In context: Wikipedia, despite ample resources in silo, is asking yet again for more donations and moving gradually toward a for-profit model of operation. Big-name corporate sponsors and big data deals behind the scenes tarnish the platform’s picture-perfect image as the internet’s first source for scholars and students alike.
The ubiquitous non-profit online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, is once again asking its readers to donate. You’ve likely seen the banners at the top of each page.
After ten years of fundraising, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has already achieved its goal of an endowment of $100 million, five years earlier than projected, “a permanent source of funding to ensure Wikipedia thrives for generations to come.” Critics are slamming the platform for not leaning more heavily into what has already been accumulated.
This total includes gifts from mega-giants such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, and other huge tech companies, begging the question: why can’t more funds be found here? Why ask the readership?
Those playing by the book continually point to what they deem a very suspicious relationship with the Tides Foundation, one of the primary contributors to the $100 million endowment in question. When company events were put on hold due to the pandemic, the money allocated for them was simply transferred over to a “Tides Advocacy” fund.
More alarming than the preceding: the announcement of a for-profit daughter company, Wikipedia, LLC. This new platform will include integrated services, made possible by selling the Wikipedia API to some of the companies mentioned previously. With these new features, users will be able to browse Wikipedia using, say, an Alexa device.
Long-time volunteers with the service are very concerned. The platform’s inception is rooted in the free dissemination of information. All of this extra money coming through, they worry, will motivate the wrong people to do things that undermine the spirit of Wikipedia.
In 2007, Wikipedia had 11 employees total. Now, that number is more than 500. The company is often boastful about the fact that their site runs no ads, aside from this fundraising call to action when the season is upon us. Users in India will be seeing them for the first time, causing many in the country to fear for the platform’s well-being.
These fears are largely unfounded. In fact, the Wikimedia Endowment and Foundation actually exceeded their fiduciary goals by $17 million so far this year. Calling upon the users who depend on it to “defend Wikipedia’s independence” is a far cry from the monolithic, omniscient voice of reason that long-time Wiki readers hope to hear once more.
Having a nest egg for a rainy day is one thing. Siphoning off of the system unnecessarily is another. If “knowledge equity” truly is what they have their sights set on, monetizing the platform is probably not the way to do it. Nothing is crueler than a paywall where, before, there was a bottomless wealth of information to indulge in freely.