Larry Sanger unloads on Jimmy Wales for removing his place in history as wikipedia's true founder/namer.

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From: “Larry Sanger”
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2009 21:36:15 To:
Subject: [WikiEN-l] An open letter to Jimmy Wales
Earlier today, I had no joy in trying to post this “open letter to Jimmy
Wales” on Jimmy’s own user talk page: the man himself deleted it. That is
not the sort of behavior I would have expected of the head of an allegedly
open, transparent community devoted to free speech. I would like
Wikipedians in general to be apprised of my concerns. I believe they are
serious and well-justified, and they should not be dismissed without a
careful hearing. I do not ask that Jimmy Wales reply here on this list.
But I do ask that “the powers that be”–including the Wikipedia community,
the Wikimedia Board, and the media–hold Jimmy responsible for his very
shabby behavior toward me.
Let me be clear. This is not just an attempt to “tell my side of the
story.” It is me confronting Jimmy Wales publicly for lying about my
involvement in the project after many private requests to stop. You might
disagree with me about many things, but we need not disagree about the facts
as they can be found in various Internet archives, nor about the necessity
of keeping our leaders honest.
A readable copy, with some updates, can be found here:
The letter itself follows.
–Larry Sanger
Jimmy, I don’t know a better place than this for an open letter to you
[i.e., than on your user talk page on Wikipedia]. I recently read the Hot
Press interview with you. The lies and distortions it contains are, for me,
the last straw, especially after
this came to light,
in which you described yourself as “co-founder” in 2002.
I’ve reached out to you on a couple of occasions to coordinate our
“versions” – well, my version and your fanciful inventions – about how
Wikipedia got started. Last year I read about a speech in which you
represented me as being more or less opposed to Wikipedia from the start –
despite it being my own baby, really – and I wrote to you saying that if you
keep this up, I will speak out. Well, I’m finally speaking out.
In Wikipedia’s first three years, it was clear to everyone working on it
that not only had I named the project, I came up with and promoted the idea
of making a wiki encyclopedia, wrote the first policy pages and many more
policy pages in the following year, led the project, and enforced many rules
that are now taken for granted. I came up with a lot of stuff that is
regarded as standard operating procedure. For instance, I argued that talk
should go on talk pages and got people into that habit. Similarly, after
meta-discussion started taking up so much of Wikipedia’s time and energy, I
shepherded talk about the project to – and after that, to
Wikipedia-L and WikiEN-L. I insisted that we were working on an
encyclopedia, not on the many other things one can use a wiki for. I came up
with the name “Wikipedian” and other Wikipedia jargon. I had devised a
neutrality policy for Nupedia, and I elaborated it in a form that stood for
several years on Wikipedia. I did a lot of explaining and evangelizing for
Wikipedia – what it is about, why we are here, and so forth – for example,
Wikipedia:Our Replies to Our Critics and a couple of well-known posts on like this
one and this. I also
recall introducing many specific policy details, the evidence for which is
in archives (such as on and no doubt in the memories of some of
the more active early Wikipedians.
These are only some examples of ways in which I led the project in its first
14 months; after I left, there was a lot of soul-searching in the project
about what would happen now that it was “leaderless” (see the quotations
linked from this page). When I
was involved in the project, I was regarded as its chief organizer. As you
can still see in the archives, I called myself “Chief Instigator” and “Chief
Organizer” and the like (not editor).
I also want to correct you on something that tends to harm me: your repeated
insinuations that I was “fired.” In the Hot Press interview, you said I left
Wikipedia because you “didn’t want to pay him any more.” You know – and so
does everyone else who worked at Bomis, Inc., around a dozen people – that
at the end of 2001, you had to go back to Bomis’ original 4-5 employees,
because of the tech market bust, when Bomis suddenly lost a million-dollar
ad deal. Tim Shell told me I was the last person to be laid off. He told me
– the day I arrived back from my honeymoon, as I recall – that I should
probably start looking for new work, because of the market. I was made to
believe, and always did until a few years ago when you started implying
otherwise, that I had been laid off just like all the other Bomis employees.
In those first three years, Wikipedia did three press releases, in which we
are both given credit as founders of the project. I
drafted the first press release in January 2002; you read and approved
it before posting it on the wires. Moreover, you must have read the many
early news articles that called us both founders. You could have complained
then – when you were CEO of the company that paid my paycheck. But you
didn’t. In fact, you called yourself “co-founder” from time to time.
Evidence of this has surfaced in the form of
this post to xodp in
which you begin, “Hello, let me introduce myself. I’m Jimmy Wales,
co-founder of Nupedia and Wikipedia, the open content encyclopedias.” While
your company supplied the funding and you supplied some guidance, I supplied
the main leadership of the early project. This is why Wikipedia’s second
press release also called me “founder,” in 2003 – just after I broke
permanently with you and the Wikipedia community – and the Wikimedia
Foundation’s first press release described me the same way, in early 2004.
I had nothing to do with the second and third press releases, and, as Bomis
CEO and Wikimedia Chair, you approved all three. But now read what you told
Hot Press recently. The interviewer asked: “Sanger said that proof of his
being co-founder is on the initial press releases. Are you saying that he
basically just put himself down as co-founder on these press releases?” You
answered “Yes.” How could I “put myself down as co-founder” in 2003 and
2004, when I wasn’t even part of the organization? This is an attempt to
buff your reputation while making me look like a liar – but your simple
“Yes” answer can be refuted with
you were a contact on all three press releases.
Beginning in 2004, you began leaving me out of the story of Wikipedia’s
origin. Y
ou began implying, to reporters, that you had done a lot of the
sort of work that, in fact, you hired me to do. You have even implied that I
was opposed to various ideas that were crucial to Wikipedia’s popular
success – when those were, for all intents and purposes, my own ideas. A
good example is Daniel Pink’s
article for Wired
Magazine – in which you implied that I had little or nothing to do with
You still do this. You told the Hot Press interviewer, “Larry was never
comfortable with the open-editing model of Wikipedia and he very early on
wanted to start locking things down and giving certain people special
authority – you know, recruit experts to supervise certain areas of the
encyclopaedia and things like that.” This is a lie. I was perfectly
comfortable with the “open-editing model of Wikipedia.” After all, that was
my idea. I did not want to “start locking things down” – or to “recruit
experts to supervise certain areas of the encyclopaedia.” I challenge anyone
to find any evidence in the archive that I did any such thing. For my early
attitude toward expert involvement, see
this column,
written a year after the project started. Besides, your claim doesn’t make
sense. Even after a year, I was hoping that a revitalized Nupedia would work
in tandem with Wikipedia as its vetting service. Though you increasingly
disliked Nupedia as Wikipedia’s star rose, it was always my assumption that
you felt the same way about at least the potential of the two projects
working together.
It was one thing, in 2004, to leave me out of the story of Wikipedia. It was
another to assert in 2005, (1) for

