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ScriCal was in Padua during 25th April week-end. Padua is a city in the North-east of Italy, this area is promoting itself to be the European Culture Capital in 2019 and therefore the promoters are organizing a series of events like the one we participated with the title: Culture make us rich” and where they invited Jimmy Wales founder of Wikipedia. The meeting was held in a small town with a very nice name, Borgoricco (Rich village). Let’s say at first the things we didn’t like: this was an event about Internet and technology with the major Italian telephone company, Telecom, as sponsor so we would have liked to have a wi-fi connection during the meeting. Secondly, the bad habit of the so called Academic 15 minutes delay. ScriCal loves to be on time in every circumstance and it is annoying that people think that automatically an event will begin 15 minutes later than the fixed time. If the north-est part of Italy claims to be the European Culture Capital in the 2019 we think they should drop this bad Italian habit.
Ok, let’s go now to talk about the meeting. The title was: “Knowledge develops on the web”. Jimmy Wales founder of Wikipedia held a speech starting by talking about what was the technology during the sixties when he (and us) was a child. At that time if you wanted to change the channel on the TV you had to go physically close to the TV to press the button, through very quick steps we reached the Internet era. Wikipedia, said Wales, was born from the idea that everyone should have not only access to the information but also the opportunity to modify and integrate them. The very first beginning of Wikipedia was a failure. To write an article on a subject the authors were asked to prove their competence on that subject, a sort of academic résumé. The authors where also told that their article would have been examined before the publishing. At the end this created a sort of frightened feeling in submitting the information. Wales came up with the conclusion that all the process had to be much easier. At that time he met the wiki technology and that was the very start of the project which was published for the first time on the web on January 2001.
Before Wikipedia, knowledge was identified with Britannica Encyclopedia and therefore knowledge was in the hands of few academics professors to which all the others had to listen to. At the beginning Wikipedia wasn’t popular in the academic environments but a recent survey demonstrated that on a particular subject the Britannica has 3 errors and Wikipedia 4. A very positive result.
Wikipedia isnt’t a library (as it will be Wikia) but an encyclopedia. At the moment there are 3 million pages in English, 500.000 pages written in European languages and 300.000 in Chinese. The relationship with China is still difficult. As Wikipedia didn’t accept to censor some information, it has been banned by the Chinese authorities. Wales told also about a funny story that happened during the recent Olympics Games, period in which it was easier to access to internet. In Beijing many restaurants translated the menu into English.
Wales showed some of them where it was written for example: fried pan wikipedia, grilled beef wikipedia etc. None has an explanation for this, the suggestion is that searching for the translation on the web chinese people met so many times the word wikipedia to let them think that is was part of the translation.
At the end of the speech there has been a debate with the public. Many questions were about the importance of being non-profit and about the fact that Wikipedia can contribute to break the barriers between different cultures. Also ScriCal had its question for Wales. We said that Wikipedia is one of the few places on the web without advertising and that we know that the activity, followed by 35 employees (and 100.000 volunteers) is financed with small donations but also huge ones like the 2 millions dollars of Google. So we asked Wales if there is the risk that the activity can be influenced by these big organizations.
Wales thanked for our question which, he said, it was important (okay, let’s us to be proud of ourselves to have interested him ☺ ). Wikipedia management is very concerned about this risk, said Wales, which of course is always present with huge donors. They accepted the Google donation because they didn’t pose any restriction. In any case Wikipedia prefers small donations, of course the effort to collect them is much higher but with an average amount of 30 dollars there aren’t problems of being influenced by the single donor. Wales said that he is directly involved in the donation campaign, with his name and face in order to make it more as a relationship among people than a mere contribution to a web site.