In General

An Evening With Jimmy Wales

Thanks to Atul Chitnis, I got to know of a Wikipedia Editors’ Meet and I wouldn’t miss such a chance for the world. It was serendipity at its best. I couldn’t have timed my Bangalore visit any better. Especially, when Jimmy Wales was going to be part of it. For those who don’t know, Jimmy is the founder of Wikipedia. He had come in to participate in the InfoVision 2006 conference and used this opportunity to meet up with the editors.

He obviously had a super star status and his reputation clearly preceded him. When he stepped in to the hotel at our table, everyone stood up, the way students stand up when the head master walks in. Then followed an eerie silence. I half expected everyone to chorus, ‘Good Evening Sir’ 🙂 It was funny in a strange kind of way. But then, it was understandable. Jimmy Wales has a bigger than life image. Most folks are meeting the man for the first time, of whom they had heard great things about. The situation can be a bit oveawing.

The man himself was extremely down to earth and very affable. Within the next few minutes, the ice was broken and the conversations flowed smoothly. It was a three hour meet and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of some very talented folks out there.

Jimmy stressed on the importance of Unicode and why regional language editors are important. There was an impromptu poll taken on what regional languages we were comfortable in editing. Hindi and Kannada came up trumps. Understandable since most of the team were from Bangalore. But not all. Bengali and Telugu also scored. I was surprised to hear that all Tamil editors lived outside Tamilnadu. Don’t know if this is true but it definitely needs a chance of situation.

That’s me sitting right next to Jimmy.

The conversations happened over plates of pakoras, peanuts and honeyed coconut water.

Jimmy turned out to be pretty soft spoken and the folks sitting on the other side of the table had a difficult time hearing him. He had to be heard over the traffic noise at Church street. After a little while, folks shifted around and everyone had a chance to mingle with each other.

I really liked the way how Atul invited the wikipedians to speak at, India’s biggest open source conference. In his words, “Wikipedia is about as FOSS as a project can get”. The event is offering Wikipedians free expo space, with connectivity, computers, etc. that they may require to highlight their work. I personally thought that was a smart decision.

I finally was able to meet up with Kalyan Varma, the ace wildlife photographer and his drool worthy Nikon D200. Didn’t know he was CTO of Secuprise, though.

The better snaps you find here are from this guy, RamKrsna. My puny olympus stood no chance against Ram’s Canon EOS and Kalyan’s Nikon D200.

India’s most prolific editor, Bhadani, a senior manager at Bank of India, drove in a taxi from Chennai for the meet and drove all the way back after the meet. You can see him handing over a small memento to Jimmy. Two of the folks even flew in from Calcutta for the meet. Wow! That’s some commitment. Remember, Wikipedia is all voluntary. And sheer passion!

At the end of the meet, all of us got to get together for a group snap. Even though most of us are meeting each other for the first time, we bonded very well, the passion for wikipedia being the common thread.