Wikipedia Founder's Fling With Columnist Ends in Nasty Public Breakup

As of midday Monday, $301.00 was the bid for a little piece of Internet history: the T-shirt that Jimmy Wales was wearing when he met Rachel Marsden for what he insists was their one and only night of passion.

There's nothing special about the T-shirt, and a sweater which is separately bidding at $405.00, except for a couple of stubborn stains that even Tide extra-strength could not remove.

But it's not every day that a guru of the World Wide Web uses his own site to dump his girlfriend and she responds by putting his old clothes on eBay.

• Click here to bid on the T-shirt, and here to bid on the sweater.

Wales, universally known as "Jimbo", is the 41-year-old co-founder of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia written and edited by its users that now contains 9 million articles in 253 languages.

Marsden is a Canadian columnist and conservative TV pundit for whom the word "controversial" could have been invented.

The two met, online at least, a couple of years ago when Marsden contacted Wales to complain about her Wikipedia biography, with which she disagreed.

• Rachel Marsden's official Web site, and her Wikipedia entry.

Wales says that they have only met in the flesh one time, on February 9 this year, by which point they appeared to have developed something of a cyber-lust.

The precise details of their meeting are still unclear.

A Silicon Valley gossip blog, Valleywag, has published transcripts of instant messaging (IM) conversations in which the pair planned a romantic getaway at a hotel in Washington, D.C.

• Valleywag's exhaustive coverage of the whole matter (contains impolite language).

Marsden, on the other hand, said that Wales left his T-shirt and sweater at her flat in New York City.

Either way, they clearly hit it off. In one IM message after their meeting, Wales reportedly tells her: "btw, i am recovered from 24 hours of marathon sex. lol."

In another exchange carried on Valleywag the pair compare broadband services around the world, and Wales complains about the miserly download speeds offered in America.

"When you talk about megabits and broadband, you have no idea what that does to me," she replies provocatively.

For some reason, however, the relationship soured — possibly because Wales realized that Marsden was keeping a copy of all their "hot" instant messages on her Google e-mail account.

Citing "friends" of the Wikipedia founder, Valleywag reported that Wales had become fearful that Marsden would use the transcripts to blackmail him and threatened to have her deported back to Canada.

The transcripts were duly leaked last week and on Saturday Wales, ignoring the Wikipedia protocol he has so carefully developed, posted a personal statement on the site's public discussion boards to insist that he had only met Rachel Marsden one time and was "no longer involved" with her.

Wales also denied having intervened "inappropriately" to redraft her Wikipedia biography, a far more serious charge given the politics of Wikipedia.

• Read Jimmy Wales' disavowal of a long-term romance with Rachel Marsden, and the Wikipedia discussions over Marsden's biographical entry.

The IM transcripts suggest, however, that he did offer her advice and even quoted Bill Clinton's line from his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky that it "depends on what the meaning of 'is' is."

Marsden first came to public attention in Canada in the late 1990s when, as a college swimming star, she accused her team coach of sexual harassment. The coach, who was fired and then later reinstated, claimed that she had in fact harassed him.

In 2004, she was given a conditional discharge with one year's probation for criminally harassing a Vancouver radio host following their break-up.

Last September she was again accused of harassment after she used her blog to accuse a Canadian counter-terrorism officer, with whom she had had a two-year affair, of passing her secret documents.

• Click here for's Personal Technology Center, which is usually much more boring.

After Wales posted his Wikipedia statement on Saturday, Marsden was quick to take her revenge, taking the T-shirt and sweater out of the closet, washing them and posting them for sale on eBay — modeling them herself.

"It was such a classy move [by Mr Wales] that I was inspired to do something equally classy myself, so I'm selling a couple of items of clothing he left behind, here in my NYC apartment, on eBay," she explained to buyers.

"Jimbo was supposed to come visit me in a couple of weeks and pick up some of his stuff, but obviously that won't be happening now," she wrote.

"Both of these items have been washed, twice, with Tide extra-strength liquid detergent. Otherwise, they would not be in salable condition. I took them out of GitMo style isolation from a plastic bag in my closet (where they were placed to prevent the ongoing terrorism of my olfactory senses) and washed them out for the purposes of this auction," she said.

"PS: Sorry that my hair is such a mess," Marsden adds. "I'm in breakup mode right now and really couldn't be bothered."