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Word Play
For Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales, there's no such thing as too much information.

It's one thing to introduce a revolutionary idea. It's an entirely different concept to reinvent the wheel - or in this case, the modern encyclopedia. But Jimmy Wales thinks he has the task covered. Five years ago, the St. Petersburg, Florida, resident advanced the idea of letting the masses write entries to an encyclopedia and then posting all the material online for the world to see. It was bold, it was brash, and it seemingly had no chance to succeed.

Skip forward to 2006, aim your web browser at www.wikipedia.com, and you find out how wrong the pundits were. Wikipedia has grown - "exploded" might be a more apt description - into the world's largest and most widely used source of reference information, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.5 million entries and five billion page visits each month. It's free, it's easy to use, and it's more detailed than any other encyclopedia on the planet. There are articles on topics as arcane as navel lint (with links to accompanying photos, no less) and the Huraa Dynasty of the Maldives, and as common as cats and cornflakes.

While every era produces a few standout ideas and products, it's apparent that the 39-year-old Wales - who cut his teeth working as a futures and options trader in Chicago and later introduced a photo search portal that specialized in allowing end users to build "web rings" of content of their own choosing - is rewriting the way people think about and use information. If traditional resources like Encyclopædia Britannica and Columbia Encyclopedia aim for the scholarly elite, Wikipedia has quite literally emerged as the everyman's encyclopedia.