I support advertising on Wikipedia

Wikimedia Foundation is over halfway through a . I hope that when you give you leave the following public comment:

I support advertising on Wikipedia.

Evan Prodromou summarizes a completely unwarranted controversy regarding a matching fund (bottom of page):

All fine so far, right? But a small logo in the donations notice — seen by non-logged-in users on every page of every WMF site — was considered by many Wikipedians and other WMF editors as dangerously close to the line on advertising — or over it. There have been several prominent users who have left the project because of it.

I’m not sympathetic with these folks; in fact, I’m in solid opposition. I think that Wikipedia’s huge amount of Web traffic is a resource that the Foundation is squandering. Traffic like Wikipedia’s is worth tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue per year. That’s money that could go to disseminate free (libre and gratis) paperback pocket encyclopedias to millions of schools and millions of children, in their own language, around the world.

It’s irresponsible to abuse that opportunity.

I strongly agree and will repeat exactly what I said during last year’s Wikimedia fund drive:

Wikipedia chief considers taking ads (via Boing Boing) says that at current traffic levels, Wikipedia could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year by running ads. There are strong objections to running ads from the community, but that is a staggering number for a tiny nonprofit, an annual amount that would be surpassed only by the wealthiest foundations. It could fund a staggering Wikimedia Foundation bureaucracy, or it could fund additional free knowledge projects. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has asked what will be free. Would an annual hundred million dollar budget increase the odds of those predictions? One way to find out before actually trying.

In somewhat related news, Mozilla just reported 2005 financial information, showing 800% revenue growth:

In 2005 the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation combined had revenue from all sources of $52.9M. $29.8M of this was associated with the Foundation (both before and after the creation of the Corporation). The bulk of this revenue was related to our search engine relationships, with the remainder coming from a combination of contributions, sales from the Mozilla store, interest income, and other sources. These figures compare with 2003 and 2004 revenues of $2.4M and $5.8M respectively, and reflect the tremendous growth in the popularity of Firefox after its launch in November 2004.

The combined expenses of the Mozilla Foundation and Corporation were approximately $8.2M in 2005, of which approximately $3M was associated with the Foundation. By far the biggest portion of these expenses went to support the large and growing group of people dedicated to creating and promoting Firefox, Thunderbird, and other Mozilla open source products and technologies. The rate of expenses increased over the year as new employees came on board. The unspent revenue provides a reserve fund that allows the Mozilla Foundation flexibility and long term stability.

An advertising-fueled Wikimedia Foundation could fund dozens of much needed Mozilla Firefox sized projects. And many Creative Commons (which just successfully completed its much more modest annual funding campaign) initiatives. :)

Update: Welcome Slashdot readers. The major objection to ads on Wikipedia takes two forms:

  • Advertising is profane.
  • Advertising would compromose Wikipedia’s neutrality.

A common response to the first is that those who don’t like ads can run an ad blocker. Easier still, those who don’t like ads can log in — there’s little reason to display ads to logged in users, who probably generate a tiny fraction of pageviews. But I don’t think either of these responses will satisfy this form of the objection, as it is basically emotional. Some people object to the knowledge that ads exist, even if not experienced personally. I suppose these people don’t use search engines. It’s a wonder they can stand to use the net at all. I discount them completely.

The second is completely unrealistic. How would third party text ads, e.g., via AdSense, compromise neutrality? There’s simply no vector for an advertiser to demand changes and zero reason for Wikipedians to comply. Wikipedia is not a small town newspaper beholden to the local department store, not even close. It isn’t even Slashdot, which as far as I can tell has not been compromised by years of running ads. To people with this objection: show me a community site that has gone astray due to advertiser influence.

Sponsors, “being managed by Wikipedia staff (like in newspaper ads, i.e. no uncontrolled 3rd party feeds)”, as suggested by Kuba Ober, are far more dangerous than third party ads, because then there is a vector between advertiser and someone with power at Wikipedia.

There may be an opportunity for Wikipedia to completely rethink and remake advertising, or merely compete in some fashion with what some are calling Google’s near monopoly, but now it would make tremendous sense to use AdSense or Yahoo! or both — and I suspect Wikipedia could manage to keep a greater share of revenue than a normal web publisher. Rick Yorgason mocked up what AdSense would look like in the place of the current fundraiser’s donation banner.

Slashdot commenter jklooserman summarizes objections from Wikiproject no ads:

  1. Wikipedia’s philosophy is non-commercial
  2. Ads put at risk Wikipedia’s principle of Neutral Point of View (NPOV)
  3. The information that constitutes Wikipedia is wealth for the community

I don’t see “non-commercial” in any form on the Wikimedia Foundation home page. I do see this, in large text:

Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s our commitment.

The next line, all bold, asks for help in the form of donations.

Much more money, hundreds of millions, would speed the arrival of that world and fulfillment of that commitment.

As above, there is no realistic scenario for ads undermining neutrality on Wikipedia.

The third objection strikes me as a non-sequitur. In any case, the point of obtaining more resources would be to increase the wealth of the community — of all human beings.

jklooserman also pointed out that there’s a category of Wikipedians who think that the Wikimedia Foundation should use advertising. Add it to your user page if you agree.

101 Responses

  1. Vojtech Pavlik says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  2. Tim Schmidt says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  3. Osborne Jones says:

    I support advertising on Wikipedia.

