Criticism of Jimmy Wales

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The man, the legend, Jimmy Wales

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales has often been criticized for his sometimes authoritarian, sometimes unaccountable, and sometimes inept style in his direction of the online encyclopedia community and for his mismanagement of the Wikimedia Foundation that is responsible for running it.

As a New York Times writer commented in a column once:

"As long as he is involved with Wikipedia, however, Mr. Wales will continue to be a guiding light for its many contributors — as well as a lightning rod for its critics." [1]

Not a pornographer?

Seems an odd way to market a "web portal"

Jimbo Wales made repeated edits to his own biography on Wikipedia. One particularly hard bone of contention was Bomis, Jimbo's thriving Internet venture prior to Wikipedia. Bomis, a search portal, also included a healthy dose of "adult content", which Jimbo previously downplayed as glamour photography -- though as The New Yorker notes, "glamour photography" is "not the most precise way to describe lesbian strip-poker threesomes." Nonetheless, Jimbo has been steadfast in his efforts to remove any suggestion that the beacon of free culture was at one time an unapologetic pornography peddler.

"Sole Founder" controversy with Larry Sanger

While the Wikipedia project consistently released statements to the press in its earliest years describing Larry Sanger as the "co-founder" of the encyclopedia, Jimmy Wales later took it upon himself to reframe the description of Sanger as an "employee" of Wales'. Wales has stated that he appreciates Sanger's contributions, but he seems unwilling to accept Sanger as a pioneer of Wikipedia's construction.

Dr. Sanger has taken the time to elaborate on the factual evidence that supports his identification as "co-founder" of Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales has done very little such work to compile evidence that he is the "sole founder".[2]

More recently, Sanger has called out Wales via an "open letter",[3] where the displeased creator of the Wikipedia name and architecture accuses Wales of "lies and distortions", being "transparently self-serving", and issuing "particularly outrageous" claims.

Flip-flopping on paid editing of Wikipedia

In August 2006, Wales crafted a compromise with a paid-editing firm to create and serve GFDL content on their own website about paying entities not currently featured in Wikipedia. Other unpaid, independent editors could determine whether the material was worth scraping into Wikipedia.

However, just a couple of months later in October 2006, Wales would renege on this agreement and, in fact, chastised anyone in the public relations industry as "deeply unethical" if they attempt to create or influence GFDL content of an encyclopedic nature. Of course, the GFDL specifically bars licensees from restricting content to either commercial or non-commercial parties, so Wales really had no clue here.

Essjay scandal

Want to buy a watch?

In January 2007, Wales hired Ryan Jordan (pseudonymously known as "Essjay" on Wikipedia) to work at Wikia, Inc. At that time, it is known that Wikia's co-founders knew that Jordan was not academically credentialed as a Theology professor holding a PhD, as described on his Wikipedia user page. In fact, he was a 24-year-old college dropout. Regardless of this fraud, later in February, Wales appointed Essjay to Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee, the highest authority on Wikipedia short of the Wikimedia Foundation's own board of directors and staff. When the Wikipedia Review engaged the New Yorker magazine to expose Essjay's fraud, Wales' first reaction was to say he "didn't really have a problem with it".

Well after the scandal evolved into a serious public relations threat to Wikipedia's credibility, Wales sought to deflect responsibility for the whole affair by blaming the Arbitration Committee that he himself had created: "EssJay was appointed at the request of and unanimous support of the ArbCom." - Jimmy Wales 17 October 2007. Perplexed members of the Arbitration Committee responded by saying it would be more accurate to describe their "unanimous support" as "nobody objected to Jimbo's nomination of Essjay".

Spyware? What spyware?

Me? Support spyware?

Jimbo must have some fond connection with a piece of hated software called BonziBUDDY, because Jimbo has no problem stepping in personally on this Wikipedia subject. Those Internet veterans among you may remember BonziBUDDY, that obnoxious purple gorilla whose friendly and helpful appearance just happened to hide a program designed to infest your computer with truckloads of adware and malware. The mainstream media was virtually unanimous in scorning BonziBUDDY on various "most hated" lists. Jimbo, however, had a curiously different opinion; in fact, he couldn't keep this opinion to himself, so he personally edited Wikipedia's BonziBUDDY article to systematically erase mention of "spyware" from the article. In fact, Jimbo also violated the Wikipedia rule against "original research" by becoming an expert paralegal for a moment: "In the following legal settlement, the issue was not the issue of "spyware", a term which does not appear in any of the legal documents."

Rachel Marsden affair

His alleged attempts to "clean up" a Wikipedia entry for a woman with whom he had a relationship has also generated headlines. Wales was accused of intervening to sanitize the Wikipedia article of a news commentator with whom he was having a romantic online relationship, which was about to culminate in a sexual romp in a Doubletree Hotel in the nation's capital.

The Wikipedia article regarding controversial Canadian radio commentator Rachel Marsden had been the subject of controversy on Wikipedia for some years. According to Marsden, she had asked Wikipedia to delete her biography. Her concerns led her to contact Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, claiming that it was incorrect and libelous. Wales reviewed her biography and, deeming that it was not up to standard, helped to clean up the entry by quietly requesting that a closely allied administrator do the work, literally hours before Wales would meet Marsden in person at the hotel.

