ESPOO, Finland – Less than a week after delivering a keynote address at The Symbian Exchange & Exposition in London, the founder of Wikipedia and internet visionary Jimmy Wales landed in Helsinki Finland to receive the 2009 Nokia Foundation Award – and it couldn’t have been given to a nicer person. The online legend, who’s no stranger to journalists and cameras, was electrified and appreciative when we sat down together for a few minutes in Nokia’s Vision Vault near downtown Helsinki.
Breaking the typical mold of a Nokia Foundation award winner, Jimmy Wales is only the third non-Finn to ever pick up the gong. Joining the prestigious ranks of previous winners such as Linux pioneer, Linus Torvalds, and former MySQL CEO, Mårten Mickos, Jimmy says he is “humbled” by the honor but considers himself “a carpenter and not architect”. The Nokia Foundation award joins others including accolades from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Forbes, The Economist, and the World Economic Forum.
Making his third trip to Finland, he was happy to be back in the Land of the Midnight Sun (or as we say at this time of year, Land of Very Little Sun). On his first trek to Finland, he was treated to a traditional Finnish sauna and swin-in-the-lake by Nokia Design and Consumer Experience head, Marko Ahtisaari. When asked if he enjoyed the sauna in the customary fashion of being completely naked, he quickly replied, “absolutely!”
This year’s award theme was “Open Innovation”, something that clearly resonates with Jimmy who believes that when it comes to mobile platforms such as Symbian and Maemo “the open approach will succeed” and “the locked days are over”. He says, “I want to install what I want. Consumers don’t want permission”. Jimmy believes the United States is “behind” with locked devices, he’s happy to see that Americans are beginning to choose device and brand loyalty over carrier loyalty.
Given that a large portion of the global population will experience the Internet for the first time on a mobile device, I asked what the mobile industry can do to make it easier for these newcomers to get involved in something like Wikipedia. Languages are key, as Jimmy and the Wikipedia team have found through the work with site which supports 240 active languages. He also encourages handset makers to support the project by contributing updated style sheets so newer web browsers are compatible with Wikipedia.
Hunting around online, the terms “world changer” and “hero” seem to follow Jimmy around. When I mention it, he blushes and says he’s “actually embarrassed” by such things. Instead he tells a story of a guy who has been persecuted in his native country for simply updating the Farsi Wikipedia pages. This man’s wife now has Jimmy’s direct phone number and if her husband was ever arrested, Jimmy vows to make as much noise as possible about it online, knowing that international awareness and pressure would help set this person free.
As Jimmy says, “this man is the real hero”.