For-profit wiki

Marketplace Staff Aug 30, 2006

SCOTT JAGOW: Did you know the Philippines just beat the U.S. in the first ever World Cup of Pool? Ya know how I know that? Wikipedia. I also learned about the Post Punk Kitchen. That was a vegan cooking show on cable access in New York for a while. You can find out almost anything in the world on Wikipedia. The website is a great success story. But its founder, Jimmy Wales, doesn’t make a living from it. It’s nonprofit. So, he’s come up with another site called Wikia. To tell us more about this, we have Adam Lashinsky from Fortune Magazine.

ADAM LASHINSKY: To explain what Wikia is, you have to take a half a step back and remind yourself what Wikipedia is. Wikipedia is, essentially, an encyclopedia online. Only it doesn’t have a board of a bunch of chin-stroking academics writing the entries. It has everybody who wants to write the entries writing the entries. So it’s a collaborative, online, community-based effort.

Wikia is going to be articles about things people are passionate about and they can come and say, you know, “I don’t think the sky is blue. I think it’s purple.”

JAGOW: From what I’ve read, a lot of people think that that’s the future of the Internet — blogs and opinions. What’s your take?

LASHINSKY: Blogging has become the op-ed page of the online world, if you will. Wikis take that one step further. For example, on Wikia, which is really very young. The Star Trek section is one of their most popular section so far. Completely different example, pet diabetes, is very important. So where as you might go to Wikipedia to read about pet diabetes, you might go to Wikia to read about and talk about pet diabetes.

JAGOW: So why does Wales think he can make money on that concept and not, maybe, on the Wikipedia concept?

LASHINSKY: Well, I think he could make money on the Wikipedia concept. But he’s hemmed in, if you will, by its legacy. It started as a free, let’s-all-come-together-and-sing-around-the-campfire kind of organization. The hook for Wikia is that around opinion there is the opportunity to bring in many more voices, for it to mushroom in directions that nobody necessarily would have considered. And if that’s successful, he intends to sell a lot of advertising against that.

JAGOW: So, it’s all based on advertising. That’s where the money comes from.

LASHINSKY: Yeah, it’s really interesting. Not only does it just come from advertising but for the time being it only comes from one kind of advertising, and that’s Google AdWords. And the company has said to me they intend to be the first company ever to go public that only uses Google AdWords as a source of their revenue.

JAGOW: Well, it seems to me that this is sort of a trend. You’ve got a brilliant idea here with Wikipedia and, because of the way the Internet works, it mushrooms on its own. But, as you’re sort of suggesting, it’s a little too late to make money on it, so you have to come up with some other idea to make the money.

LASHINSKY: Yeah, and I’m scratching my head to find an example . . . You know, most great ideas in the technology industry are serendipitous, if you will. They sort of came out of nowhere. E-Bay kinda came out of nowhere. Yahoo! and Google came out of nowhere, in that it was a small group of people with a quirky idea and it got really big. It’s extremely uncommon for those people to say, “OK, now I’m going to start something completely different but based on the same idea, and that’s gonna get really big.” If Jimmy Wales can pull that off, he’ll be a hero not only in the nonprofit, Wikipedia world, but an even bigger hero in the for-profit, capitalist world.

JAGOW: Alright, Adam. Thanks a lot.

LASHINSKY: Thank you, Scott.

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