    …mostly because my ad-blocking software would render it moot.

  4. Dr Wood says:

    squander i reckon, let bill gates pay for charity. otherwise make sure any new charitable projects are well thought out before placing advertising to fund them, and make sure they are text based ads. wikipedia’s strength comes from user input, something money can not buy

  5. ctvn says:

    Totally advocate generation and fair distribution of money. Prize money could also be another incentives for students to participate in our “x=” quiz :)))


    Regarding the crucial issue of distribution, you might want to have a look at our important economic decisions (http://www.vodes.net/rev/btforum/index.php?board=7.0) and voding options (http://www.vodes.net/rev/option,com_virtuemart/page,shop.browse/category_id,6/Itemid,77/)

  6. Jakub Friedl says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  7. There are plenty of sites out there (e.g. about.com) who download wikipedia’s contents wholesale and put their own adverts on it. The advertising isn’t polluting the content (which is the main asset), it’s on wikipedia’s hosting and presentation of the content which costs real money. Anyone is still free to download the whole lot and present it how they like. And this facility will continue to cost money. So I’d support advertising on wikipedia (because I wouldn’t see ‘em anyway :) ).

  8. Tom Ward says:

    I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  9. Liraz Siri says:

    With money comes politics, conflicts of interest and the threat of corruption, which may ruin the purity and goodwill of the volunteer community that contributes to Wikipedia – a priceless asset to humanity.

    There are pros and cons, but if this decision is ever made, it has to be in the hands of the community that contributes to Wikipedia, as should decisions regarding how the money should be spent.

    I would even propose that if possible a fair way would be developed to quantify the contributions of different community members and allow those who contribute more value to Wikipedia to have more of a say in how that value is to be exploited.

  10. John Nowak says:

    I strongly support textual advertising on Wikipedia, provided that it is accompanied with a social contract that guarantees it will not influence content and a breakdown of how the money will be used. This could bring in millions a year that could be used to do a lot of good, and it is foolish and irresponsible to shoot it down simply because it is a hard problem to solve correctly. Let’s get to work and solve this in a way that benefits everyone.

  11. Mosey says:

    I am fine with advertising on wikipedia, only if it isn’t graphic. The only advertising I actually find useful is text advertising. It gives me the information I want, but it isn’t annoying or obnoxiously large on the screen. If advertising means gifs/jpegs/flash, I will promptly block it. I have both flashblock and Firefox which blocks flash advertising and images from a certain domain name(respectively).

    On the other hand if it’s text advertising that is contextual to what I’m looking at, I usually look at it just for information’s purposes.

    TL;DR version: Text advertising is fine, flash/gif/jpg is not.

  12. Brian says:

    It never takes more than a few minutes to get rid of advertising using Adblock, so what’s the problem with it?

  13. TM says:

    I do not support advertising on wikipedia.

    Whether your adblocker will intercept them is moot. The question is, as always with any form of advertising, how beholden do you want to be to funding which could be pulled if the advertisers object to your content? You lose your objectivity immediately.

    I wouldn’t trust anything said on Wikipedia about any entity that was advertising there, and there are far too many hidden subsidiaries and trails to follow to determine whether advertiser X has an interest in WP topic Y. It would demolish the whole idea of a neutral information source. For me, anyway.

  14. [...] קראתי בסלשדוט שבוויקיפדיה באנגלית יש עכשיו דיון בסוגיית שילוב פרסומות בוויקיפדיה. הכל התחיל מזה ש-Virgin Unite הודיעה שהיא תתרום דולר מול כל דולר שייתרם במסע גיוס הכספים הנוכחי. חלק מהוויקיפדים רואים בכך משום פרסומת. אך הסוגייה סבוכה יותר, שכן חלק מהוויקיפדים דווקא מעוניינים בהכנסות מפרסום (שיכולות ככל הנראה להסתכם בעשרות או אפילו מאות מיליוני דולרים בשנה), אשר יופנו על ידי קרן ויקימדיה לטובת פרויקטים נוספים של מידע חופשי וחינוך לטובת הכלל. [...]

  15. Patrick says:

    I like your idea.

  16. Sebastian says:

    I do not support advertising on wikipedia. Because then you are making money on information that isn’t yours (e.g. the users)

  17. JP says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia…

    …unless they themselves/directly were to sell and display only a handful of ads. Ads would have to be served from the en.wikipedia.org domain (or whatever language, but from the same server as the page content) NO 3rd party ad companies should be allowed, ever. We don’t want this to be just another source of distributing spyware, like myspace.

  18. Eric Thibeault says:

    “I think that Wikipedia’s huge amount of Web traffic is a resource that the Foundation is squandering.”

    And I thought Wikipedia was a resource for people to use. Now it’s people’s time that’s become a resource for Wikipedia to exploit? What kind of thinking is that?

    “Wikipedia could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year by running ads.”

    So what? All that tells us is that Wikipedia is immensely more valuable than that in itself. Placing ads would reduce it’s value by adding distractions, negatively affecting people’s confidence in the project, etc. Yes, this would mean reducing it’s profit potential, too. Did you factor that in your “zOMG we could make millions” calculus?

    “That’s money that could go to disseminate free (libre and gratis) paperback pocket encyclopedias to millions of schools and millions of children, in their own language, around the world.”

