Wikipedia Begging, Needs New Revenue Model

Ah, our flawed heroes

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When all is said and done, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ legacy is secured. He created one of the best resources of information in history. Keeping that legacy alive, though, may require a new revenue model.

Across the top of collective knowledge, Wales has placed a banner asking for donations. Clicking over to his appeal, he says operating costs have soared to $6 million a year, a relative pittance for running the fourth most popular website in the world.

Donations, accepted at a $30 minimum, are the primary ways Wikipedia funds itself, in addition to grants and gifts, but advertising is still not on the table as an option. Wales is transparent about breaking down the costs: tech is $2.7 million, finance and admin costs are $1.6 million, and the rest is allocated for programs, legal, Wikimania, the Board, and the office of the executive director, who gets close to half a million.

That last one is a point of contention among detractors, as is Wales’ alleged willingness to offer special protection to one’s Wikipedia entry for a sizable donation, along with his alleged luxurious lifestyle. And yet, no advertising allowed.

“Wikipedia is different,” writes Wales. “It’s the largest encyclopedia in history, written by volunteers. Like a national park or a school, we don’t believe advertising should have a place in Wikipedia.”

Wikipedia Begging, Needs New Revenue Model

Special protections, maybe, but not advertising. Maybe it’s time all those idealistic purist Web revolutionaries reconsidered. Advertising itself isn’t an evil. High school yearbooks, newspapers, baseball fields, lots and lots of good organizations have taken the advertising route to keep their noble causes afloat. The evil comes in when advertising dictates the content. It undermines the purity of the venture as the content is compromised for the sake of money, kind of like when special protections are offered for donations.

Other websites have found this useful and have thrived despite user protests: Digg, YouTube, MySpace. Google’s mission of indexing the world’s information is remarkably similar to Wikipedia’s. In his plea for donations, Wales sums it up this way: Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s our commitment.

Is that commitment worse served by selling ad space? Google obviously thought not, and has yet to have any funding woes or any meaningful backlash from users. Google from the outset was a for-profit company, but maybe it’s time Wikipedia found a way to be self-sustaining instead of asking a recently cash-strapped populace to keep it afloat with minimum donations. Hey, Barack Obama raised enormous sums of cash—far more than $6 million—at $5 a pop. Maybe if Wales was less restrictive about revenue streams, he wouldn’t have to appeal to the better natures of the masses to achieve his goals.


Jacqui Cheng at Ars Technica posits the traditional pitfalls of user-generated content and advertising: “what big-time brand wants to take a chance on appearing above unvetted and potentially libelous entries that could, at any moment, have key words replaced by terms for genitalia?”

I wonder if this question is out of date. Surely advertisers are getting past this guilt-by-association game in this day and age. If they haven’t gotten past this, they need to. But it doesn’t have to big name advertisers either. If Wales wants to keep it as pure as possible, why not become an ad haven for mom-and-pops, small businesses, enviro-friendly pursuits, other nonprofit organizations (they do, advertise, you know). As many caveats as one likes could be produced.

Or, if special protections are sometimes okay—as a couple of people have alleged in recent years—why not a sister service where people and companies can pay for a Wikipedia page of their own where they can tell their own stories? Why can’t, at the top of the community-edited page, a link be provided to the subject’s own version of events? It’s a form of special protection, just more transparent.

The revenue paths for a site as popular and beloved as Wikipedia are potentially limitless, yet Wales wishes to rely on, well, charity.

Wikipedia Begging, Needs New Revenue Model
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  • http://www.realstudio.ro/ RealStudio Design

    This thing you said, about paid pages, would be a real life-saver for wikipedia. of course that these will have to get some kind of revue, but a bunch of companies (and even regular people), would pay to have their wikipedia.org/your_name_here entry.
    And i don’t think it would bring any damage to wikipedia’s image, or pride & honor. The big blue “help me” banner doesn’t look too good either.

  • Wikipedian

    You shouldn’t blindly copy everything you read in random blogs.

    1) The Executive Director does not “get close to half a million”. This is a departmental budget which includes three salaries, travel expenses, contractor fees, etc. The actual salaries are disclosed in the WMF’s form 990. The last ED received a salary of about $150K, and I expect that the current ED is also in that range. Given her background (formerly ran the CBC website), that’s an entirely appropriate salary.

    2) Jimmy Wales does not receive a dime from the Wikimedia Foundation. He’s an unpaid Board member whose job it is to show up at meetings, to speak to the media, and to write letters like this appeal. Whatever his lifestyle, it’s not funded by donations: He runs a separate for-profit company, Wikia, and receives money from speaking engagements.

    3) The person who alleged that Wales offered “special protection” is none other than Jeffrey Merkey, a notorious Internet crackpot who has been described by a judge as follows: “Merkey nonetheless regularly exaggerates or lies in his comments to others about events happening around him. It is as though he is creating his own separate reality.” [http://scofacts.org/merkey.html] A simple google search reveals that he’s a litigious nutcase, pure and simple.

    What you’re doing here is reproducing random allegations without making any effort at correcting them. At least Wikipedia is open to editing.

