Liz Gannes

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Happy 10th Birthday, Wikipedia! What's Next? (Video)

Wikipedia now seems like an enduring institution on the Web, but the site was only founded 10 years ago, tomorrow.

Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, says it is just recently that the site has gotten itself on sustainable financial footing, and has become widely accepted as a useful, quality resource.

We stopped by the nonprofit’s San Francisco headquarters, which is located amidst a sea of tech companies in the city’s SOMA district, on the eve of the big anniversary, which Wikipedia is celebrating with a set of relatively mellow user meet-ups around the world.

Gardner spoke about the evolution of Wikimedia as an organization, and set out its goals for the coming years. We videoed the part of the interview where she sets the scene for the 10th anniversary.

Wikipedia is coming off a successful grassroots fundraiser, where it was able to raise $16 million from users, in part due to founder Jimmy Wales’s face greeting users every time they visited the site until the end of the campaign. That’s double the amount raised in a similar campaign the year before.

And over the last 18 months, Wikimedia orchestrated a wide-scale community discussion of its strategy, aided by collaboration expert Eugene Eric Kim, which resulted in a set of goals to take the organization and its many volunteers forward.

Wikipedia now has cumulative 380 million edits, resulting in 17.8 million articles in 250 languages by eight million user accounts, of which about 100,000 edit at least five times per month. It has 52 people in its San Francisco headquarters, which Gardner took over in 2007.

The nonprofit’s three-part mandate is to increase Wikipedia participation, quality and reach. Its big focus for the coming year will be reach, according to Gardner, specifically targeting poorer areas of the world where Wikipedia has so far proved to be less popular.

The idea, said Gardner, is that if people in these places have the tools and exposure to contribute to Wikipedia, the resulting content will be better representative of the world, as well as more comprehensive.

“You can’t blame editors for not being representative,” said Gardner. “The way to solve this is not to make them feel bad.”

A major implementation of the initiative will be opening a Wikimedia office in India in the next couple of months. Gardner had just recently returned from a trip to India when we spoke.

Meanwhile, Wikimedia’s product team is also working to redo its registration and discussion tools, and future projects include a better system for understanding user reputations.

The company has also started a campus ambassador program at colleges, which Gardner said is promising in part due to the folks who have turned out so far. Unlike with Wikipedia, where 87 percent of contributors are men, the campus ambassador volunteers were 50 percent women.

Another college effort is a program with 25 public policy classes to improve the Wikipedia pages on a particular subject matter.

And on the infrastructure front, Wikimedia is finally moving its data center out of the hurricane zone in Florida to a dedicated space in Virginia. The nonprofit is also looking to cache the site from more locations (it currently does so in Amsterdam) so it can be more quickly accessible in more parts of the world.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus