Jimmy Wales is the founder of Wikpedia (in fact, here's his entry!). More important for our purposes, he grew up in Alabama, "living and breathing Tide football." As Saban's boys prepare for their opening-night battle against the Top 10 Clemson Tigers (8pm Saturday, ABC), we caught up with Wales to discuss the awkwardness of attending both Alabama and Auburn (which he did), the best play in Tide history, the origins of Wikipedia, and the weirdest alteration he's ever seen on his own page. Enjoy.
The Magazine: What are your recollections about the atmosphere at Tide games?
Wales: I grew up in Alabama during the Bear Bryant era and lived and breathed Alabama football as a kid. By the time I got to Bama the times had changed and of course that beautiful dominance of the 1970s (4 national championships in a decade!) was fading fast. Even so, going to Bryant-Denny stadium on a Saturday afternoon with the crisp smell of fall in the air…ahhhh…
How important is college football—both Alabama and Auburn—to the state of Alabama?
Pretty damned important. I figure I ruined my chance to ever be Governor of Alabama by going to both Alabama and Auburn! Both sides would hate me!
What's your single-best story Crimson Tide story, either from a game you were at or one you weren't?
Without question, it's gotta be the 1979 Sugar Bowl "goal line stand." The single best moment of college football in history. Quite possibly the single best moment in all sports history. Maybe I am biased, but anyone who makes a top 10 list without putting that one on there is just a very sad and confused individual.
Having also studied at Indiana, what's your sense of an Alabama football environment versus an Indiana basketball environment?
They're a little weird up there. They play some kind of game involving bouncing round balls and throwing them through hoops. And you aren't even allowed to tackle the other guy! And they call this a sport? All joking aside, even though I never could quite get into it, I suppose it's a pretty similar thing. But I'll take my Bear Bryant over their Bobby Knight any day of the week.
Switching up for a second: what were the discussions like that led to the creation of Wikipedia?
Very academic and very serious. Before Wikipedia, we had a previous project called Nupedia. The goal was the same: a free encyclopedia for everyone, but the method was different. Very top down, very academic. The problem was, it was just too slow.
What's your main rebuttal to critics of Wikipedia, especially in terms of inaccurate information?
We need their help to come and make it better. Seriously, though, we do take errors very seriously and we're proud of what we've accomplished so far. But there's still a ton of work left to do.
What are some of the current trends along the Wikipedia online collaboration model, especially in sports?
People are taking some of the core ideas of Wikipedia and starting to move "beyond the encyclopedia". For example, at the Wikia site Armchair GM, sports fan use a variation of the original wiki software that runs Wikipedia to manage discussions about sports.
Where do you think Wikipedia fits in the broader framework of what's happening in society now with user-driven content?
I think Wikipedia was just the leading edge of a much broader trend. At Wikia, we are seeing people build out all kinds of collaborative works…"the rest of the library." The biggest category is gaming sites, unbelievably in-depth and accurate how-to manuals for every possible game. More than 70,000 articles about the World of Warcraft. And of course fan sites for tons of different teams, sports, etc.
What we're finding is that collaboration works for all kinds of things that people would like to see exist. It'd be pretty hard for one person to write a definitive history of Alabama football—but for 100 fans to do it? A snap, and incredible fun.
Quick hitters now: best athlete alive?
Michael Jordan. He's retired of course, but still alive. And he was the best.
Your personal favorite athlete ever?
Bo Jackson. His injury was one of the saddest moments ever in sports. A great human being.
Favorite member of the Tide ever?
Joe Namath. He was before my time, but I grew up reading and hearing about him.
Best sports movie ever?
Field of Dreams. "If you build it, they will come."
Gotta ask: what's the funniest error you've ever found on Wikipedia?
The biography of me once said that I like to play chess with my friends. Sounds plausible, except it isn't true at all.