    The simple fact is that an operation at the scale and impact of Wikipedia is likely to attract that kind of drama. All the more important for bloggers and journalists to separate facts from fiction.

  • Michael

    I think the facts are starring us in our face, Jimmy Wales is begging for money when WikiPedia has all the potential to survive on its own two feet. This fact is supported by the “appeal” shown at the top of WikiPedia. When you have one of the most popular websites in the world which also monopolize the search space, it is ridiculous to find Wikipedia asking for charity—welfare—bail out!

    Wikipedia, needs to get its nose out of the air and explore revenue-streams and models which will keep them afloat, instead of asking for money especially in a down economy which is tired of everyone with their hands out these days.

    $150K salary for a single person sounds like too much when you have to beg for money. I am sorry if you can’t pay your bills then your lights get cut off. Don’t get me wrong, I like Wikipedia and what they offer, but don’t get yourself in a crunch and then ask for a bail out . . . those days are getting so old and tired! Wikipedia existence isn’t going to alter anyone’s life — so my advice is Wikipedia needs to take care of themselves and stop trying to take the high ground . . . because that high ground isn’t so high when you have to take an all-time low and start begging for money.

  • http://www.storbyferieguiden.dk/Storbyferie-Paris/Storbyferie-Paris.aspx Weekendophold Paris

    I think custom pages is a great idea. Companies could pay to get positive content.

    But is Wikipedia independent then?

  • http://randomplaza.net Mitchell Henderson

    Der Jimbo always begs for money each year. Nothing new. The problem is largely their software is grossly ineffecient. Also that he snubs criticism of his site, like from Wikipedia Review.

  • http://www.nchouseofmotorcycles.com NCHM

    If Wikipedia took the most interesting and factual tidbits from across their website and put them in writing, people would likely buy. It would make a great Coffee Table book.

  • http://www.samsungsteel.co.uk Samsung Steel Mobile Phone

    Wikipedia should just accept advertising. It could be clearly labeled – as long as the advertising doesn’t affect or dictate the content in any way then there’s no problem. The money generated could then go into additional projects or donated to charity.

  • beautifulisness

    $5 a pop – do some research. The bulk of Barack Obama’s campaign revenue came from large -private- corporations – this should make some people think..

    • JohnE

      The point was made to suggest changing or removing the donation minimum amount, not to express a political opinion. 30 dollars is more than a lot of people can spend, especially if they don’t access Wikipedia very often.

  • http://www.clearviewwriting.com Freelance Writing Guide

    Personally I think Wikipedia shold accept advertising from just a couple of big names as sidebar banners. These guys would pay big bucks and help keep a worthwhile website alive!

    While advertising is baised it does not mean it’s a bad thing, most people know the difference between advertising and facts and it will not distort the information inside it.

  • http://www.professional-mover.co.uk Guest


    Check this website

  • Nigel_S

    I think you’ve got your Strapline wrong….

    It should be: “Ah, our floored heroes”!

    That having been said, I see nothing wrong with advertising alongside content (there are plenty of ‘ad-blockers’ about if you don’t want them), so long as the revenue only supports the site and doesn’t control it!

    Mind you, it could throw up some amusing situations…

    A Pepsi advert on the Coke page, for example ;-)

    I am sure your readers can come up with loads more!

    • JohnE

      he needs to control advertisers to avoid any embarassing issues, unwanted content, etc. and give them all the same space as others…or as suggested in the article to limit it to environmental or charity adverts, approved mom and pop businesses. etc…certainly hope he takes the time to read this forum, it could help him out.

  • ruchit

    that person may have became milliner. We should respect his contribution. Since he wants to be ads free he has no option of income. At this situation he needed fund to run site there the donation is not begging.

    Let them find any other source of income. They should allow to the companies own pages to be customized by companies with ads for little fund.

  • http://www.StarryNightLights.com Anthony Arrigo

    I see so many ‘notable’ companies and products in listed in Wikipedia, that it’s hard to see it as independent to start with. If Google would stop returning wiki-garbage as the top result for every web query, wikipedia could disappear and nobody would even notice.

  • http://www.slowbox.org Tom

    Why am I not surprised “Wikipedian” showed up and lay the citation smackdown on us (scroll below, very good points). Yet, still failed to address the question of; Why not in any shape or form?

    Is there A) simply some mantra behind their no-ad policy? Or B) is it complicated matter of maintaining certain not-for-profit type of protection in order to display or host written content that includes company trademarks and possibily “lightly” copywritten material about corporations, personal details about individuals, or even say governmental agencies who may not want their details to become someone else’s commercial podium……..?

    If I had to hypothesize, I’d say some form of B, which would reinforce why their legal division seems so important to them.

    Tom @ http//www.slowbox.org

  • http://blog.webdirectory.si/feed/ Blog – web dir

    Wikipedia is great – if you have some time it is a great PR boost for relevant sites – You create an interesting article (it must be genuine – no copying allowed!!!) and link it to your webpage (must be relevant to the article – it will most certanly get you PR5 link toward your website.

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