Advertising and Wikipedia

I advise the world to relax a notch or two. :-) We are not considering advertising on Wikipedia.

Visit World Wikia (travel), Campaigns Wikia (reforming politics), and Star Wars Wikia, a.k.a. Wookieepedia. For some types of communities, advertising to support the infrastructure is a good thing, and I fully support it. But not for Wikipedia.

As seems to be his special gift, Jason Calacanis has set off a bit of a blog storm with his report of having dinner with me a few months ago. The storm seems to mostly be of people responding with one of two viewpoints: (a) evil Jason Calacanis wanting Wikipedia to “monetize” versus virtuous Jimbo Wales nobly refusing OR (b) sensible Jason Calacanis wanting Wikipedia to do good with the money we could raise versus crazy idealist Jimbo Wales insanely refusing.
The real story, though, is much more interesting…

First, I don’t agree with people who seem to be contrasting “wanting to make money” with “being principled”. I rather think that both are possible. I like making money, and I think there are honorable ways to do it. I think we in the free culture movement should strongly embrace companies who are doing it.

My own company Wikia is doing this by offering community building support while using licenses which mean that if we serve communities poorly, they can leave. If you are looking to support something you can believe in, then support a company from people with a track record of doing something good, with integrity.

But regarding this dinner with Jason, well, I am told that I did have dinner with him. This was at Wikimania this past summer, and I barely even remember him… we were at a large table and there were some very much more interesting people at the dinner. :-) Apparently, he got that much right in his post.

As to the rest of what he says he told me, and what I said in response, all I can say is, gee.
My position on ads in Wikipedia was and is the same as it has ever been. The decision needs to come from the community, and not from me. I am personally opposed to advertising in Wikipedia, but we need to make the decision to turn down ads in a responsible and serious manner. The amount of money that could be made is significant and growing all the time, and the money could be used to do significant good in the world. No question about that.

But the Wikimedia Foundation is not in any kind of condition right now to do a good job of that, and there are many other more interesting revenue opportunities that would not involve slapping ads on Wikipedia. We have a strong brand that is only going to get stronger in the coming years as we continue to have a reputation for integrity and charity. We can make money to further our charitable goals (which go far beyond having a most most excellent website, as most people who read this will understand) in a lot of other ways by leveraging our brand into radio, television, games, etc.

There is nothing inherently wrong with advertising. But it is not right for Wikipedia.

As for the specific discussion in our dinner, I have no idea what a leaderboard is, and I certainly would never say that “Wikipedia will never have ads”. What I would have said is what I always say: we will continue to make that decision within the community in a responsible and serious way.

Finally, some in the blogosphere and media are connecting Jason Calacanis’ fantastical report to my Dream a little… mailing list post. There is absolutely no connection between the two. There is and was no offer on the table from AOL to put a leaderboard on Wikipedia, and it does not occur to me that this would be in any sense something I would think of as a good idea in any way at all. There are good people in the world, creative people, who are thinking hard about ways to build a sustainable free culture in ways that are much more creative than simply slapping advertisements on anything popular.

Do me a favor and Please Digg this story so at least as many people will see my response as saw Jason’s original post.

13 comments on “Advertising and Wikipedia

  1. I agree, there were much more interesting folks at the table… I was delighted that one of them happen to sit next to me. :)

    We talked for at least an hour about a number of items including the model for Wikia and the issues around bios on Wikipedia. You told me that you had met a couple of famous folks and how their impression of wikipedia were sometimes less than spectacular because of the battlegrounds their personal pages were (you had just been at some major conference with tons of famous folks).

    You told me that the community was working on setting up a new set of guidelines around bios to keep them fair/NPOV/etc. You told me that there actually wasn’t a rule against editing your bio page, but that it wasn’t advisable and that if you found an error to put it on the discuss page. You asked me some questions about CPM and our blogs and told me about syndication of wikis.

    We talked about giving money away from ads and you did say you were personally against ads, but you did (as you mention above) say that it was a community decision.