the very first time, that

somebody else had the idea for the project, contrary to
what had been on the books since 2001, or (2) that I am not co-founder
of the project. But in both cases, people scanning the Wikipedia-L mailing
list archives found old mails in which you contradicted yourself.

One embarrassing mail has you giving me credit – as, of course, I always had
been given credit – for the idea of Wikipedia, and
another embarrassing
mail surfaced just a few days ago in which you called yourself “co-founder”
of Wikipedia.
I find your behavior since 2004 transparently self-serving, considering that
this rewriting of history began in 2004, just as was getting
started, and you started promoting your reputation as the brains behind
Wikipedia. There is a long “paper trail” establishing virtually all of my
claims about Wikipedia, and which refute your various attempts to rewrite
I have not publicly confronted you about this before, to this extent. Public
controversies are emotionally wrenching and time-consuming. I know I might
be (verbally) attacked more viciously than ever by your fans and
Wikipedia’s. (To them, I just point out that Wikipedia is bigger than Jimmy
Wales.) I have mainly limited myself to answering reporters’ questions –
keeping my more harshly-worded statements off the record – and to
this page on my personal site.
Occasionally I couldn’t help objecting to some particularly outrageous
claim, but I never went all out.
I thought that the evidence against your claims about me would shame you
into changing your behavior. But, five years since you started
misrepresenting my role in the founding of Wikipedia, you’re still at it.
I have been content to watch you reap the rewards of the project I started
for you, largely without comment. You (with Tim Shell and Michael Davis, the
Bomis partners) did, after all, sponsor the project. After leaving
Wikipedia, I went back to academia and, after that, worked for a succession
of nonprofit projects – these days, and now also I
have not tried to cash in on my own reputation. I have been approached by a
number of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and publishers and have always
told them that I have my own plans. If I had wanted to cash in myself, I
wouldn’t have moved away from Silicon Valley back to Ohio, as I did, in
order to lower my costs in supporting the non-profit projects which I’ve
made my life’s work.
The Hot Press interview is the straw that broke this camel’s back. I resent
being the victim of another person’s self-serving lies. Besides, I don’t
want to set a poor example in my failure to defend myself.
Please don’t say I’m making mountains out of molehills. When you go out of
your way to edit Wikipedia articles to
remove the fact that I am a co-founder, or
ask others to do
so, I don’t call that correcting “very simple errors,” as you told Hot
Press. What angers me is not any one error, but the accumulated weight of
your lies about me – I’ve mentioned only a few of them here.
Finally, you might protest that you have said, several times, that I am not
credited enough. For example, you told Hot Press:
I feel that Larry’s work is often under-appreciated. He really did a lot in
the first year to think through editorial policy. . I would actually love to
have it on the record that I said: I think Larry’s work should be more
appreciated. He’s a really brilliant guy.
This sounds like a fine sentiment. But how could it be sincere? What better
way to ensure that I am “under-appreciated” than to contradict your own
first three press releases and tell the Boston Globe, just two years later,
that it’s “preposterous” that I am called co-founder?
I have two further requests, not of you, but of those who deal with you: the
Wikimedia Foundation and reporters.
First, I ask the Board of the Wikimedia Foundation to reiterate the
Foundation’s original position (as expressed in its
press release) that we are both, in fact, founders of Wikipedia. (I note
that the author of the recent history of Wikipedia, Andrew “fuzheado” Lih,
among the authors and contacts for this press
release.) If the Foundation is unwilling, I request an explanation why its
corporate view has changed. Is it simply because Jimmy Wales has made his
wishes known and you enforce them?
Second, I request any reporter who interviews you about the early history of
Wikipedia and Nupedia to interview me as well, so I can correct anything
misleading. They should know that there are many details in my 2005
of Nupedia and Wikipedia, and my story has never varied. I would also
appreciate it if a reporter were to inquire about my request, above, to the
Board of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Larry Sanger (

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