Jimmy Wales on Wikipedia, Larry Sanger on Jimmy Wales

“Vandalism is a very minor problem,” insists Wales.

In tomorrow's issue of New Statesman (it's good, you should buy it . . . every week) I've written a profile of one of the most influential men around – but a man whose face you may not recognise.

When I met Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales on 13 January, two days before the website marked its tenth anniversary, we spoke about a range of subjects. Here are a few extracts from the piece:

On Wikipedia and the "big society"

Perhaps Wikipedia is an example of what the Prime Minister, David Cameron, calls the "big society". "It is, yeah, of course it is," Wales says. "We shouldn't replace the NHS with a wiki. But thinking about community participation and involvement, a spirit of volunteerism, a spirit of helping out, a spirit of self-reliance, rather than imagining that the government and taxes should solve all things – then fine."

On managing malicious edits

Wales maintains that vandalism – the deliberate insertion of erroneous content – is "a very minor problem". In most cases, for most subjects, malicious edits are rare and are corrected quickly. Only for contentious pages – such as the one on the former US president George W Bush, where it takes just "37 seconds before someone edits it with a curse word" – is it necessary to pre-moderate changes made by the public.

On not voting

"No, I don't vote. I have in the past, but . . ." He pauses again, and then says: "It's a rather odd reason why I don't. In Florida, in order to vote, you have to register with your actual address, and for security reasons, for the safety of my family – because there are many, many lunatics – I can't register to vote with my real address. If I could register to vote with a fake address I could vote, but apparently that's a felony." He concedes that "it sounds slightly paranoid. But," he says, "it's not paranoid."

I also spoke to Larry Sanger, the other man credited with getting Wikipedia off the ground. The conversation confirms the uncomfortable relationship between the two:

Sanger has no doubts about his own contribution to Wikipedia. "It was basically my full-time job," he tells me on the phone from Ohio. "This is going to sound like an exaggeration, given the way Jimmy Wales talks about the history of Wikipedia, [but] I never had much of a relationship with Jimmy Wales while we were working on Wikipedia, because Jimmy Wales didn't work very much on Wikipedia in the first year."

This notwithstanding, does he not miss that excitement of co-operation, the development of a working friendship, even, during those early start-up days? "We were never friends," he says flatly. Are they still in touch? He laughs. "No!"

Read the full piece in the issue, plus there's an edited transcript of the full interview here.

UPDATE: Wikipedia's benevolent dictator is now online.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Lord Sainsbury pulls funding from Progress and other political causes

The longstanding Labour donor will no longer fund party political causes. 

Centrist Labour MPs face a funding gap for their ideas after the longstanding Labour donor Lord Sainsbury announced he will stop financing party political causes.

Sainsbury, who served as a New Labour minister and also donated to the Liberal Democrats, is instead concentrating on charitable causes. 

Lord Sainsbury funded the centrist organisation Progress, dubbed the “original Blairite pressure group”, which was founded in mid Nineties and provided the intellectual underpinnings of New Labour.

The former supermarket boss is understood to still fund Policy Network, an international thinktank headed by New Labour veteran Peter Mandelson.

He has also funded the Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe. The latter reinvented itself as Open Britain after the Leave vote, and has campaigned for a softer Brexit. Its supporters include former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour's Chuka Umunna, and it now relies on grassroots funding.

Sainsbury said he wished to “hand the baton on to a new generation of donors” who supported progressive politics. 

Progress director Richard Angell said: “Progress is extremely grateful to Lord Sainsbury for the funding he has provided for over two decades. We always knew it would not last forever.”

The organisation has raised a third of its funding target from other donors, but is now appealing for financial support from Labour supporters. Its aims include “stopping a hard-left take over” of the Labour party and “renewing the ideas of the centre-left”. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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