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.