    Right. Are all those encyclopedias are fully translated, formatted and reviewed in all languages? No? Add tons of cost to develop. Is organising, producing and distributing books all over the world that easy? Does paper update itself or do you have to start over every few years (or rather days at the rate new information becomes available nowadays)? Distributing laptops and improving Wikipedia itself (as well as a slightly out of date but peer reviewed version) sounds like a much better idea to me.

    “It could fund a staggering Wikimedia Foundation bureaucracy”

    Exactly. Much of the money would be spent on more bureaucracy and infighting to determine whose pet project will get funded. This will not be a good thing for Wikipedia.

    “It’s irresponsible to abuse that opportunity.”

    My sentiment exactly. But abusing the opportunity would of course mean going for the money and turning Wikipedia into a commercial project.

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  19. Veinor says:

    Advertising on Wikipedia is a horrible idea. It would basically turn the whole thing into one big conflict of interest.

  20. [...] Some Wikipedians have objected to Virgin Unite’s participation in the Wikimedia Foundation’s fund drive, calling it adverising. But there’s a strong case that Wikipedia should run advertising. The funds raised could support dozens of Firefox-scale free knowledge and free software projects, outspending all but the wealthiest foundations. [...]

  21. Brett says:

    Wow, lots of people are looking at us, quick, how can we take advantage of that ? take advantage of our attention and it will quickly move elsewhere

    I do not support advertising on Wikipedia

  22. QDot says:

    I support advertising on Wikipedia, with consent of the viewer.

    Whether or not anonymous users will see ads, it is yet to be resolved, but I see no conflict of interest if registered wiki user chooses to support the project by allowing ads.

    Ads should be clearly separated from the content, just the way published magazines do. As long as user has *knowledge* that the content is paid for, and not objective, and *option* to opt out (or in), it’s fine with me.

    I can see the value of commercial information for myself – that’s why I don’t block paid search results from google etc. Hence, for me there will be two reasons to opt in – sometimes it can be relevant, and it supports wikipedia with someone’s elses money ;)

  23. Adam Anthony Tudor says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  24. Anonymous says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  25. Neil says:

    Advertising on Wikipedia is a bad idea: you’d get some money out of it for a bit, but it would kill the golden goose in doing so. The value to the world of the exponential growth of free content started by Wikipedia can be valued in the billions (think of its value in 10 years time at the current rate of growth), far more than the paltry hundred million a year advertising would generate.

  26. Peter Gerdes says:

    I support (small tasteful google style) ads on wikipedia. Just like public radio the begathons are just as annoying as ads.

  27. Anony says:

    By the People, For the People.

  28. B says:

    how about we start a wikipedia article about advertising on wikipedia. then, the article is subject to the normal review, edits, re-edits, ego-fights, etc until the article is stable. then we will have the answer!

  29. Laszlo Oslo says:

    What about optional ads? If you could hit one [X] or set your login preferences and not see ads for the rest of your visit, what would be the harm in that? Wikimedia would still make the hundreds of millions, plus keep the good will from ad-haters who appreciate the very modest intrusion (like text-ads did for Google).

  30. Jasperiel says:

    I support advertising on Wikipedia.
    You’ve already discussed pros and cons, and provided it does not go too far, I think Wikipedia could help to achieve “greater goods”. I wouldn’t like the ad being too big, but given Wikipedia’s popularity, even that can make the Foundation earn lots of money.

  31. William D. Herndon says:

    Conflict of interest will, at best, compromise the image of Wikipedia. It is certain to drive away a substantial number of contributors and could destroy the project.

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  32. gamekid says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  33. I whole-heartedly support ads on Wikipedia, as long as Wikipedia remains a not-for-profit organization. There’s just so many charities that Wikipedia could fund with this money. Even if you think distributing laptops is a better idea than distributing paper books, that *still* requires funding (as well as an Internet connection, but I digress). I really don’t think this would be so bad:


  34. No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  35. If advertising allows Wikipedia to better accomplish its mission, then I’m all for it. But I think it should be in the form of sponsorships and underwriting like public radio. The sponsorship messages played on public radio are restricted in content.

  36. Barbamoo says:

    With the “hundreds of millions per year”, would you be able to pay all editors $50 (or more) per hour for their work? Why would they do it for free, if you would not do it?

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  37. Hal Martin says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  38. Geir Ove says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

    However, anyone is free to mirror the wikipedia content on a site supported by advertising and donate the revenue to the Wikimedia Foundation :-).

  39. Gene McKenna says:

    I support advertising on Wikipedia

  40. Anonymous says:

    I think ads in wikipedia would be a very bad idea for two reasons:

    1.Adblock: ads would not be effective, and might alienate wikipedia users that do not/can not use ad blocking software.

    2.Forking: should ads be added to wikipedia, there’s nothing that prevents others from taking the database and forking the project. Users will tend to migrate to the new, ad-free wikipedia, harming the project.

    Remember: the client decides what is shown on his screen, you should consider ads a “suggestion” for the browser. Should wikipedia try ads, it would be a battle that it cannot win, and it would bother users.

  41. Gavin says:

    Maybe the community should be asked !!!!

    And no, I don’t support the idea of advertising o wikipedia.

