Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales in his office. Provided to China Daily
When Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales, 44, visited China in 2009, he had two items on his agenda, attending the World Economic Forum in Dalian and visiting the office of Hudong.com, the world's largest Chinese online encyclopedia, in Beijing.
Pan Haidong, founder of Hudong.com, invited Wales to visit his office and meet his team. Responding to Pan's comment that he was a Wikipedia "copycat", Wales said it was "quite an honor".
But he highlighted the differences between the two - Hudong.com is commercially driven while Wikipedia is entirely "a charitable mission".
"What he (Pan) is doing is fine, but we are different. I wouldn't consider us competitors or counterparts at all," Wales tells China Daily in an exclusive interview in New York.
Wikipedia was set up in 2001 and is headquartered in San Francisco. With only about 50 full-time staff members, the fifth most-popular site in the world is largely dependent on a few thousand contributors and volunteers from around the world who create and edit entries in multiple languages on a daily basis. However, this has raised disputes over the reliability of the information on the site.
Wales is aware of this and says improving the quality of the site is a "core issue" within the Wikipedia community.
"We have consistent discussions about how we can strengthen (overcome) our weakness, and what are the different things we should be doing, including outreach to academics and changing the software to make it easier to monitor," Wales says.
Wikipedia, he says, is "a starting point" for users. "You get oriented and then you go deeper."
Wales says he will stick to its nonprofit and charitable mission, which means the site won't run any ads and is dependent on donations. In January, it raised $16 million - its most successful to date.
Currently, Wikipedia is planning to open its first overseas office in India, Wales says, adding that developing countries like India and China have great potential for Wikipedia's expansion.
However, he says it is difficult to open an office in China with the current government regulations on the Internet.
"It's (setting up an office in China) not in sight at this point, not until they (the government) change the policy. But I am sure they will - I just think it's a matter of time," Wales says, adding that Wikipedia has a "good relationship" with the State Council Information Office, the body tasked with Internet regulations.
Social media has taken off in a big way in China in recent years. According to a report released by China Internet Network Information Center, by the end of 2010, the nation's micro blog users numbered 53.11 million, or about 13.8 percent of all netizens.
Micro-blogging has become a new forum for netizens to express their opinions on popular social issues. The most recent example is an Internet campaign on Sina.com's Weibo service (similar to Twitter's) to trace children abducted and forced to become beggars.
Wales thinks the impact of the Internet and social networking sites on people's lives in China has been remarkable.
"It is important that a number of Internet users in China are not necessarily from modern, wealthy cities like Beijing and Shanghai but also from rural areas. I hope this continues," he says.
He wants to increase the participation in the Chinese Wikipedia community but says he won't agree to filter certain search results and will try to find "middle ground" with the government.
"It's a complicated situation in China. However, we are mostly successful today in China and I'm pretty happy about that," he says.
One challenge Wikipedia faces in China though is user recognition.
"It is easier for us to use Hudong.com. It is tailored for Chinese users and has more functions," says a visiting fellow from Peking University, who refused to be identified.
Wales is not too worried about this. He says the Internet is still a "global, young industry" everywhere, particularly in China.
"It is a fast growing, young industry in China, which means there are really rich opportunities for super-creative young people to create something really big and fast, and it's a lot of fun," he says.
"I don't see them as my competitors."
Wales has already visited China four times but says he wants to see more.
"I should go back and visit different areas, not only big cities but rural areas," he says.
Recalling one visit where he saw a Chinese restaurant use the word "Wikipedia" in their menu to attract foreigners during the Beijing Olympics, he jokes: "If we are not successful in China, we might as well just open a restaurant."
(China Daily 02/24/2011 page18)