Alice interviews Alexis de Maud'huy, the mastermind behind Wikilove, the online encyclopedia of love.

The first time I met Alexis de Maud'huy was on a sparkling white beach in Ibiza, when in amongst the rudiments of small talk, the entrepreneur and founder uttered a word that more than piqued my interest; wikilove. One of those seminal moments you look back on and think surely someone somewhere had previously paired two of the most evocative words in the English language together? And the truth is they had, but certainly not in the manner we’ll become accustomed to - which brings me to another seminal meeting, on Skype this time – him in Switzerland, me in London, both waxing lyrical on one thing and one thing only – the old adage that; ‘All you need is love.’ 

That was the question quite clearly playing on his mind and one with enough wattage to engender a light bulb moment in his history; the genesis of wikilove – the brand spanking new encyclopedia of (you guessed it) love. One that, in Maud'huy’s charmingly French vernacular, aims to provide a ‘a modernisation of emotional bonds.’ Yes, this entrepreneur is all about translating the plethora of love-related material that abounds on the web (and that characterises our wildly differing relationships to the most powerful of emotions) - and aggregating it all into one giant life-affirming online portal. 

Be it music, art or video - it’s all there, under the auspices of an aptly romantic interface, with the tag line; ‘Love life – live love.’ And of course central to the wikilove story is Maud'huy’s muse; his wife Tatyana, an art curator who very much inspired the online oeuvre; ‘You know, love is about trust. She gives me feedback, but she trusts my intuition.'

Their marital union, which started with a proposal on the island of Naoshima in Japan, is a core facet to the wikilove story; ‘It was a pledge that I made just before my wedding to create a blog, not about us but about love,’ he says with all the tenderness of a man clearly head over heels himself. ‘What I wanted to do is to fall in love with not only my wife, but with love – and show everyone that love is everywhere. You know, you have so many love songs that say “All you need is love” but that’s only lyrics. What I want is to make it bulletproof. To make it happen. And the only way to do it, is to show that you can find it everywhere, and you can love everything.’

Whilst romantic notions abound, Maud'huy’s mission goes way beyond cupids,
bows and arrows – this is about finding universality; a new take on an age-old (and often clichéd) subject. ‘It’s not just about being in love... I decided to make a who, where, when, what, how, which – and to make it easier to understand how to classify information.’ Indeed wikilove offers the user a serious hit of ‘well-categorised content’: including all manner of cultural references to aid and abet a higher level of empathy. ‘Even on Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook, most people tag names, but they don’t tag locations, situations, the emotions involved.’ ‘Personal growth and interpersonal relationships’ not to mention ‘spirituality and cultural curiosity’ are the buzz words, whilst Maud'huy hopes to positively affect the way users deal with negative emotions. Quite a manifesto for a website.

But how does wikilove cover all these bases?
Well, it’s all about making love-related (though not necessarily romantically related) topics easily accessible; linking and tagging using the open source Wiki software; a solution arrived at via the entrepreneur’s frustration at ‘how difficult it was on Google, and not only on Google but on the web, to find a very specific emotional bond or a very specific situation.’ But don’t let the emotions fool you; it’s about ‘liking’ as much as ‘loving’ – [‘no porn’ says the press release], rather a concept modelled on the ethos of the French verb «aimer» which can mean both «like» and «love» at the same time.

So how does it work exactly?
Well the aim is that the unlimited file tree of the WikiMedia platform will incite users to feel the urge to create or upgrade articles such as «Pop Songs about Dating in High School», «Book quotes about Grieving a Dog» or «Heart Shaped Sunglasses», the list is endless; whatever most galvanises the user to feel that warm fuzzy glow – and want to share it. And the best-case scenario? After gaining access through a Facebook login, those very same users will want to share their oeuvre via social media. A few clicks, and before you know it you’re part of the ‘Emotions focused DIKW pyramid; Data – Information – Knowledge – Wisdom.’ A world where the pursuit of ‘emotional intelligence’ is all - a skill to be developed and encouraged, creating a utopian and highly bonded community of wikilovers.