  42. bauchidgw says:

    justdoit – ad money isn’t dirty money – it’s just an economic reality

  43. [...] Mentre è in corso una discussione a più voci su blog ed etica, un dibattito analogo ha preso il via in seno alla Wikimedia Foundation e alla sua campagna di raccolta fondi. Un buon sunto lo fa Mike Linksvayer in merito, più specificamente, alla questione inserzionisti pubblicitari. Uno dei quali potrebbe essere il braccio benefico della Virgin e in proposito lo scrittore e programmatore canadese Evan Prodromou dice: Non sono in sintonia con questa gente, anzi, mi trovo in sostanziale opposizione. Penso però che l’elevato traffico web generato da Wikipedia sia una risorsa che la Fondazione sperpera. Un traffico come quello di Wikipedia vale decine se non centinaia di milioni in entrate pubblicitarie ogni anno. È denaro che potrebbe essere utilizzato per diffondere (liberamente e gratuitamente) libretti simil enciclopedie a milioni di studenti e di bambini, nella loro lingua, in tutto il mondo. È irresponsabile snobbare questa opportunità. [...]

  44. Kuba Ober says:

    I support text-only advertising on Wikipedia:
    1. being served directly by Wikipedia servers,
    2. from the same domain as other content,
    3. being managed by Wikipedia staff (like in newspaper ads, i.e. no uncontrolled 3rd party feeds).

    I oppose any 3rd party-served ads, and graphics in all forms and shapes. Expect muzzle flashes if there’s ever a flash ad there (pun intended).

  45. Richard Kirk says:

    I support advertising on Wikipaedia.

    I feel that modest advertising could be used without changing the nature of the Wikipaedia. There have been sensible suggestions to restrict the size and scope of advertising. There are sensible projects, such as the rescuing of orphaned copyright works that could use the funds to the general good. The comments supporting advertinsing seem modest and reasonable: the comments against are mostly a single line.

    There are conditions. Clearly the whole Wikipaedia project has been supported by volunteers who would not be happy with their work going to make some accountant a millionaire. I am disturbed by the initial statements, gloating over ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’. We have seen what the Big Money Demon did for Googles “Do No Evil” motto. I would like to know more about what the money is for, and where it will go before we draw the pentacle…

  46. Robert Hartle says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  47. Karthik says:

    No, I do not support advertising on Wikipedia.

    An objective source of information, once dependent on funds, has the possibility of being dependent and therefore influenced by those funds.

    This would be a slippery slope.

    Isn’t the value of the knowledge good enough by itself?

    Wikipedia should *not* support advertising, and I just can’t stress this enough.

  48. Callum Butterworth says:

    Like many other people, I support text-only advertising on Wikipedia.
    Graphics get too distracting, and it would be simple enough to edit the wikipedia page, and cover up the advertisement with one of your own, and not be noticed for at least.. an hour?

  49. SuperBryant says:

    Umm Advertising is already on wiki, just with paid for ads it will be a bit more transparent then some one being paid 50 bucks to write/edit an artical.

  50. z says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  51. [...] Mike Linksvayer » I support advertising on Wikipedia [...]

  52. Anonymous says:

    The fact is: (almost) no one can live without a money! This is not black-and-white type of a problem, and certainly, IF it’s going to be allowed it has to be thoroughly thought out and well defined.

    And, I just wonder, how many of those that said no to advertisement gave money, and how much? Also, those that take Wikipedia’s content and earn money on it, do they give back something?

  53. Talespinner says:

    I support Google styled ads, I also support integration of the Google Search engine because Wikipedia’s native search engine sucks.

  54. Jeff P says:

    I support TEXT ONLY advertising on Wikipedia.
    Those who don’t, can go find another free encyclopedia to contribute to.

  55. Chris says:

    Wow, what a slew of shortsighted responses.
    a) Money is necessary to run any endevour.
    b) The fundraising drives are certainly not getting the job done.
    c) Its not the users’ site – its wikimedia’s site. How arrogant to think that you have to be asked permission for them to do anything.
    d) I have yet to see any plausible scenario that would lead to a conflict of interest. Any such claims are chicken littlism at its worst.
    e) The entire argument boils down to money is bad.
    f) Advertising on Wikipedia would be the best thing ever and the trustees are violating their mission to keep Wikipedia running by not pursuing it.

  56. Wikipedia is clearly able to earn its own money, begging for donations on the front (and every other) page is an insult to both visitors, and to the many worthy cases that are not in that lucky position.

    So I support advertising on Wikipedia.

    The adds should be non-intrusive, textual, clearly separated from content, and selected algorithmically, similar to the adds known from Google.

    However, if the money are really that big (more than the current need), additional precautions would have to be taken. The most important would be to split the foundation into two, with watertight boundaries between. One that ran the current Wikimedia projects, and another solely responsible for distribution the ad-money between causes that promote the goals of the foundation, but had no say in the running of any of the projects. Money do corrupt, hence the separation.

  57. Stephen says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

  58. Ka-Ping Yee says:

    I think a good solution would be OPT-IN ADVERTISING on Wikipedia. Individual viewers would voluntarily choose to “donate” to Wikipedia by turning on ads. Organizations that wanted to support Wikipedia in this way might also be able to turn on advertising for their IP address blocks.

    Wikipedia would gain a new mechanism for generating funding, without a controversy over biasing or commercializing its content.

  59. Me says:

    I think advertising COULD do a lot of good, especially if it were used wisely. But, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and it would take a strong hand to keep things on track for wikipedia. Btw, democracy doesn’t like strong hands…

    I dont think it would work.

