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Wikipedia team plans move to San Francisco

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

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The Wikimedia foundation, the force behind the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia, is moving its headquarters to San Francisco this winter.

Founder Jimmy Wales said Wednesday the small operation is packing up its office in St. Petersburg, Fla., and moving to San Francisco in an attempt to create a larger brand, attract more talent and make better inroads in developing countries, particularly in Asia. Wikipedia, which is edited largely by volunteers, is among the 10 most visited Internet sites in the world.

The foundation, which began in June 2003 in St. Petersburg, has six full-time employees. Trustees also considered moving the nonprofit to London, New York and Washington, D.C.

"San Francisco won out for all the obvious reasons - the Internet culture, the great developers and potential partners. It's really the place to be," Wales said. "We're a major Internet brand and this is where a lot of the major brands are located."

Wikimedia plans to move out of its office by the end of January, though not all of the employees will make the trip to San Francisco, Wales said. He said managers will begin selecting a site later this year. The foundation plans to begin hiring more employees in the coming weeks.

Florence Devouard, chairman of Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, said in a statement that she was excited about the move to San Francisco, where she said he believes the foundation will flourish.

"San Francisco is the center of high-tech in the United States, and will give the Foundation access to a rich array of resources, including best-in-breed online talent, top-tier universities, world-class support services and major media," she said.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said he was thrilled by Wikimedia's decision.

"Wikimedia will be an illustrious addition to our thriving information technology hub," Newsom said in a statement. "They represent the cutting edge of internet-based innovation and will contribute greatly to the atmosphere of creativity that flourishes in San Francisco."

For Wales, the move helps him consolidate his business interests. He already has a for-profit business in San Mateo called Wikia, which provides resources for building and organizing free content online. He also began renting an apartment in San Francisco's South Park neighborhood last month.

Wales said the move to San Francisco helps Wikipedia grow in developing countries. He said Wikipedia has proven to be incredibly popular in the United States and Europe but has had a harder time reaching out to Africa and Asia.

"We've always had a little trouble communicating with Asia," he said. "Being three time zones closer will help with that."

St. Petersburg was an accidental choice for Wikimedia, Wales said. It was just a cheap place to live for Wales as he worked on Wikipedia. But he said the lack of tech talent made it hard to continue there.

Although he was coy about immediate plans for Wikimedia upon its move to San Francisco, he said there is one thing that is certain for Wikimedia's employees:

"We'll be eating at more interesting restaurants now," he said.

E-mail Ryan Kim at rkim@sfchronicle.com


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