The Spiritual Leader
In short, Wikipedia is a cult. Or at least, the inner circle is a cult. We aren't the first to make this observation.
On the inside, they reinforce each other's beliefs. And if anyone on the outside questions those beliefs, they circle the wagons. They deny the facts. They attack the attacker. After our Jossi Fresco story, Fresco didn't refute our reporting. He simply accused us of "yellow journalism". After our Overstock.com article, Wales called us "trash".
Wales calls himself Wikipedia's Spiritual Leader. And this isn't too far from the truth. He sits atop the cult. And what he says goes. If he suggests that changes should be made to Rachel Marsden's Wikipedia bio, they're made.
According to an email leaked to The Associated Press, the chairman of the Wikimedia Board describes Jimbo Wales as someone who is "constantly trying to rewrite the past".
Is this the sort of person who should control what goes into Wikipedia?
Or should it be someone like Larry Sanger? He co-founded Wikipedia with Wales, but parted ways with the site in 2002, later forming his own free online encyclopedia. Citizendium doesn't allow anonymous editing, and Sanger has no problem cracking down on conflict of interest - no matter who bears the conflict. Following our story about Jossi Fresco - who has also edited articles on Citizendium - Sanger took away his editing rights on certain articles. And Fresco promptly left the project.
Sanger, for what's it's worth, is living proof that Wales is "constantly trying to reinvent the past". Famously, Wales refers to himself as the sole founder of Wikipedia, doing his best to edit Sanger from history.
But if you look back at an old email Sanger sent to those working on Nupedia, Wikipedia's predecessor, you can see that if anyone is the sole founder of Wikipedia, it's Larry Sanger.
"Let's make a wiki," Sanger wrote. "No, this is not an indecent proposal. It's an idea to add a little feature to Nupedia. Jimmy Wales thinks that many people might find the idea objectionable, but I think not."
Of course, this note hardly tells the whole story. Speaking to The Reg, Sanger admitted that he too was skeptical. "We were both skeptical and both hopeful at the same time," he told us. "I don't think Wales was particularly resistant to the idea in the beginning."
In other words, he's willing to acknowledge there are many sides to a story - something you don't always see in Wales. That is all. You're free to believe what you want. ®