  60. I am wary of advertising for much of the same reasons others are. It effects the phsycology of the user, it could undermine the credibility of the project, creates bias with in the administrators, etc. It was not made to make money and support pet projects. It is a source for free and open information. That is its contribution to society. We all know this is how ‘it’ starts – the decline of such free open information.

    On the other hand, the revenue it generates could be extremely helpful, if Wikipedia is wise. Great thought and care needs to be taken to this topic. Corruption comes easy and often times subtly. My heart would be broken if it took grasp on Wikipedia.

  61. Paul Ericksen says:

    I definitely support adverts on WP. Pardon the length but I think there are some important points here and a lot of good to be done.

    Why not have an opt-in for the ads? Right now they have space at the top devoted to getting donations. Instead, have a link that says “Show relevant ads to support Wikipedia” When you click it, do not have the ads appear at the top as Rick Yorgason suggested with his graphic. Have them display down the left underneath the “in other languages” box. Have it be one of the options when signing up for an account, defaulted to turned off (personally, I would code it to default on but there seem to be a lot of people really up in arms about the idea of ads.) Have a short description of how the money is used. Even if only a fraction of the people turned it on, then they could still have plenty of funds for servers and other projects, maybe not the hundreds of millions that are predicted, but enough.

    I don’t really understand the conflict of interest argument. With AdSense, what ads show could change daily based on the settings of the different advertiser’s accounts and Google’s algorithm which determines how good of a fit that ad is. If no one clicks on it, then it isn’t a good ad to show for the keywords and it is automatically removed. The only conflict would be information about Google itself since WP would not be receiving money directly from anyone else and wouldn’t have to worry about bowing to any of the sponsors. The sponsors may not even know their ads are being shown on WP.

    If WP were to accept money directly from a company, Chevrolet, for example, then WP may worry about not having anything negative about Chevy’s so that they don’t lose their funding that they had grown accustomed to. Direct relationships with the advertisers would definitely cause conflicts of interest.

    It seems by some of the comments that people are not thinking all the way through this. There was a comment made about how since the contributors add/edit/update for free that WP should do the same. They do not understand handling 2.5 billion page hits in a month costs some serious money for the server farms and bandwidth.

    Keep thinking all the way through this… suppose WP *is* making $100m per year by ads they have on the site and uses that money to help get clean drinking/bathing water in villages in Africa, helping set up schools in 3rd world countries, etc, etc. There are people in this world who don’t have access to some basic necessities of survival that WP could help out and we’re throwing tantrums because we have to look at an ad? Seriously?? If having ads served on WP means that a well can be built in a city so that people can have clean water for drinking and bathing are we really such ad-free purists that we are blind to all the good that could be done here?

    To the person who made the comment “let Bill Gates give to charities” — are you serious? It’s all on *one* person to fund the world’s needs? Have we forgotten what WP is about? WP is about the community of the world coming together and producing something of worth.

    Would ads make me not want to contribute to WP? Absolutely not! If I knew that the money was going toward good causes, then the better WP is (by all of us adding/updating), the more it is used. The more people view it, the more money it makes and the more good they -oops, I mean *WE*- can do. We aren’t talking about WP having ads so that they can drive Ferraris and have them take advantage of the contributor’s efforts for their own wallets.

    We are possibly on the cusp of the world community banding together through our contributions to and use of Wikipedia to be able to help ridiculous amounts of people. Will there be different people with different agendas for where the money goes? I guarantee it. Does that mean that we shouldn’t do it at all? Me and my coworkers may have different ideas about where to go for lunch, but that doesn’t mean we skip lunch because we are in disagreement.

    Why not have a system in which the users of site could vote on it, with their vote weighted by how much of a user/contributor they are to it (this would reduce the impact of fake accounts set up just to place votes). Have 5 – 10 options presented with a short paragraph for each one and have the community decide how they want to spend the funds, and have the money allocated not just to the top one, but if the first option gets 53% of the vote, then have that one get 53% of the money.

    We can create the most beneficial charitable organization in the world! And it will all be by and through the efforts of the contributors and viewers. We are in the Information Age and WP is a treasure trove of the most valuable commodity at the moment — Information. Selling it (by placing ads) to help tons of people will have a lasting, powerful impact on peoples and nations… yet people are actually bitching about not wanting to see an unobtrusive text ad. People say they don’t want ads and quote “By the people, for the people” — That’s EXACTLY right, but not just the people who have access to computers and the Internet, think more globally! Hell, I may even click the ads just to help WP get more money to do more good! If people knew they could go to WP have 4 relevant text ads off to the side and by doing that they would help feed, clothe and educate people OR they could go to another non-ad-supported site and just selfishly take the information without doing any good for anyone else… Are people actually that selfish that they can’t put up with a few ads and help the underprivileged? Sell bumper stickers: “Today I helped feed a child by looking up Brazilian tree frogs on Wikipedia.”

    As Wikipedia began doing this, it would be a good human interest story and they’d get more press attention, which drives up more page views, ad-clicks, and content contributions. If people understood where the money was going and how it was being used (part of the PR campaign) then I doubt there’d be much objection to it. The more attention it got for the good works it was doing the more people would want to contribute to help it grow and be more valuable and the more people would know about it and want to use it – *thus generating more money* that they could do good with! For every one contributor that left because they didn’t want to see ads, there’d be 10 more joining the fight against poverty, hunger, etc just by donating their time.

