Why Wikipedia should care about $: because they can be Quora or "Community Powered Demand Media"

Over at TechCrunch i wrote how Wikipedia should use affiliate links in the US to earn $16m+ annually and remove the specter of insolvency. There have been lots of good comments i wanted to address

1) Why Wikipedia should care about money
Some folks questioned why wikipedia should care about money at all – they’re a non-profit and the annual fundraisers seem to cover their costs. Why? Because by many measures (including shrinking contributor base), Wikipedia is possibly getting weaker, not stronger (see article in Time Magazine). And while money is only part of the equation, it would help them take on even bolder goals.

With a solid financial foundation, Wikipedia could hire more developers and try new models for information creation. Why didn’t Wikipedia create Quora – authoritative information is certainly their mission? Why isn’t Wikipedia experimenting with compensating curators & creators – ie “Community Powered Demand Media.” The community could vote stipends for contributors and other mechanisms which are consistent with Wikipedia’s values. Wikipedia is an AMAZING phenomenon but in technology if you aren’t growing and evolving you’re becoming less relevant. And that’s the situation Wikipedia should avoid.

2) But won’t this make Wikipedia “commercial” and piss off (a) contributors and/or (b) readers
Some people misunderstood affiliate links — they’re not ads which run alongside content, they’re merely links from relevant content. eg Linking to the Twilight book on Amazon from the Twilight wikipedia page. Sure some contributors might get concerned but here’s how you handle that:

i) give any page moderator the ability to disable affiliate links on their page but publish this among the community so full transparency.
ii) help get the contributor community excited about the bigger mission, the opportunities for new projects to help the world, etc

For readers, well most seem to be fine with the idea and others say they’re already tired of seeing Jimmy Wales annual appeal. Creating an annual state of panic among your community for annual fundraising may galvanize people in the moment but is NOT an energy-maximizing strategy in the longterm.

Thanks! keep the feedback coming and i’ll respond more later.

4 thoughts on “Why Wikipedia should care about $: because they can be Quora or "Community Powered Demand Media"

  1. Your solution for point 2 don't have the slightest chance to work, it's not the admin job to check links on page and it will be an open door for spammers to manipulate the links and websites content

  2. Michael – thanks for the comment. Actually here's how i imagine it working.

    1) any affiliate links are algorithmically inserted by the 3rd party software, so it's not the job of the community to edit this.

    2) the admin wouldn't have to police the affiliate links but i was thinking they'd be able to opt a page they manage out of having affiliate links altogether. ie let's say you manage a page about a sensitive topic or you feel strongly that Wikipedia shouldn't have any commercial links. You can check an box and disable the affiliate program on your page.

    make more sense now? thanks for the feedback!

  3. Hi, thanks for starting this discussion. Did you see the mixed reaction when Roger Ebert, newspaper film critic, added Amazon affiliate links to his Twitter feed?

    Some readers were wary his mix of tweets might change. Would he not gradually change his style to write calls to action about popular things as he learnt what generated most income?

    The reason you gave him (or Wikipedia) your attention in the first place was probably more to do with relaxation, enjoyment, to inform yourself in a non-commercial way and not to find yourself getting your credit card out more and more often.

    If adding affiliate links makes publishers more money that is ultimately coming out of people's pockets when for the common good perhaps they need far less of that sort of commercially supported content.

  4. At some point Wikipedia is going to have to change. I'm all for free, but I have grave doubts about the Wikipedia model as there is no guarantee that what you read there is actually true, given that anybody can edit articles. If you can't have absolute confidence in the information on a site then it becomes worthless.

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