Should Wikipedia Give Charity or Take It

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Charitable Cause (Amazon Cares)

I greatly respect Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. I love their mission to provide everybody with free access to quality information. And when I see them running another fund-raising campaign I have to ask: why is the Web’s 10th biggest site (in US unique visitors) begging for money?

With moderate advertising, Wikipedia could probably generate hundreds of millions of dollars every year, which they could use to fight poverty and disease in Africa (for example). Instead they ask for charity funds to cover their own expenses.

There are those at Wikipedia, I think including both Jimmy Wales and Angela Beesley, who are driven by a desire to provide everybody with free access to quality information. Running relatively unobtrusive ads on their site could help them accomplish their goals. But there are others who feel that any interaction with capitalist society (other than requesting donations) would be a betrayal. Which is a pity.

Some disclaimers: has had a strong relationship with Wikipedia for years. I have to admit that at first I was very skeptical about the quality of their content, but I’ve been impressed by how it keeps improving. We now consider it one of our best sources on Reference Answers. Our WikiAnswers is built on the MediaWiki, and we view Wikipedia as a role model and an inspiration for continued quality improvements. We’ve sponsored some Wikimania conferences. On a personal note, my wife used the MediaWiki (which is remarkable) to put together her pet site (shameless plug: a great place to get info on dogs, cats, birds, and more). A few years ago, an attempt by and Wikipedia to work together to generate some revenue was shot down strongly by some members of the Wikipedia community, who argued that any company that created non-free software was by definition unethical, and that any effort by Wikipedia to generate revenue was a betrayal of the editors and of the wiki principles.

Wikipedians are obviously entitled to their opinions. I’m thankful that we live in a society where neither I nor anybody else can force the Wikimedia Foundation to fulfill their potential of contributing hundreds of millions of dollars a year to worthwhile charities. And I repeat my opinion that the Wikimedia Foundation is doing a great deal of good. And they’re in a position to do even more good. They can remain free and not-for-profit, while generating revenue, so that they can give to charity instead of taking it. I hope one day they make that decision.

What do you think?