    Wikipedia is communal. Let’s continue with that ideal but take it to the next level and leverage the resources (the content and the viewer ship) and pull our heads out of our collective ass, think outside of our cushy positions in developed nations and do some good around the world.

  62. Sakke says:

    I support limited advertising on Wikipedia. Anonymous users would not see ads and registered users would have ads turned off by default. Those users that are willing to view advertisiments, could enable an “I want to see relevant advertisiments and thus support Wikipedia.” option. I think this would not hurt anyone, Wikipedia would get some money and some people would get the ads.

    I would enable that option if it was possible.

  63. Muxec says:

    I conditionally support ads on wikipedia.

    1. There should be no graphical advertising, just plain text banners like AdSense, or even AdSense itself.

    2. All users, even unregistered, should have an option to disable ads. In such case their decision is stored in cookies, indeed. The process of disabling must not take more than one click on the page where users sees the ad.

    3. Well defined and transparent spending policy. The fate of the money must decided before the arrival of extra money and should be well known to contributors. It can be used to upgrade hardware, expand wiki staff, support FSF or EFF, buy OLPCs for poor kids, but it must be well defined and prioritized.

  64. K. says:

    If Wikipedia starts advertising, how will it differ -in practice- to the normal user, from the many textual copies of it that already do advertise, like answers.com? At some point, many of these copies of Wikipedia were showing up in google before the corresponding Wikipedia entry for many key seraches. Then apparently things went back to normal and this is not happening anymore. If you ask me, I think this is because people get used to the fact that those fake-pedias have ads, and to go straight to the Wikipedia link.

    People will not stop using Wikipedia because of ads (altough many people would probably stop contributing to it). But if people can choose between an ad-free page and one with ads, I’m certain most of the people will choose the ad-free one. And between two pages with virtually the same content and both featuring ads, people will be indifferent. Thus in the long term, Wikipedia will lose.

  65. Advertising is by definition biased information, if not misinformation. That’s totally the opposite of what Wikipedia stands for.

    Do this, and tomorrow an ad-free clone of Wikipedia will be created and all the contributors will switch to the new site, making the old site worthless.

  66. The logic here seems to be that Wikipedia should fund open source projects. I find this somewhat infuriating, though I do support OSS, because there is an a fairly arrogant assumption that Wikipedia should be supporting such projects as Firefox because Wikipedia is also an entirely open project.

    However, openness is not the most important quality of Wikipedia. Neutrality certainly is more important that openness, though the two often go hand-in-hand. If we were to be entirely neutral, why only fund Firefox? Why not also Microsoft in their development of Internet Explorer? Neutrality would suggest that we supply money from advertising equally to open source and closed source software projects. Using reductio ad absurdum, you can see that this where this takes us, and I doubt that the OSS community would be terribly impressed with this state of affairs.

    I also question why Wikipedia, which deals with far more issues than just computer software, would only fund open source projects. Why not humanitarian projects like Medicine sans Frontiers or Unicef? Surely they are more worthy than software projects?

    There are so many fatal flaws in the argument being presented here, and I strongly urge people to write “I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia” when giving donations.

  67. Paul Ericksen says:

    Yes ads are biased, of course they are. But they’d be off to the side in a box marked “advertisements” — maybe even more than that, have it state “wikipedia does not endorse any of the following” or something like what they have before an infomercial to indicate that wikipedia is not affiliated with them and that they have no stance on the products/services being offered.

    I think users are savvy enough to recognize that the ad is trying to get them to buy something, my 5 year old niece knows that the ads on TV is trying to get her to do something that she doesn’t need to do. The articles (which is what we’re really talking about here) would still be as non-biased as always.

  68. Well, having ads on Wikipedia is like storing a barrel of gunpowder next to a fireplace. I wouldn’t do it.

  69. Sid says:

    “Wikipedia’s huge amount of Web traffic is a resource” – These 9 words are what discredits the whole of that article.

    What Evan Prodromou calls a “resource” I call users, or rather participants. We are talking about people, people are not a commodity to be sold off to advertisers, they are the same people who contribute to wikipedia, they are what makes wikipedia successful, they are the purpose of wikipedia.

    Right now, peoples know that wikipedia is owned by the people and it there because people do their bit. People know that wikipedia exists cos people have spent their time and effort and money on making it good, for the good of everyone, no one exploits the fruits or their labour for their own benefit, so people know that helping wikipedia is for the good of everyone.

    People reading wikipedia also know that they are bound by an unwritten un thought social contract, that they know that they can read about stuff because people have spent their time writing or adding to articles, and so they know, only if only subconsciously that they have a moral debt, as they are benefiting from this work, and that the repayment for this is that should contribute too. Whenever I see an incomplete part of an article, a missing detail, or a mistake, I feel that it is an obligation to edit the article and add to or correct or whatever “I think, this is wrong/incomplete, I have the knowledge to fix it, I ought to fix it”. Sometimes I can’t be arsed, and I feel a tinge of guilt and sometimes I do contribute and I feel good, because I have helped out even if only in a tiny way.

