I know this post is pretty off-topic, however I couldn’t control myself from posting on this blog and thought that it’ll be certainly a nice topic of discussion on Blog Design Studio. Couple of days back, I went to a small trip to Shirdi Temple, Ajanta & Ellora Caves and I was stunned to see the wonderful work of art at both the caves. While, I was busy exploring the beauty of the caves, my not so techie friend started the conversation around WikiPedia and started praising that how WikiPedia is helping the world by giving a platform to share the knowledge with the world for free! Although, being a non-techie he was wondering that how do they run the service when they don’t have any business model around it.

I thought that it was my responsibility to inform him that WikiPedia takes donations from the users every year and even put the donation bar on the top, to attract donations and while I was telling him about this, something struck my mind – Why the hell, they are even asking for donations, when they can give donations?

WikiPedia is without a doubt, one of the top 10 visited websites in the world and if they start putting ads on it (non-obtrusive or the ones that don’t ruin the reader’s experience) then I’m sure they’ll make enough revenue to support themselves. Well, honestly they’ll make enough revenue that they’ll be able to donate it to various organizations that are supporting various causes in under-developed countries.

This is one question that has been troubling me from couple of days and I’m wondering if anyone had that idea come in their mind or not. I understand that WikiPedia’s idea is to provide all the information for free and they are not in favor of making money out of the service; well, I’m not even saying them to keep that money, just donate the generated revenue after they are able to support them and they won’t even have to ask for donations.

What are your thoughts on the same? Should WikiPedia ask for donations or should they donate money by making revenue?

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29 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. It is not an easy question to answer – there is a lot of ideology about free information within the main contributors – so putting up ads will send them away. My suggestion is let them use the donation model as long as it works.

    • Hey binny, thanks for stopping by – Well, I understand that most of the people are inclined towards the same idea. I\\'m just wondering that what\\'s the harm in trying it for once or may be do a market survey or polls to find out that what exactly the world thinks about the same. If the results are in favor of ads then I\\'m sure there should be no reason to not to have them. What say? Although all of this is possible if Jimmy or someone from management is reading this conversation or had given a thought about it at any time.

  2. While a lot of contributors have no objection to ads (I don't, for instance), a remarkable percentage do. To the point where, if ads went up on Wikipedia, a lot of the people who write it would just get up and *leave*. So for the moment the ad option is off the table.

    • Hey David, Thanks for dropping by. I understand the part that lot of contributors have objection with ads, however that\\'s where the management\\'s role comes in. I believe that if the message is made clear to all the contributors with proper marketing and PR channels then contributors will understand that its not about making money from WIkipedia however, the money will be used just to help various not-for-profit organizations with funds and thus it will only help the whole world and I don\\'t think any one will mind that and even if some contributors mind that, I think they should be left behind for greater good. It may sound rude at first, however I\\'m sure that world will understand or accept it once they\\'ll see the good happening around.
      What do you think?

      • When it was suggested in 2003, almost the entire Spanish Wikipedia community just got up and *left*, to form Enciclopedia Libre. It took years to recover from the schism. So WMF is understandably shy about the idea!

        There's other considerations like conflict of interest with advertising on an editable site, how it looks to readers (a site that popular that doesn't have ads is very reassuring to the readers) and so on.

        So for the moment I think the idea is off the table, unless it becomes critical to survival. So far it hasn't been. Cross fingers.

  3. I think its a win win situation if they have ads, this way they can better the service and help the needy. Good thought there Mayank.

  4. Quyen Nguyen

    I do not mind the ads. However, wikipedia was excellent at keeping its reputation as a clean and somewhat reliable encyclopedia. I would understand why they wish to maintain that status. Putting ads on an encyclopedia somewhat decrease they credibility of the site.

    Secondly, wikipedia is a) an online encyclopedia, and b) non-profit. I understand that everyone wants to do some good, but with the business module wikipedia is having, giving money away is senselss (because it can improve its site with the money instead) and unnessary (why take the risk of losing users just to make some give-away money?). Also, doing charity was not part of wikipedia function, giving money only loses the focus of the business (do one thing at a time and do it well, that's good enough).

    Lastly, when it involves money, things get messy, who determines where the money goes to whom/where/what and why? users? (they pratically build the site!), staff? (then which one of the staff? are we gonna have a little charity department?), will the advetisers have a say in that? (hope not)

    Just some thoughts. Cheers.

    • Thanks a lot for dropping by and hope to see ya around.

      I agree that when money is involved this tend to get messy. However, the management can keep it this way that the money that is generated will be used to pay hosting bills, office expenses and similar stuff or basically keeping the money that they decide to raise through donations and all extra that gets generated can be donated to the needy NGOs.

