Newsmakers: Gil Penchina '97
Wikia, Penchina fosters collective wisdom, community spirit
might one take an Internet powerhouse like Wikipedia —
"the free encyclopedia" written and edited by volunteers
and supported solely by donations — keep the popular
"wiki" format that allows any user to edit, and
then turn it into a sustainable commercial venture?
is the puzzle facing digital entrepreneur Gil Penchina
'97. Originally an investor in the company, Penchina is
now the CEO of Wikia, a "collection of communities"
built on everything from science fiction to psychology. Just
two years after its October 2004 inception, Wikia had wikis
— collaborative entry pages — covering more than
1,700 topics and users who posted information in 40 languages.
launched by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Wikia Inc., is
its own entity, financially independent of the nonprofit Wikimedia
Foundation. Unlike the massive, user-generated encyclopedia
that inspired it, which tries to maintain an academic air
of neutrality, Wikia encourages members to express opinions
and engage in debates.
to Penchina, the enthusiasm and diligence of Wikia's users
keep the entries remarkably detailed and accurate. "People
who start these things, they're starting a project,"
says the former eBay vice president, whose roles there included
expanding the company's operations in Europe and Asia. Whether
they live and breathe for computer programming, literary criticism
or little-known Internet cartoons, wiki editors are serious
about the communities they create.
you put up a page and let anyone edit, it usually ends up
full of links to pharmaceutical companies," says Penchina,
comparing the problem to that of real-life vandalism. But,
he adds, just as residents of a small town are unlikely to
let graffiti sully their building fašades for long, knowledgeable
wiki community members are quick to purge inaccuracies from
collaborative editing format has other advantages, too, says
Penchina: It encourages users to cooperate with people in
other countries and cultures, people who may have little in
common except for their shared passion. Penchina is excited
to be a part of it. "How often do you get the chance
to make the world a slightly better place?" —