By Gregory Kohs
Wikipedia has some problems with diversity. Something like nine out of ten editors of Wikipedia are male. About three-quarters are under the age of 30. And the vast majority are white. So, probably as an effort to make Wikipedia appear more “global”, the project’s co-founder Jimmy Wales invented an annual prize called the “Global Wikipedian of the Year” award.
In its inaugural year, 2011, the honor was bestowed by Jimmy Wales on a Kazakhstan government-supported official named Rauan Kenzhekhanuly.
The prize included a $5,000 grant, personally from Jimmy Wales.
We certainly hope that Jimbo cleared his $91,679 in 2010 personal debt obligations before he gave $5,000 to a former Kazakh government agent. In all, the award to and interest in Kazakhstan proved to be highly suspicious, as first reported here by Andreas Kolbe of Wikipediocracy and by my own Examiner report. The story was then picked up by The Telegraph and other world media. It certainly put a retroactive blemish on the 2011 Global Wikipedian of the Year award.
Come 2012, Jimmy Wales surely was thoughtfully thinking about who would receive the honor of that year’s Global Wikipedian award. In March 2012, Jimbo would notice the Yoruba Wikipedia (covering content in a native African language spoken mostly in Nigeria) and acknowledge the work of its most prolific editor. A further hint would come in April 2012, when Jimbo began to drum up PR for the Yoruba language Wikipedia, which he called the “most popular African language for Wikipedia”, at 29,000 articles. This surprised some people who noted that Swahili has more speakers than Yoruba. Well, working behind the scenes on the Yoruba Wikipedia was one User:Demmy who had written a “bot” program that would automatically copy into Yoruba Wikipedia the translated versions of 15,000 short, stubby articles — basically a simple way to artificially boost article count, without the need for human editors or critical thought. (Indeed, it was reported that Demmy’s activity inspired a doubling of active Yoruba editors — to a total of “about four” people.)
As the 2012 Wikimania conference in Washington, DC reached its height, Jimmy Wales was there again to issue the annual Global Wikipedian award, although this time, it seemed to be called the “Jimbo Award”, perhaps to distance the more formally organized Wikimedia Foundation from the whimsy of one of its trustee’s personal prize. The issuance of the 2012 Jimbo Award was disorganized, to say the least.
While the award winner — User:Demmy, as nobody seems to have learned his real name — was announced, one person taking notes at the conference wrote:
Jimbo Awards given to User:Demmy for his work June 2011 to July 2011 on the Yoruba site.User:Demmy has no idea he has won this award. Jimbo asks people to update his talk page.
Afterwards, further criticism of Jimbo’s 2012 selection process emerged, when Hungarian Wikipedian Oren Bochman described Jimmy Wales as having appeared in “a dilapidated outfit” and having “ad libbed his presentation.” It was claimed that the award “had not been researched well and that the bulk of the work had been done by someone else anyhow”.
Six months after making the award, Jimbo was still trying to track down User:Demmy. After a day or two, Demmy acknowledged his contact with Wales. Who knows what mysterious conversations are now taking place privately between Jimbo and his latest award winner?
And what can we look forward to in 2013, when Wales presents this year’s Jimbo Award at the Wikimania summit in Hong Kong? Given that Kazakhstan and Nigeria are known primarily for their production of petroleum, natural gas, and minerals, the inside line points to the winner being someone from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or Brunei. Jimmy Wales may be disorganized, but he’s not stupid.
Image credits: From Wikimedia Commons, released into public domain