    If I am reading Encarta or Britannica and see a mistake or a missing detail, I think “This is wrong/incomplete those lazy cunts at Microsoft/Britannica ought to fix it, that’s what they are payed for”

    If wikipedia becomes an advertising source, it will be tainted in the mind of people as a corporate entity. People will see errors or omissions and think “This is wrong, someone should fix this, I’m not doing it, the sponsors should be paying for this”

    The bigger danger isn’t advertisers manipulating content, but that people will no longer see Wikipedia as theirs, they will see it as yet another place that corporations bombard them with advert, wikipedia will be forever tainted in the minds of people as yet another corporate device, bombarding them with ads like everything else in the world. It will no longer be theirs and it will no longer be their responsibility, it will be the corporate sponsors responsibility.

    Wikipedia is what everyone dreamed the web would be before it became a a corporate slush bucket of spam and adverts, a cash cow to be milked for all its worth, it is a tiny seed of that time when the web was for people to share knowledge and work together on things for mutual benefit. It;s the best hope of open source, creative commons, copy left, every movement that has ever wanted knowledge to be free, and people to be free from lies and propaganda.

    And if people don’t belive in wikipedia, and its purpose, they won’t contribute to it, and if people don’t contribute to it, it will die.

  70. Joel says:

    I support advertising on Wikipedia- provided it’s not overly obtrusive, and is clearly defined as advertising as separate from Wikipedia text. Perhaps even advertising in the form of sponsors rather than keyword specific searches?

    Is there any chance, though, that this could increase vandalism rates, in order to put AdSense search terms on the page (even if just hidden) that increase the appearance of certain advertisemens?

  71. dave says:

    If Wikipedia made sure 80% of income from seach targeted text ads
    went to chairity. as for what pet projects get funded. Have reg users vote
    to select top 12 projects. Then allowcate as they vote. Each person gives their vote as to how much % of the years income goes to witch project. The future belongs to the bold.

  72. Dion says:

    I support advertising on Wikipedia. All those that do not support, please ensure that you make a significant donation. Ads do not influence content and do not generate a conflict of interest. The ads usually change on every single page view and are generated by the advertising system provider such as Adsense. Advertisers don’t know where their ads are shown and if the page related to Google, a setting can be included in the Adsense link to exclude Google from advertising there. This is much more preferable to having direct relationships with companies and would generate much more income for key projects. What is more difficult is how to spend that money appropriately, but this is a problem that can be solved. The opportunity should definitely not be squandered.

  73. Gregory Kohs says:

    I support advertising that actually PAYS THE CONTENT CONTRIBUTOR, such as the model found on Centiare.com.

  74. Alexander McLeay says:

    I don’t support mainstream advertising on Wikipedia; they are ugly. Even AdSense. I also don’t support Wikipedia becoming dependent on advertising revenue. If Wikipedia is to include advertising, it must be something that integrates with the design (unlike that AdSense example above), and it must only be for added value. Absolutely no jobs should be paid from it.

  75. mosab says:

    I don’t support ads in wikipedia…

  76. Christian Bongiorno says:

    I had never considered advertising on wikipedia. At first I was against it, but now, having read some more posts, I think that adSense advertising is appropriate. However, funds should NOT be used to create more bureaucracy and overhead at wikipedia. I think any funds beyond cost and a stipend for those who make it their fulltime job to support wikipedia (like the founder) should be democratically alotted to other charitable organizations. I like what one poster suggested: if 53% of votes are for organization YY then 53% of funds go there. Perhaps also a small investment fund that can keep wikipedia running should ever a bad time come.

    I think the biggest headache people have with advertising on wikipedia is the truth to an old addage: money corrupts. The debate with wikipedia has always been about the validity of it’s content and never it’s ethics. It’s a rare example of constructive social purity that those who love it wish to protect — including myself

  77. Paul Ericksen says:

    Sid, I understand your objections to it and if people saw it as a corporate entity they wouldn’t feel obligated to contribute and without contributions WP would die. But I think what you may not be considering completely is that with the proper information about why the ads are there, what the money is used for, etc, that it could actually increase contributors. If they just placed ads and didn’t explain it then it would have tainted feeling that the money that is going to some corporate entity. I think the creator should do news shows (Good Morning America, Jon Stewart, etc) to really get the word out about the Why. This is not something that should just be added quietly. It’s not the message of “We’re going to start making some money from this” but “We’re creating the world’s largest charitable organization.”

    Unlike other charities, rather than just trying to get people to donate money so they can feel good or deduct it from their taxes, Wikipedia lets everyone benefit. While the 1st world nations are having an information exchange, the 3rd world nations are benefiting from it. By having it be advertising, it’s letting large corporations give more money than we could ever drum up by beg-a-thons.

    Everyone wins:
    + Users get their information
    + Companies get their exposure
    + Underprivileged nations get money for water wells, schools, education, etc.

    I think it’s rather unique to have the exchange of Information in the developed nations able to feed, clothe and educate people in the undeveloped nations.

    Just by contributing to and using wikipedia, 1st-2nd world nations would be helping fight poverty, disease, hunger, lack of education in 3rd world countries. It’s a shift from how WP is currently, but I don’t think it contradicts the ideals at all. Rather, I think it builds on them and takes it to a significantly higher level.