      I doubt that advertisers will mind anything as Google adsense is contextual, so they'll get relevant traffic.. that they'll not mind.

  5. Hmm, you are going back in those days when I was not that much active and didn't know about this particular incident. Apart from that, don't you think that its been now 6 yrs and that Wikipedia has grown as much larger community and that I think there will be no harm in trying to ask the community through polls and through various blogs to see that how they'll react, just a proposal. What say?

    May be you guys can raise this :)

  6. The whole idea is that if wikipedia staff will get paid for putting up ads than those who’re not on staff but are writing articles will ask for a cut and the chain will go on and on. Donation is something differen.

  7. Rose

    Would people trust information when it could be paid for?

    • I don’t see any reason why people will not trust the information. Don’t you buy books? Didn’t you pay fee in schools??

      • Gonzalo R.

        What I think is you pay for a book, so you can read what you want. You pay a fee in schools to have the education you want. You, then, donate wikipedia to have unbiased information, if that’s what you want. What I mean is, if wikipedia gets funded by a large company, government or private agent through “ads”, like a newspaper, I doubt I’ll see any article telling much true about that same company, government or private agent, just like a newspaper. See the ads in a newspaper and try to find news against those companies. It’ll be very hard. The information in that newspaper is biased. If wikipedia gets funded not by donations, it will become as trusted as a newspaper is. And you just can’t trust the information in a newspaper. What do you think?

        • @Gonzalo – well, thats where the crowd sourcing part comes in. There are company’s that are supporting it, however the content is not managed by wikipedia. It’s managed by individuals like you and is audited by large team of moderators. So the chances are that if someone is putting facts then he’ll point the negatives as well.

          That’s what made it popular.. isn’t it?

  8. “Wikipedia passes $6 million donation goal” wdf? 6 million for just hosting the wikipedia? Come on, even 100K is much more amount than hosting a portal like this. What else? oh yeah and they ‘re paying 15$ yearly for a domain name.

    Its not fair, and its clearly not “donation”.

    • ok.. how can you even think that 100K is much more amount? No seriously.. what made you think?? Wikipedia is world’s top 10 most visited site… the amount of money required to host it can’t be less by any standard. What about backups?? what about the security involved to protect it? what about the management working for it round the clock… those who are putting in their heart and effort all the time and taking it as job? 6 million dollars in 1 yr. is nothing for that… and i hope you understand the value they are sharing is worth billions of dollars.

      just imagine they are giving you all the knowledge without making a dime (i hope you understand the concept of not-for-profit)… and you still aren’t happy that they are making 6 million dollars. Again, the point that they could make billions of dollars out of it… they are leaving all that!! i don’t know why you are unhappy after all this.

  9. Steve

    I love the idea that I can look at something useful on the internet without being bombarded by ads. It’s fair to say that a non-obtrusive banner ad would not be a big deal. But once you start down that road, more obtrusive ads will inevitably follow: an introduction ad before being taken to the site, video ads that have to load before the rest of the site will load, adobe flash cars driving across the screen on top of what you are trying to read, ads that expand over the entire screen if you accidentally move your mouse over them, etc.

    Using ad money to fund other NPO’s is a nice idea, but it really is not what Wikipedia is about. Wikipedia does good in the world by providing a wealth of free information. I’m all for helping charities where I can, but I prefer to donate directly and when I choose to rather than indirectly via revenue paid to Wikipedia in exchange for annoying its readers.

  10. gautam

    Wikipedia cannot post ads because it is registered as a charitable foundation and U.S. law prohibits charities from engaging in any revenue generating activities other than donations.
    Also, any $$ they get as donations must be spent within the foundation and cannot be given away as it is not ‘their money’, i.e. they did not earn it, it was given to them

    • @gautam – hmm.. That is one thing i’m not sure about if US laws will prohibit them from engaging in revenue generating activities. I tried to find information about it and couldn’t find any, will it be possible for you to guide me to the correct sources. And well my point was that they need not make money for themselves, they should use that money to grow wikipedia’s efforts at a faster pace.. like wikibooks, educational institutions that can give free education…. so in short it won’t be anybody’s money but everybody’s benefit.

  11. richard

    Just imagine if they put ads on wikipedia, I’m sure they will generate a lot of moeny (more than $6m). But Jimmy’s idea at the beginning of wikipedia is the reason why he is not resorting to ads. The asking of donations of wikipedia is simply a way of telling people that if they can’t sustain the expense, there is chance that it will shutdown the site and http://www.wikipedia.org is history.

