Chris Whitten

First things first: I'm not the musician Chris Whitten, the golfer, the college athlete, or the US Marine that served in Guantanamo Bay.

I'm the thirty-something boot-strapping wiki-farming Megan-adoring scuba-diving fossil-collecting vegetarian libertarian Chris Whitten from Massachusetts, New York, Chicago, London, and now Westchester County NY. Whew. That should cover any possible way you know me.

Chris Whitten

I grew up in Fitchburg, a small city in central Massachusetts, with my older brother Ted and mother Donna. My father Ted and stepmother Vicki lived close by in Ashby, Mass.

After graduating from Fitchburg High School in 1989 I went off to Lyndon State College in the beautiful Northeast Kingdom of Vermont for their small business management program. My economics classes there — with a gentleman farmer named Joe Wynne — changed my life.

I spent my freshman year wrangling with ideas that seemed to contradict my bleeding-heart nature. I slowly became convinced that economic and social freedom are inseparable, and freedom is the sine qua non of human health, happiness, and prosperity.

With the zeal of a new convert I devoted myself to libertarian political philosophy. I transferred to New York University in 1991. NYU was an intellectual center for the Austrian School of Economics. I was lucky enough to take many classes there with a great scholar named Israel Kirzner. And the summer before my senior year, I had the privilege of being a Charles Koch Fellow and interning at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC.

After graduating from NYU in 1993 with a degree in economics I went to work for Andrea Rich at the Laissez Faire Books mail order book catalog. Before Amazon.com Laissez Faire was the only place you could buy many books on liberty. Working closely with Andrea and her husband Howie was a wonderful experience.

In 1994, I started experimenting with the Internet to see if there were new ways to communicate with our customers. Since many techies are libertarians we were one of the first businesses to find a receptive audience online. Even before there was a graphical web browser we were selling books on the Internet.

I was so excited by the Internet that I quit my job in 1995 and created a libertarian community portal called Free-Market.Net. In 1997, I started a non-profit organization to maintain it. I named the organization The Henry Hazlitt Foundation in honor of the great popularizer of free-market ideas.

By 2000, we had five full-time employees and over 200,000 unique visitors a month. I'm very proud of what we accomplished but by 2001 the fundraising and administration of running a non-profit had exhausted me. I wanted to be an entrepreneur again.

I started experimenting with a small number of targeted websites on various topics under the umbrella of Interesting.com. Each of them had a community bulletin board for discussion. I began to realize that the visitors' interaction in these forums was becoming the most unique and valuable content on the sites.

Interaction almost always took the form of questions and answers. It was the same as the early days of the Internet where people would generously answer each other's questions in the USENET newsgroups. That got me thinking about FAQs and how they evolved as a way to preserve the valuable Q&A so that the same questions didn't have to be answered over and over again.

The problem with FAQs is that they're usually maintained by one person and they disappear or fade away when that person loses interest. I knew that with the recent advances in interactive technology something much more dynamic and powerful could be created.

FAQ Farm was born in 2002. In 2004 it became wiki. Wiki questions and wiki answers set FAQ Farm apart from the new crop of Q&A sites by enabling the quality of the content to grow over time so that the Q&As become valuable permanent resources for everyone.

In January 2007 FAQ Farm was renamed WikiAnswers when I sold the company to Answers.com. I became their employee. I spent a year working with them to grow the business as part of their organization.

I'm proud to say that WikiAnswers was the fastest growing website in both 2007 and 2008 among the largest US websites and is now among the top 50 most popular sites in the country. It gets over 25 million visits per month.

But, again, I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial. At the end of my year with Answers.com I left to start something new.

I now work on a site called WikiTree. It's for "grassroots" history. Families and friends collaboratively grow profiles of themselves, their ancestors, and the events, places, and things that are important to them. Please check out the site and e-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Working for freedom and free markets is still an important part of my life. Megan and I support many organizations and I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the International Policy Network and the Advisory Council of the Competitive Enterprise Institute which now hosts Bureaucrash, a youth activist network that we started at Free-Market.Net.

That's plenty. Feel free to drop me a note at chris [-(@)-] interesting.com.

Chris

P.S. You want pictures? I got pictures: