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  Gil Penchina '97
  Gil Penchina '97
Alumni Newsmakers
  Gil Penchina '97
  Paul Campbell '00
  Maury Fertig '85
  J.P. Rhea '06

Alumni Newsmakers: Gil Penchina '97

With Wikia, Penchina fosters collective wisdom, community spirit

How 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?

This 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.

Though 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.

According 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.

"If 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 their pages.

The 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?" — Aubrey Henretty

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University