made enough to support himself and his wife for the rest of their lives. In later interviews, such as with Andrew Lih (author of the Wikipedia Revolution, which contains a mostly accurate account of the Wales's early years), he said he simply made 'enough'.

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