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Jimmy Wales: Wikipedia’s ‘constitutional monarch?’

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia is pictured on June 29, 2007 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Chris O'Meara/AP

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has no specific plans to end his association with the online encyclopedia, but said it would go on fine without him because he has evolved into a kind of "constitutional monarch."

During a question-and-answer session Sunday with delegates at the annual meeting of the Canadian Bar Association, Mr. Wales said Canadians, more than any other audience, would get the "constitutional monarch" reference.

"It mostly means I wave at crowds and comport myself with dignity and set an example, and serve as a symbol," he said in a keynote speech to a gale of laughter from the audience at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

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But, more seriously, he said that over the 11 years that Wikipedia has been around, his role, particularly in the daily operations of English Wikipedia, has become "less and less" as the online community – 490 million current users per month – define Wikipedia.

In 2001, Alabama-born Mr. Wales helped launch the free online encyclopedia written and edited by volunteers that is now one of the world's most visited Internet sites. It has versions in 270 languages "I don't have any intention of being a dictator of all human knowledge," he said, echoing an expressed perspective earlier in his afternoon speech that Wikipedia is en route to being a repository for all human knowledge.

Mr. Wales, 46, noted there is a 10-member board of directors at the Wikipedia Foundation that owns and operates the system. He is a board member, and has a kind godfather role over the site.

"For lots of decisions, I have a great deal of influence, but no actual power, which is exactly the way it should be," he said.

"If I say things that people don't agree with, which sometimes happen, they just ignore me, and that's fine. Nothing too bad would happen to Wikipedia, I hope, if anything happened to me."

He added: "I think it would be fine without me – but not for a very long time."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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