„A penny a day lets a Wiki stay.“
Wikipedia is proud of being a non-profit organization. However, relying completely on non-profit aspects has its pitfalls - from a technical and qualitative perspective.
Infrastructure costs for hosting, maintenance, backups or new features will increase with growing popularity of Wikipedia. Though one could rely on overall sinking IT-costs and on the “generosity” of sponsors, on some point hardware has to be bought and paid for.
Another question is: How can professional authors, like journalists, writers or scientists, who write for a living, be convinced to contribute their knowledge to Wikipedia.
Both aspects underline the demand for a finance model, which fits the open-source idea.
Checking the basics
Current Financial situation
From the financial information published on the Wikipedia website (see here) we can gather that the necessary budget to run Wikipedia increased from 79.000 US$ in Q4/2004 to 130.000 US$ in Q1/2005. That means, that Wikipedia will need at least 750.000 US$ in 2005 to continue its services.
For 2004 and 2005 there is a published history of larger donations and donated hosting. They sum up to approximately 200.000 US $. This sum does not include individual donations from Wikipedia users. The 2004 bank history mentions PayPal donations of 150.000 US$. It is, however, unclear if these numbers are reliable, because the page declares itself as a draft.
Without exact numbers one can only make presumptions about the financial situation of Wikipedia. But it is a safe guess, that
- the increasing popularity of Wikipedia will automatically lead to a substantial jump in hosting and hardware costs.
- the complexity of the IT-setup will call for additional maintenance staff
- the amount of donations has to be significantly increased to cover all future costs
It is unlikely, that a globally used IT-Project of Wikipedia-scale can keep its dynamics, if the financial foundations are not developed in the same way. Right now it looks like an oil tanker steered in fog without radar.
Looking at the others
Nearly all other popular commercial community Websites, be it Slashdot, Sourceforge, Flickr or Blogger take money and/or offer advertising. This has not substantially lowered their popularity. It is more or less accepted that you have to pay for a service arrangement if you want decent functionality and appropriate bandwidth.
Most sites offer the choice between a free service with advertising or limited functionality and a subscription without commercial intrusion. Of course their main target is to earn money. But this is no real annoyance, if you get an appropriate trade-in. When you buy a potato, you are not arguing with the farmer to get it free. You know that the deal offers you a certain convenience.
The growing success of Wikipedia has lead to a mushrooming of sites, which use the content of Wikipedia (more or less in line with GFDL) and present it in a commercial environment. From canonical Wikipedians, they are often regarded as “parasites”, because they are only using the content without contributing to Wikipedia. Though there are no numbers of how much money is raised by these sites, they show how Wikipedia content can be potentially licensed and marketed. So we should not simply shake them off, but learn about their strategies.
Despite the increasing financial demands, the efforts of Wikipedia to get money are relatively shy. The possibility to make a donation on the Wikipedia website is not offered prominently, almost over-discreetly. There are no banners, no sponsor logos (besides on Wikimania site), no Google adwords. Plainly spoken there is no effort to raise money whatsoever.
On the other hand side the Wikipedia contains a lot of commercial information. Just go to an article about Bridgestone, Porsche or Marlboro and you see corporate logos all the way. If there are logos and brand names of commercial companies anyway, why shouldn’t they be shown as sponsors?
The main question is: Is the concept of “no advertising” a pure ideological stance or is it a necessary means to keep the “intellectual hygiene” of Wikipedia? Wikipedians should reconsider. Ideas, which were good at the beginning of the journey, can be dead freight later on. If so, they should be jettisoned.
- Footnote: The title of this workshop has been renamed from “Talking about money” to “Long-term support for Wikimedia” in the programme overview ;-)
A major concern is, that commercializing Wikipedia would be regarded as betrayal of the participating authors. “I have worked for it and now they earn money due to my intellectual efforts.”
This problem has to be taken seriously. But using Wikipedia content to earn money does not necessarily mean misusing it. What, if the author would get a share of the income generated by his content? This would not only appease existing contributors, but potentially lure even professional ones.
The challenge is to find a model, which makes it possible to lead profits back to the supporting community, if they are not necessary for maintenance of Wikipedia.
The global presence of Wikipedia and the huge amount of pageviews make Wikipedia an attractive advertising medium. Wikipedia should therefore copy the Google adwords model and auction positions for neutral, non-disturbing, text-only boxes on their content pages. With a minor, but important difference: The ads should be editable Wiki-Style. That means, every Wikipedian could change ads, if they have illegal, exaggerated, misleading or annoying content.
It is unlikely, that decent advertising, which is controlled by the community, leads to a lowered credibility of Wikipedia. Moreover it’s a form of advertising 21st century style. The reaction of the community is a valuable feedback for the advertiser, if his ads are being accepted as trustworthy.
The basic idea of PennyWiki is to share profits of future commercial activities of Wikipedia between the authors.
By working on the Wikipedia, every author earns “WikiPennies”. The amount of WikiPennies depends - like in real life - on set of parameters, which measure the overall activity of the user. Most of these parameters are already accessible in the WikiMedia software or could be added without major efforts by mining the existing data:
- The amount of contributions (in articles, words or kB)
- The frequency of contributions (in edits/month)
- The quality of contributions (as evaluated by other readers)
- The usage of contributions (page views)
Let’s discuss 2 examples:
Author A writes a long scientific article about an unknown blind Chinese dog trainer of the 11th century. He earns:
- 100 Wikipennies for 100 kB text
- 1 Wikipenny for the one-time contribution
- 100 Wikipennies extra after 1 month for being rated as “excellent”.
- 0 Wikipennies extra after 1 month, because nobody was interested in the subject.
- Because he edited his article more than 10 times in one session he gets a penalty of -20 Wikipennies.
Author B writes a stub about an Italian model, which later on turns out to be the next Princess of Monaco. He earns:
- 12 Wikipennies for 12 kB text
- 1 Wikipenny for the one-time contribution
- 0 Wikipennies extra after 1 month for not being rated as “excellent”.
- 1.000 Wikipennies extra after 1 year, because his article attracted attention big time
The PennyWiki enables every author to check his WikiPenny Account and that of other authors. Moreover every author can decide, if he wants to change the Wikipennies in real money (for his bank account) or donate them to a noble cause.
Of course this model is far from being foolproof and leaves a lot of open questions (How to handle articles with multiple authors etc.). But, with the right software in place, the model could work.