Wales announced in a statement on Wikipedia "My involvement in cases like this is completely routine, and I am proud of it."[4] On February 29, 2008, the technology gossip blog Valleywag claimed that they had entered into a relationship, and published instant messaging chats that they had allegedly exchanged. On the following day Wales announced on his Wikipedia user page that he was no longer involved with Marsden. In return, Marsden, who claimed to have learned about the breakup by reading about it on the Internet, turned to eBay and put up for auction a t-shirt and sweater that she claimed to be Wales'.[5][6][7][8][4] [9][10]

There is curiously only a brief mention of this episode in the anonymous-edit-protected Wikipedia article about Jimmy Wales, even though it was the talk of mainstream media for the better part of March 2008. Compare, there is an entire article about Mel Gibson's DUI incident; an article which any anonymous IP address can edit and malign. Not so, Jimmy Wales' article. He merits special protective editorial favors, it would appear.

Misspending Foundation funds

In March 2008, Wales was accused by former Wikimedia Foundation employee Danny Wool of subsidizing personal expenditures with foundation funds. These included rebuffed attempts to have reimbursed a $1200 dinner for four, a $650 wine tab, and even a visit to a Moscow massage parlor that Wales submitted twice for payback from the Foundation. Wool also stated that Wales had his Wikimedia credit card taken away in part because of his spending habits, though Wales denied this claim.[11] Foundation Chair Florence Devouard and former foundation interim Executive Director Brad Patrick denied any wrongdoing by Wales or the foundation, saying that Wales accounted for every expense and that for items he did not have receipts for, he paid out of his own pocket.[12] Executive Director Sue Gardner would later defend Wales on CNET video, saying, "Jimmy has never done anything wrong."[13]

Jeffrey Merkey favors-for-payment allegations

Napping on the job.

Later in March 2008, it was alleged by Jeffrey Vernon Merkey that Wales had edited Merkey's entry in Wikipedia to make it more "favourable" in return for donations to the Wikimedia Foundation. In May 2006 Wales had erased Merkey's article "because of the unpleasantness of it" and stated "we are nearing a resolution of this longstanding conflict," referring to a dispute between the Wikipedia community and Merkey over the content of the biography. Wales called the allegation that the Wikimedia Foundation had received donations in exchange for this "nonsense."[14] [15] Nonetheless, Merkey made a very clear and very deliberate statement to the Associated Press that attested:

Wales agreed that in exchange for a substantial donation and other financial support of the Wikimedia Foundation projects, Wales would use his influence to make Merkey's article adhere to Wikipedia's stated policies with regard to internet libel "as a courtesty" and place Merkey under his "special protection" as an editor.[16]

Tolerance of plagiarism

The original version of any wiki-formatted article about the Arch Coal company was authored in September 2006 by Gregory Kohs and released under the terms of the GFDL on this website, It was then scraped by an independent editor into Wikipedia. In October 2006, erroneously thinking that the article was paid for by Arch Coal, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales acted to delete the article from Wikipedia, but the Wikipedia community determined that Wales' action had been unjustified. The article was revised, largely by "User:JzG" (Guy Chapman), who would later claim that he wrote his version of the article ab initio, "from the ground up". However, in January 2008, Kohs demonstrated to Chapman that the article as modified by User:JzG actually plagiarized many aspects of the original. Faced with that evidence, Chapman elected to cover up his misdeed by deleting the original edits on the Wikipedia site, thus making the provenance of the article appear to have come from Chapman, and not from MyWikiBiz. When Jimmy Wales was notified about this violation of professional ethics and proper GFDL attribution of the edit history, Wales very reluctantly restored the original edit history, with the childish edit summary, "might as well restore all of it I suppose".

Additional comment

When in December 2008, Kohs sought to improve the article about Arch Coal on Wikipedia, his improvements were reverted back by a mindless administrator from Belgium. This underscores the true system of editorial control on Wikipedia -- it matters not the content of one's edits, but rather who authors the content. (Which, of course, directly contradicts Wikipedia's supposed credo that "anyone can edit".)

Jimbo (finally) sees the light

After about 26 months, Wales did ultimately apologize clearly and firmly for his mistakes in handling this situation. Bravo!


In December 2006, Jimmy Wales launched a spin-off from Wikia called Openserving. Wales was attempting to copy another business model that had been floated by (which is currently regenerated at MyWikiBiz), and by, where the unpaid labor who create new content would have the opportunity to earn advertising revenue as a reward for their authorship. Although Wales claimed that "thousands" of interested queries were made of Openserving, the project never got a single new forum off the ground. It was a failure. is perhaps Wales' most successful project financially, although it has been speculated that it won't be able to turn a regular profit, as meager ad revenues can't possibly support the staffing needs.

Spanking Art Wikia

Centextual ads supported spanking

Jimmy Wales' privately-held Wikia company as recently as January 2008 hosted online a web menagerie of freely-licensed images of innocent children juxtaposed with depraved images of children being mercilessly spanked until purple, along with photos of various sexual-enhancement toys. A critic of the site led an urgent campaign that challenged this Spanking Art Wikia wiki. Wales became quite ruffled under the collar, irritated that the agitator had not "made a complaint through the proper channels". Imagine, sexually-charged images of deviant abuse against children, and the man hosting it on his company's servers was more upset that the complaints against his site weren't filed properly.

Wikia Search

Jimbo's venture into the search engine market was much-ballyhooed by the tech media, but after only an 18-month effort, Wales pulled the plug on the failure that was Wikia Search. Evidence was clear early on that it would not be a success. But even as late as March 2009, Wales deceived reporter Susan Kuchinskas with the assurance, "I have my team focused on the front end, working on the user experience, and making sure we have all the wiki-like tools people need to work on the site. We're just cranking away." Merely days later, Wales would face reality, fire the people he'd employed to try to make this pig fly, and shut down the site.


Additional reading