Why We Collaborate

Jul 12, 2013
Originally published on December 17, 2013 9:53 am

What motivates dozens, thousands, even millions of people to come together on the Internet and commit their time to a project for free? In this hour, TED speakers unravel ideas behind the mystery of mass collaborations that build a better world.

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Time now for an idea worth spreading, from the TED Radio Hour, which features stories adapted from the Web's most popular TED Talks. On the show this weekend, Guy Raz talks with Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales about what drives tens of thousands of people to come together and edit that site, a process that should be chaotic, but isn't.

GUY RAZ, BYLINE: When you put this out there, did you ask the question: All right, who's in charge of this? Who's going to be in charge of this?

JIMMY WALES: Not really. I was in charge of it.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Someone in Athens, Greece edited: These are requirements for Zimbabwean citizens.

WALES: In the early days I used to read every single edit as they came in. I was...

RAZ: Wow.

WALES: ...could see what somebody's done. That only lasted for a very short period of time. It got very...


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Someone in Port Collins, Colorado...

WALES: ...fast. It was impossible to keep up with everything.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: edited: Unemployment.

RAZ: I'm looking at a Wikipedia recent changes live map right now and it just so happens that...


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Someone in Birmingham, Alabama...

RAZ: ...your home state edited the lists of reportedly haunted locations in the United States.

WALES: Yeah, yeah. I've seen it. It's very cool. It said little things pop up as people are editing.

RAZ: Yeah. And the country flashes.

WALES: Yeah.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Belgium. Edited: Dependency theory.

RAZ: It's incredible, isn't it?

WALES: Yeah, it's really nice to see. Tools like this are interesting because they really help you feel that there's real people out there. You know, when I find some entry on something incredibly obscure and I realize six different people have had major input into this, and they may have come from Birmingham, Alabama or Birmingham, England, or who knows where.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Someone in Atlanta. Edited: Joseph McCarthy. Someone in the United Kingdom. Edited....

WALES: You know, people don't ask the question, why do people play "World Of Warcraft? How come they don't ask to be paid to do it? And the answer is, it's fun. They do it because it's fun. I think for our community, it's fun but also, you know, I'm sure people, at the end of an eight-hour binge of playing a video game, they think OK that was really stupid. I just wasted eight hours of my life. Usually when people have an eight-hour binge of editing Wikipedia, they think, well, I made the world a little bit better place than it was when I started, so I feel happy about that.

SIMON: Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, speaking with NPR's Guy Raz, a deeper look at ways the Internet is breeding collaboration and, while you're participating - whether you know it or not - this weekend on the TED Radio Hour.


SIMON: This is NPR News.

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