Sunday, February 11, 2007

 

Wikipedia's money

I spent yesterday offline entirely. I had felt okay Friday, did some surfing, posted an opinion on a Wikipedia Talk page -- and my shoulder, the one that was cut pen Thursday, hurt like a sunuvabich after all of that typing. Since the world wouldn't end if I didn't get online, I took Saturday off. Which means, I just learned of the latest piece of Wikipedia-related news: allegedly the project is running out of money, or so writes Network World:
According to this post by media producer Philippe Mottaz, [Florence] Devouard told the audience: "At this point, Wikipedia has the financial resources to run its servers for about 3 to 4 months. If we do not find additional funding, it is not impossible that Wikipedia might disappear."

I'm learning that a lot of stories about Wikipedia needs one to dig a little in order to find out what the real story is. (This digging will also uncover such opinions like this gem by "Jason": "[I] hope Wikipedia dies a painful death".) Thanks to Laurent Haug (via this blog post by Scoble), what Florence actually said was a little different:
Haug: "When we prepared this speech, Florence told me that Wikipedia has enough cash to pay for its server for the next..."
Devouard: "Three months. Roughly."
Haug: "and if we don't do something, Wikipedia won't be here in three or four months. That's a radical idea, it's not going to happen but..."
Devouard: "...three months is a bit negative. [...] We have somebody making plans for two years in the future, I think we will survive in the next three months".

In other words, all she said was that Wikipedia currently has three month's operating funds on hand; nothing about whether this was all of the money the Foundation could possibly ever obtain to keep itself running. If anything, this is a good sign: most people (and some businesses) have barely enough cash on hand to survive from paycheck to paycheck.

Not that this didn't keep some folks from insisting that Wikipedia needs to start selling advertising space -- as if that were the cure-all. Advertising revenue has its own problems, some of which might harm the usability of Wikipedia (e.g., the point where advertisers can influence content, issues over access due to advertiser's budgets, etc.). And the non-profit field has a large number of tried and proven tactics to support a project like Wikipedia, few of which the Foundation has even begun to explore.

So what did all of this mean for a humble Wikipedian like me, who was surprised by all of the news? Very little if anything: Wikipedia is just as likely to stay in operation now as it ever was to -- although I'm sure some Wikipedians entertained themselves discussing this bit of gossip. So I plan on finishing my current series of articles, and starting on a few new ones (I have finally accumulated enough information on Wube Haile Mariam, an important Ethiopian warlord of the mid 19th century civil wars) to write an article on him. And no matter what I write, I'm reasonably confident that it will be the most complete account of him anyone will find on the Internet. Which shows just how much we need Wikipedia -- or something like it -- so I doubt it will be vanishing soon.

Geoff

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