And boy are these decidedly unique visitors part and parcel of Maud'huy plans for a quite serious launch party.
Because although the site has been online since August 2013, there will be a seminal event on (wait for it...) the 14th of February 2014 at 14:14 – an auspicious date indeed for a pretty serious PDA in front of the most romantic structure in history; The Eiffel Tower. Entitled ‘The Freeze Kiss’ every participant will kiss his or her object of affection, be it a ‘lover - or grandmother, dog, best friend, stuffed animal, flag, etc.’ An avatar of the “Flash Mob” phenomenon, instead of dancing, participants will celebrate their own abiding passions. ‘It will create a virtual wave,’ Maud'huy says. ‘Everyone in the world can just make a small kiss and then they can upload it on wikilove so that every year we can follow this specific moment; what love is about all around the world... It’s not only a hipster thing, it’s something much more grass roots.’ A fitting quote because Maud'huy is intent on overturning the more clichéd images of love keeping the societal myths running. ‘The media has given us a very restricted view. You have to be a slim model and you have to meet a football guy and then you are in love.’

But let’s not allow the amorous nature of the site
 distract from the fact that wikilove is, at its heart a serious business with a 'model' to match. For the moment, it’s quite simple; Google AdWords and Ad displays,’ Maud'huy says, though the idea going forwards, ‘is that I want to connect every word, and every name to love. Books, songs, images.' Powerful brand associations that will be harnessed via affiliate links, companies who, in Maud'huy’s words, want to be ‘more involved’ with such emotive subject matter - and who doesn’t want to make their customers feel all gooey inside quite frankly? Though, as ever, Maud'huy is quick to assert that, ‘wikilove is not about money but about love.’

Which brings me to my next question; what of the look of the site?
‘The logo was done by a German designer, a friend of mine; Eva Dalg. I’m not a tattoo guy,’ Maud'huy says, referring to the red heart logo at the top left hand side of the page. ‘It can be a hipster thing, it can be a 19th century sailor thing - but I didn’t want to make it a typically girly thing. I was interested in a bridge going everywhere; a bridge between a lot of different cultures. I made a mistake with the first logo,’ he laughs, 'because I said: “Encyclopedia on love” and my mother in law told me: “No, it’s ‘Encyclopedia of love’”.

So there it is; a bit of the past, the present and the rose-tinted future -
but what makes this entrepreneur so well suited to launch such a romantic venture? As a New York-based business intelligence consultant during the late 1990s, Maud'huy leveraged data about the booming and then crashing internet sector in order to turn it into actionable insight for France Telecom, but it’s his business manual that I’m more interested in. In early 2000, after a brief spell as an online retail entrepreneur selling personalised gifts, not to mention a gig as a consultant and university teacher in Paris, he wrote the management book "Napoléon et le Management", still available on Amazon. A seminal tome written under the 'nom de plume' Suchet; ‘It’s my mother’s name, her nom de jeune fille [maiden name]. I don’t know if you will like it in England, but Suchet - he was a marshal of Napoleon. So that’s why I chose it - to create more of a joke here.’

Humour may be fitting but it also belies a will of steel and an avid passion for history;
‘I wrote the book when I came back from the United States. It was during the Gulf War, and I felt that George W. Bush was acting like Napoleon: he will win the battle but lose the war. The management framework was interesting to understand the historical phenomenon. Napoleon, whether you like it or not, represents the best and the worst in management, but there are no books about his management style - or very few. All people talk about is his strategy, but at the end of the day he had to manage without a phone, without a computer – he completely changed the history of Egypt, Russia and The United States – and if England is the only country in Europe where you don’t drive like the other ones, it’s because of Napoleon. He decided that you had to be on a horse on one side of the road. He was a great administrative guy. He always had hubris, but at the end he couldn’t go forward because it was too high. It was an interesting case, not only because of his achievements but for how he failed.’ 

Maud'huy then refers me to a New York Times article from 2007 that references the tome in the most flattering of terms,
allying it with two quite seminal works of literature; ‘Still waiting for a full English translation,’ the quote reads; ''Historia de un Deicidio,'' Mario Vargas Llosa's 1971 biography of Gabriel Garcá [sic] Márquez; ''The Book of Ruses,'' a 14th-century collection of Arabic tales of political morality; ''Napoleon et le Management,'' by Alexis Suchet, a relative of the general.’ ‘I don’t know how they happened to know about this book!’ he laughs. ‘The funny thing is that they knew.’

And there it is... For all the romantic vernacular, not to mention the Beatles-esque utopian flavour of his rhetoric, Maud'huy is to all intents and purposes a fiercely intelligent man, one who quite clearly sees a gap in a hugely flooded market. As with all paradigm shifting ideas, it’s the execution – the simplicity of transformation, the ‘why didn’t anyone think of that before?’ ability to transcend cultural norms and redefine the parameters of content that is already present. Now all the site needs is publicity and ongoing development, but with this wiki – there’s one thing that’s certainly not in short supply, and that’s (you guessed it) ‘love’. 

Interview by Alice Kahrmann October 2013