Wikipedia, which recently closed a very successful round of fund raising on January 1 in which it raised over $20 million seems to have got the formula right so far. According to Wikimedia, the parent company of Wikipedia, this is the most they have raised in the company’s 10 plus years of existence. But this has come at a bit of a cost and especially from critics who think the model is not sustainable and that with the increasing costs of running the website and increasing pressure from users for better content and a better user experience, Wikimedia may soon find themselves unable to raise enough money to keep up.
Of course the fact that Wikipedia has raised funding successfully from donations over the course of its existence goes to show that the mode of raising money may after all be sustainable but the usual fervour that the wiki organization conducts its fund drives may be a silent acknowledgement that the organization may have a few uncertainties when it comes to raising money.
In this last round of funding, Wikipedia benefited from some large donations from the likes of Google’s Sergey Brin who donated $500,000 to the cause. Wikipedia also say they received donations from almost every country on the planet, a feat in itself owing to the fragmentation of Internet dynamics across the globe. This however goes to strengthen the overall message that Wikipedia are putting across, that Wikipedia belongs to the world and that its survival shall still remain in the hands of the hundreds of millions of users who frequent the site every month. But the big question that may perhaps be asked is what happens to innovation? Innovation and R&D are two expensive things that often have no definite return and so cannot be funded by uncertain dollar donations.
This means that in as much as Wikipedia does have a legion of contributors and editors, who is working on the code? There have been complaints from users that the site needs an overhaul as the user interface and user experience are somewhat outdated.
I agree with this because one of the things I wish Wikipedia would change is the block like nature of the pages that does nothing for the user experience because everything is stacked on top of everything else.
But that aside, the reality is that Wikipedia will find themselves in need of engineering spend and donations just wont be enough for that and with a huge user base and ever increasing demands for improvements, Wikipedia may have to look at other alternatives.
One of the best places Wikipedia could look to is the open source community. Open source organizations such as Mozilla and WordPress offer their services free of charge and yet never find themselves having to ask for donations from the public and huge publicity drives. So what can Wikipedia borrow from these two organizations especially?
Firstly, Mozilla opted to create partnerships with other large organizations such as Google. Whereas Mozilla have a search agreement with Google, for example, if Wikipedia were to create a partnership with Google, it would have to be with a different approach. You are probably cringing at the thought of ads on Wikipedia but then again , what if these were re-purposed ads? What if Wikipedia integrated a Google search tab that gave you both results from Wikipedia as well as from the web and then serve the adds here rather than on every page?
It’s obvious that when searching for something on Wikipedia it is often that you will also end up looking for some further information from the web. So instead of hitting Google first with my search query, I can use Wikipedia as my default search engine because it will bring me results from Wikipedia as well as from the web annd Wikipedia can then collect a handsome fee from Google in search royalties.
In the case of WordPress, they have a for-profit company called Automatic that creates the cash value that WordPress may not necessarily bring. In addition, WordPress have value added services such as custom domains that bring them revenue. In the case of Wikipedia, value addition may come in the way of premium sponsored content.
This means that organizations may be at liberty to hire and maintain writers to update their Wikipedia pages and through a collaboration with Wikipedia, ensure that these writers have exclusive right to a particular page. Think of it as a verified page, as it is with a verified Twitter handle. This way, Wikipedia will charge these companies a fee in order to ensure their pages remain unadulterated and content is edited within very stringent guidelines and by specific persons.
Ultimately, I think Wikipedia have grown a bit complacent in their innovation and engineering development and that as donor fatigue begins to creep in over time, the website will end up becoming a stagnated giant that could have contributed so much more value through innovation but that got stuck in a looping cycle. It may be a leadership issue or just idealism but in order for Wikipedia to stay ahead and and even grow, they may have to start thinking outside the box on this fund raising issue.