“You Can’t Ban Blockchain. It’s Math”: a Talk with Jimmy Wales

‘Jimmy Wales is good at failure.’ Who would think that? Apparently, Jimmy would, as this is the message he was spreading during his speech at the biggest crypto conference in Europe, BlockShow, calling failure ‘an essential part of innovation.’ But the importance of not giving up is also clear from his speech, as the co-founder of multilingual online encyclopedia shared that Wikipedia was not his first project, but the most successful one so far.

Speaking in Berlin, the headliner of the event, announced his new project that everybody was waiting (I mean, not a single spot in the audience!) – WikiTribune, that Jimmy described as ”all about bringing high-quality neutral journalism to the world.”

Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales giving a speech at BlockShow in Berlin, Germany, May 2018. Image source: BlockShow

And what about crypto?

Catherine Ross: During your speech, you’ve called crypto a bubble, and you’ve also expressed this opinion in different interviews. Why do you think so?

Jimmy Wales: I’m old now, and I was in the internet world during the dot-com bubble, so when I say something is a bubble, it doesn’t mean that I think there’s nothing of value there. It means there’s a lot of noise and there’s a lot of investment money flowing in, and a lot of things are being invested into what does not actually make sense. A lot of projects are going to fail, but we additionally have a lot of scams, a lot of theft, a lot of crazy things happening. So, I just ask people to be careful.

CR: Well, that’s fair. Are you a crypto investor yourself?

JW: No, I’m not. I have had some crypto here and there, but I’m not an investor at all, so that’s the other thing to know about me. I have my own projects and beyond, that I don’t really invest.

CR: If you ever decide to launch a blockchain-related project, what kind of project will it be?

JW: I’m not planning to do anything directly in the blockchain space. I am very intrigued by the idea. A lot of people have pitched me on their ideas in the journalism space, I just don’t see it makes a lot of sense. I’ll continue to reflect and think. At this stage of my career, I’m not just trying to get money from people for something I don’t personally believe in. Until I figure it out, I’m not going to be doing anything.

CR: I get it. There is a possibility, but the project has to be of value.

JW: It has to resonate. It has to be something as meaningful to me.

CR: I’m sure you’ve heard about the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal.

JW: Of course.

CR: The issue of privacy is really topical here [in the crypto world]. Do you believe cryptocurrency or the blockchain technology can offer a solution?

JW: I don’t know. I suspect not. I think that the issue is much broader and a lot of the ideas in this area failed to understand the real risk points and solve problems that people don’t actually have. I think that the biggest thing that is happening is that consumers are beginning to wake up to the idea that sharing all of your data has consequences that you might not have thought about. There are good consequences. One of the good consequences is that advertising is more relevant, and I think consumers appreciate that. I like the fact that I get ads for things that I’m interested in. There’s nothing wrong with that.

CR: Like boats?

JW: Like boats, for example, yes, exactly. I get ads for boats because I like boats, I’m interested in boats and I might buy a boat, and so on. It’s a perfectly sensible thing. On the other hand, if political actors are using this to create disruption and hatred and, sowing divisions in society for a political game –that’s super problematic and that’s something I think people should be concerned about. I’m also concerned about the incredible pressure that’s been put on the industry of journalism for quite some time. That’s been a big problem. The number of excellent journalists, who are out of the job simply because the world has shifted in a way that’s not good for journalism, is a problem. I think we need to work ways through that and find new ways of supporting journalism.

At the stage, Jimmy stressed out the importance of fair journalism in all its aspects. He pointed out that media has been not performing to their best abilities. ‘Over the past 15 to 20 years we’ve seen an enormous decline in the funding of journalism leading us to the state of the world that I think unfortunate.’

That is one of the reasons he started WikiTribune, ‘an evidence-based journalism’ news platform where ‘professionally paid journalists working side by side with community members as equals.’

CR: Speaking of journalism, have you heard about social media ban on cryptocurrency advertising and Google ban on cryptocurrency advertising?

JW: Yes, a little bit.

CR: Isn’t it the First Amendment Right violation? Do you think it’s fair?

JW: It’s really complicated. The first thing I’ll say it certainly doesn’t violate the First Amendment. The First Amendment is the restriction on Congress. Private platforms are not bound by the First Amendment. In terms of the fairness, I think the issue right now is that there have been quite clearly scams put forward that are not just technical violations of some securities rules, but actually scams where people have had their money taken. That’s a huge problem, so platforms like Facebook and Google have to be sensitive to that. Now, have they overreacted? Possibly. It’s a very complicated thing. It’s certainly something that I think needs to be seriously looked at by all the relevant parties, relevant players. But if people are advertising securities for sale that are in violation of the securities laws, that’s a real problem. I don’t blame these people who say, “We don’t want any part of that.” […]

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