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Lay down your cards, Jimmy Wales

Summary peers into the co-founder of Wikipedia’s wallet to see what credit cards he has stashed there.

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Melvil Dewey organized all knowledge into 10 categories as America’s first librarian, creating a “search engine” powered by a decimal point. Jimmy “Jimbo” Donal Wales, who founded the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia, hasn’t tamed knowledge as much as he has amassed it. Since the nonprofit’s launch in 2001, Wikipedia, which is edited by volunteers and is free, has become the world’s seventh most visited Internet site; the English version has more than 1.8 million articles on subjects as diverse as fish and chips and ozone depletion, and is translated into 200 languages.

Jimmy WalesWales, a former options trader, was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2006. He counts Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Records, as a friend. Yet he lives a modest life with his family in sleepy St. Petersburg, Fla. Boyish-looking at 40, he is still indeed young by the standards of the nondigerati. He peppers his conversation with the word “cool,” and on a recent trip to New York City, he was taken aback by the high prices for a sandwich and a tuxedo rental.

In 2004, Wales launched a for-profit business, Wikia Inc., in Silicon Valley, with $4 million from private investors. The 35-employee startup plans to unveil a turbo-charged version of his wiki-based search engine, Search Wikia, by the end of 2007. Not surprisingly for a man who extols personal freedom, Wales uses his two primary credit cards, listed below, judiciously. “We have a right to choose how to live, but debt interferes with freedom,” he says. “People should be very careful.”

Type of card: American Express platinum
Issuer: American Express
Year obtained: 2006
Business or personal: Personal
Interest rates over its life: None
Fees: $295 a year
Credit limit: None

Perks (miles, rewards, etc.): “I get free membership in airline-lounge clubs and in car-rental gold programs.”
Customer service: “It seems good.”
Current usage: “I use it a lot. It’s a pretty good deal because I travel so much.”
The bottom line: “It’s been great. It’s widely accepted. I figure I’m saving money because I don’t have to pay separate fees to become a member of airport-lounge clubs and the rental-car gold programs.”

Type of card: AAdvantage Gold MasterCard
Issuer: Citibank
Year obtained: 1987
Business or personal: Personal
Interest rates over its life: “I have no idea. I’m a terrible consumer.” (The APR starts at about 10 percent.)
Fees: $50 a year
Credit limit: “I have no idea.”

Perks (miles, rewards, etc.): “The reason I chose it is to get miles on American Airlines. I travel constantly and redeem the points when I can, even though American doesn’t fly to some of the out-of-the-way places I go.”
Customer service: “They’re very good about calling me when I have unusual charges, and I have a lot of them. I could be in Hong Kong or a little town in India and make a charge that they’ll question.”
Current usage: “I use it constantly and I pay it off every month. Everyone should do this.”
The bottom line: “The great thing is that Citibank is very global; there are branches all over the world.”

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