    • @Richard – thats the point mate. Lets say that wikipedia can’t generate the $7 million that it needs to survive, then all those people who’ve put their efforts to bring it to this level will feel ditched that after so much time and efforts, they can’t even see the website now. Why not simply make the money and donate all that money after ensuring that wikipedia is there or may be start schools to spread the free education that they’ve been talking about all these years.

  12. Matt

    Although I agree with you that they can make money from advertising (and lots of it) I believe Wikipedia strives to be as credible as possible. I wouldn’t put as much faith in an article on nuclear weapons or presidential elections if it had banners for McDonald’s across the page. It may not make a difference to the people that know the information is correct but it certainly gives an image that the information may not be reputable.

    I think asking for donations has worked for them to keep this option off the table for now and it may continue to work for them. As long as they can rely on donations and continue to keep the site running and up to par, what would be the harm?

    However, my personal issue with Wikipedia isn’t about the donations or advertising at all. I recently did donate to them so I may be a little biased in my opinion. I donated for a few reasons though.

    First, I believe in what Wikipedia offers to the world. Its a wealth of information that is free for anyone to explore. The cited content has helped me finish many college reports by finding where they found the information to post it. It has literally helped put me through college and I felt I owed something back the help the experience stay the same for future students.

    I hope I didn’t come off as argumentative I just wanted to share my experiences, thoughts, and reasons for donating. Have a great day!

    • @Matt – Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad that you took time to share your experience. Here’s a small thing that I would like to add… it’s just the way we perceive things that makes us believe or not believe in things. I believe that ads won’t really harm the quality or my faith in wikipedia as I believe in the system they’ve created. After all, the content is contributed by people like you and me. Till this date, there are people trying to abuse the system of wikipedia, however things are still neat. There are thousands of webmasters who try to add links to wikipedia, so that they can get a linkback to their site from authority site like wikipedia. I’m not sure if you are aware of that or not… i can promise that services exist that would post information about you or your business on wikipedia for some money. So will you still be able to believe wikipedia that much?

      See why i’m saying this — there are people who need quality and free education in the world. Wikipedia has one motive, to provide free education, so why not do it properly?

  13. Anand Gowda

    Mayank, you underestimate how many people feel silent frustration and helplessness over ads that hinder thought and create distraction across the screen.

    Asking for donations implies that the organization strives to be as lean and efficient as possible. Free flowing income from ads might open up new cost centres and expenses that did not exist or were tightly controlled before.

    Ads are everywhere you go and people find Google invasive because it has to remember your details to offer relevant ads. The anonymity of wikipedia is a relief and the one standout that isn’t getting us to buy anything.

    Everytime I use open source software, it gladdens me to remember that there are people out there that are human enough to put their effort, wealth and knowledge without expecting a dime in return. Wikipedia is one way non-engineers and ordinary people with specific domain knowledge can put in a few words for the overall betterment of our civilization.

    Text only ads on Industry related articles for as many months as it would take to reach their target of say 6 Million, might seem like a promising half way compromise. But there are people out there very talented in priming articles with specific words for various purposes.

    As long as the world isn’t short of grateful people with 30 dollars to spare, I hope things stay as it is.

    • @Anand – I would completely agree to your point of how people feel the frustration when they see the ad, however the ad feels bad when they are obtrusive. I never vouch for obtrusive ads.

      Now, the point i’ve been making all this while is that how will that money be utilized – providing education where it is not reaching – various people in villages of “third world countries” don’t get even primary education. That money can be used to ensure that people get knowledge, it kind of matches wikipedia’s free knowledge idea.

      I’m a big open-source fan myself. I use ubuntu, wordpress, firefox, chrome, apache, nginx, openoffice.org and various such projects in my day to day life and for my living and I believe that contribution of real stars make these projects!

      I’m not sure that how much you are aware of Google’s contribution in making Firefox a super hit browser. Google used to give $1 for every download that used to happen from their ad banner.

      ok! I guess you have no clue about the amount of money text ads make for a website. I bet that 6 million won’t take more than 1 month for wikipedia to reach that target. The amount of page views they get will be enough to make them more than 100 millions/yr.

      I’m just hoping that wikipedia community thinks from these point of views as well. With one goal – providing free education across via wikipedia’s content. Providing tools that’ll help education institutes to submit content in wikipedia and what not. I’m sure I can go on and on when it comes to what can be done to utilize that money… but ultimately all depends on the community :)

  14. Appartently it cost 6 million per year to keep the site running. which includes salaries of 23 employees.

    Jimmy Wales founder of Wikipedia.org is a smart dude! but he could be even smarted if he Put advertisment ads on the site, nobody cares if he does. You’ll generate so much revenue from the ads that you won’t know what to do with it, being a non-profit. Then maybe take some of that money and spread it around the world where it is needed most.

  15. One word people: Objectivity.