The word on Wales' Wikipedia woes

Jimmy Wales, founder of the famed online encyclopedia, is ensnared in a sex scandal. Oh, wait, now it's a money scandal. Who knows what to believe anymore?

Sex. Money. Incriminating instant messages. From the news that's been pouring in recently, you'd think Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales were the tech industry's own Client No. 9 .

In a series of embarrassing peccadilloes that were originally relegated to gossip blogs like Valleywag, Wales' failed relationship with former Fox News commentator Rachel Marsden took center stage when Marsden "leaked" some of their online chats to the Web and made quite the public display of auctioning some of his clothes on eBay. The usual blog storm followed: photos of other women with whom Wales had reportedly been involved, hints that he may have acted inappropriately in editing Wikipedia entries to scrub details of the scandal, and what have you.

But with all eyes on the Wikipedia founder, other allegations have come into play, and they don't have anything to do with sex. First, there were reports that Wales misused foundation funds ; now his ties with a high-profile Silicon Valley venture capitalist are calling into question Wikipedia's nonprofit aims. The New York Times notes a $500,000 donation to the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia's parent organization, on behalf of Elevation Partners' Roger McNamee, with another $500,000 in the works. (Elevation Partners is the venture firm that counts U2 front man Bono as one of its founding partners.)

Considering McNamee's status in the Valley, it's easy to speculate that these massive donations could constitute an investment rather than a donation. That's bound to raise more prominent eyebrows than a trashy sex scandal. McNamee told the Times, "I am a Wikipedia volunteer--I help with strategy, fundraising and business development--it has nothing to do with Elevation Partners. And no one should be confused about that."

A representative from the Wikimedia Foundation told CNET News.com that it has not released an official statement addressing the speculation about McNamee's involvement. But Wikimedia Foundation chair Florence Nibart-Devouard said to the Times that she was "not comfortable with the concept" of the nonprofit accepting massive funds from donors best-known as capital investors, and the article went on to say that the foundation's board has passed a measure requiring approval for all donations that total over 2 percent of Wikimedia's revenues.

But despite the shift of "Jimbogate" concerns from personal to professional indiscretions, the musky tinge of sex-scandal still hangs over it. The latest, per Valleywag, involves a tipster who implied that Wales had a tryst in Amsterdam with Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner, who has remained one of his staunchest supporters throughout the controversy. It appears to be thoroughly unsubstantiated at this point, but the Valleywag blogger hinted that camera phone photos existed.

Even juicier, the tipster just had to bring Amsterdam, home to what's arguably the world's most famous red-light district as well as notoriously lax regulations on some substances that are frowned upon in the U.S., into the equation. It's all starting to read like the script of a made-for-TNT movie.

Eliot Spitzer, this Silicon Valley dirt might be one-upping you.

About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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