    I was wondering if you read my follow up post… what if member got to select if they wanted to see ads or not? Either opt in or opt out (both would work well). I’m sure many members would turn ads on to help the wikipedia make money.

    Note: I would never suggest graphical ads–they are a distraction.

    Also, what if someone created a Greasemonkey script that added the ads to the wikipedia for folks who wanted to help with their views? (I know very few folks know how to do this, so it’s really a theoretical question).

    I know a fork of wikipedia with ads on it is possible, but it wouldn’t get to scale–Google loves the Wikipedia domain and wouldn’t be so nice to a second one.

    Too bad Wikipedia isn’t in the shape to discuss the topic. I agree there are tons of issues, but there are a lot of solutions to making this work with having conflicts. Look at Firefox… they are funding the whole project with Google Adsense and no one has an issue with it (yes, I know it’s a search box and they don’t have content pages).

    Anyway, thanks for responding. When you do have the debate I would love to help if you do decide to run ads. I could help negotiate deals with the major players and with ad serving techniques that would make us not dependent on any one ad network, best practices for reporting and taking ads down, and optimization of the ads.

    as always respectful of the amazing gift you gave to the world in founding Wikipedia,

    jason

  2. hello,

    while advertising in wikipedia is “not in the spirit” of wikipedia, we can think of some other solutions. just like wikipedia is a community created and community used platform, we can create a financing platform which wud be done by community. may be some kind of community led microfinance, which wud be useful for wikipedia as well as other uses too. IT/internet is the only way such a venture wud see the light of day just as wikipedia is possible only with IT/internet.

    Niraj

  3. From reading of your thoughts on advetising , I think your thinking is right because advertising is not everything . Wikipedia is famous website and a large number of contributer supports it . Donation should be the best resource of your earning and your hardwork in wikipedia

  4. Thank you. I remember a time before advertising online. Your site is clean. I appreciate that.

    :)

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Could the reason be argued that Wikipedia has done so well not only because of its structured content but because of its strictness against ads.

    I agree with Jimmy on this one, in that it should be the community who decides to do so or not.

    Maybe it would be best to make Wikipedia by default have no ads and have an option to have ads IF the user selects so. Would that meet Jimmy’s border on ads?

    If this way does not generate enough money to fund charity then the answer is no to ads for now.

    I encourage wikipedia not to force ads on their users. I am passionate in this comment.

  6. I am someone who would turn on ads if offered, and one who is slightly skeptical that there are more effective ways of making money for the wikipedia. Yes, you can dilute your name by licensing it to documentaries or whatever, but isn’t that the same thing? Doesn’t that pollute your name’s integrity far more than an ad, which few people in 2009 will see as a implicit approval / conflict of interest? Anyway, I’m not saying there should be ads, just that I’m not sure there is another option.

  7. There is a way to do both – have Wikipedia remain ad free and also generate billions of dollars for charitable purposes.

  8. “I know a fork of wikipedia with ads on it is possible, but it wouldn’t get to scale–Google loves the Wikipedia domain and wouldn’t be so nice to a second one.”
    -Jason

    Microsoft, via their $100M Powerset acquisition has duplicated Wikipedia’s content and also tied it into Bing as it’s “reference section”, ( see: http://www.powerset.com -or- http://www.bing.com/reference ).

    No ads there yet, but there is an “Advertise” link at the bottom of the page.

    If this is fair use, and Google were to do the same thing, (clone Wikipedia content, reformat so almost all links were pointed back into Google), and produced these pages as results instead of the usual #1 ranked Wikipedia results: How much traffic (and revenue, and significance) would Wikipedia lose?

  9. Please don’t put advertising on Wikipedia, but please consider the fact that Wikipedia seems to be one of the few sites on the internet without easy Facebook, Twitter or other forms of social sharing integration. There’s nothing more exciting then sharing new-found information with your peers. I’d be very interested in hearing the reasons why this is not yet a reality.
    Avid Wikipedia User,
    Andrei Averbuch

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