I was looking at my blog and found out of my dinner with Jimmy Wales founder of the Wikipedia on April 2nd of this year that I had left in draft by mistake. I apologize for that and I publish it today as it is still relevant.
My partner Hayashi-san, who runs Digital Garage, invited Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, and I for a traditional Japanese dinner last night. While we have many friends in common I had never met Jimmy Wales in person. I was pleasently surprised.
Jimmy has a curious career, his past is somewhat in academia somewhat in business, he started but did not complete a PhD in Finance and went on to become an options trader in Chicago, where he met his wife. He went from option trading to internet entrepreneur and until he had the idea of starting and online Encyclopedia which turned out to be Wikipedia, now one of the top 15 destination web sites in the world.
But the story as he told it of how he came accross the concept of an encyclopedia built by the people shows how much business is a combination of vision with trial and error. The original concept for the wikipedia was the exact opposite of what it became. It was actually the type of encyclopedia that many of the critics of the Wikipedia say that the Wikipedia is not, an encyclopedia made by experts. But when it was an encyclopedia made and screened by experts it was going extremely slowly and it was making Jimmy very poor. The huge success was to open it up for anyone to write, anyone to delete, anyone to edit, even anonymous users. Recently there have been studies conducted that shows that the end result of this messy work is extremely reliable compared to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Now the highlight of the evening for me came when we spoke about Fon and I found out that not only is Jimmy Wales personally a fonero but he told me that Fon “was the other
great idea that needed to be done”. Interestingly, Jimmy says that he had thought about putting together something like FON and I can see why. FON is user generated infrastructure, people who share a little wifi at home to build a global wireless network. As Haruyoshi San said: with FON you have the Wikipedia everywhere with you.
I did not say this to Jimmy but he is the third brilliant entrepreneur who says he wanted to build a FON before me. The others are David Sifry, of Technorati and Janus Friis, from Skype and my partner at FON. Even though I did not know that other key entrepreneurs had thought about building FON or their versions of FON it does not surprise me. The same thing happened to me when I invented call back. Howard Jonas, another entrepreneur inventor, thought about it at the same time, independantly. And probably other people had also thought about an encyclopedia built on line. But as it happens with these things the idea is probably 25% of the story, 75% is the execution.
Over 8 years, Jimmy Wales and his team have built the most remarkable knowledge base on the internet. And now Jimmy is expanding this work in the for profit company Wikia. I very much hope that over the next 8 years FON in the WiFi and Wimax versions will be as common as the Wikipedia is today and will be the network that wikipedians and many others rely on to get free, high speed access.
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