Whose Idea Was Wikipedia?

Like Joseph Reagle, I am interested in the evolving tale of who exactly started Wikipedia. Reagle notes that the first major book on Wiki, Wikinomics, glosses over Larry Sanger’s role completely.

Meanwhile, I have casually noted that 100% of Sanger’s Wikipedia contributions in the past year have been devoted to stridently promoting his own role in co-founding Wikipedia, while simultaneously criticizing the site.

So if Larry Sanger was simply Jimmy Wales‘ employee at Bomis, wasn’t Jimmy Wales simply Tim Shell‘s employee? So if Larry Sanger was simply Jimmy Wales’ Bomis employee, wasn’t he also Tim Shell’s Bomis employee? Here is Bomis CEO and former Wikimedia Trustee Tim Shell’s great account of how Wikipedia got started.

From Tim’s fun website

The founding of Wikipedia

One day back around 1999, I walked into Jimmy’s office and he was sitting there all quiet and subdued. So I asked, “What’s up, Jimmy.”

And he says, “You know, this whole Internet thing is just a fad. Maybe we should branch out into other stuff.”

Then he said something about the fish processing industry, and I was like, “Sure, sure, there will always be fish that need processing. But maybe there’s some internet stuff we could still try. For example, we could start a free online encyclopedia, written collaboratively, and illustrated exclusively with funny little stick figure drawings.”

At which Jimmy’s eyes lit up, and he said, “Tell me more about these funny drawings.”

Anyway, that’s how I remember it.

This is my favorite account of Wikipedia’s founding, and what I will choose to believe from now on. Check out other fun links at Tim’s Website.


3 Responses to Whose Idea Was Wikipedia?

  1. Angela says:

    Tim Shell only became the CEO of Bomis in 2005, so Jimmy was not his employee.

  2. Jon says:

    Woops. Looks like you’re absolutely right. I didn’t realize they were co-founders of Bomis. This wiki world is a never ending learning curve.


  3. I wonder what prompted this posting, or when he posted it? Perhaps he was tired of the founding question?

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