    I see it as a creative way to get corporate money to help struggling nations escape poverty. And from an economic standpoint, as more nations become educated and industrialized then the current 1st and 2nd world nations benefit from increased trade. The only downsides I hear are purist ideals which I believe are ultimately, when weighed against everything that *could* be done with the money, contrary to the ideals the site. To me, the site is about the global society coming together to help educate and inform each other but it currently is limited to developed nations. Some nations have more basic needs, like water, and as those nations have their basic needs met, then education would be the very next goal in those countries… and would be expanding the ideals in ways no one ever dreamed of when the project was originally started.

    Gregory, I understand your comment about wanting the contributors to be paid, but I think that removes the altruistic original reason of why people contribute and turns it back to standard “I’m doing this to be paid” rather than “I’m doing this to contribute to something great”.

    Other comments:
    AdSense: I agree that the level of spam may be increased by people editing articles to make use of the keywords they want to see in them so their ads show up. This is something that should be addressed, but should not be a blocker

    Jobs: I don’t agree that *no* jobs should be paid. If by paying the owner or a few other people, they’re able to devote more time to it, then that benefits the project more than the cost of the salary.

  78. Paul Ericksen says:

    One thing I would love to see is wikipedia being able to start a companion project which would produce school text books — or better yet, installed to the $100 laptops being manufactured for developing nations. Start with K-12 but expand to college courses, so that people could go online and learn about topics in a more structured way, with quizzes and tests available. At some point, US (or other developed nations) colleges may opt for those text ebooks and help further reduce the the costs for their students to attend and pay for higher education. Some people may just want to learn new things on their own. MIT already has open courseware (http://ocw.mit.edu/), which is in line with what I’m talking about here. I’d like to see that happen in the lower grades as well. Many schools in the US can’t afford new text books because their budgets come from the property taxes… the lower the value of the property, the less funding the schools get. Many poorer schools have books that were purchased during the Nixon administration.

    Education levels in the US has been steadily dropping and if there were a community effort to develop the courses, we could dramatically improve the quality of the texts. Having leading edge people in the fields being able to go in, make corrections, add new discoveries, etc. Then by using the web, be able to have online tests and grades for the texts themselves “Easy to understand? 1 not at all … 5 outstanding!”

    If ads will allow us to increase education the world over… why wouldn’t we do it?

  79. Ben Finney says:

    No, I don’t support advertising on Wikipedia.

    The attention of one’s site visitors is *not* a “resource” to be exploited by the site. A person’s attention is their own resource, to be expended in ways they see fit.

    Moreover, wikipedia is about educating in a neutral voice on human knowledge. To mix that with advertising — explicitly *not* neutral-voice — on the same site is to directly detract from the purpose of Wikipedia.

  80. Paul Ericksen says:


    If you don’t want to look or click on the ad, then don’t. You’re still in control. It’s not a pop-up that is making the decision that you want to look at it for you.

    It seems like people are confusing the issue by thinking that biased ads will make the articles skewed. Having 4 boxes on the left in an area clearly marked “advertisements” will in no way make me think the article has been influenced by those advertisements. If it’s AdSense, the ads may change daily and since the money is getting to you **indirectly** through google you are not dealing with the advertisers directly.

    I understand the NPOV purist mentality, but when weighed against the good that could be done, I think the decision becomes more clear. It’d be great if everyone was generous and donated as much money to WP as would be made from advertising so that WP could fund improved education around the world. But that won’t happen.

    Since when has viewership not been a resource? Radio, TV, Internet… I don’t see that it’s exploiting the viewers to have 4 simple text ads down the side which would allow wikipedia to increase the level of education around the world. I understand how when put into those terms it may sound de-humanizing, and the assumption that you have just become a number may hold true for many corporate entities. But to think that WP founders will suddenly shift and forget about it’s members begin human individuals is a conclusion that you’re incorrectly jumping to.

    Google is making billions from it’s viewership. Do you feel exploited by Google because they have ads? No, because it’s providing a valuable service for you. That’s a private company with a very different business model and they keep the profits and share with shareholders. If wikipedia’s charitable foundation was a non-profit and was giving it all away… the not only is WP providing you a service but 3rd world nations as well.

    Read the ideals behind WP, and ask which philosophy more closely matches the original intent:
    + using ads to fund education around the world
    + remaining ad-free because small text ads on off to the side would corrupt the article.

    More discussion about this on slashdot: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=214762&threshold=1&commentsort=0&mode=thread&pid=0

  81. Mike, thanks for providing a space for this great conversation.

    One thing I wanted to respond to was that a couple of people seemed to think it incorrect on my part to refer to Wikipedia’s Web traffic as a “resource”. I’m not sure what else to call a potential source of tens, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars annually in income. But if people know a better word for it, please substitute that in.

    Let me also point out that wikipedia.org’s current huge Web traffic is not a long-term sure thing. As Open Content, the encyclopedia can be copied onto any other Web site on the Internet, and sites like answers.com show that this can be lucrative. Anyone familiar with the Open Directory (http://dmoz.org/) knows that it’s copied to Google Categories, Yahoo Directory, and dozens of other high-profile sites. In 5 years, will there be thousands of mirrors of Wikipedia on the Web? Will wikipedia.org become more like editors.dmoz.org — an editorial interface for a data set served from many other servers?

    If that’s the case, will we look back on the high-traffic days of 2005-2008 as the time when we wasted somewhere around half a billion dollars in potential revenue? Will the WMF really be glad at that point that it did so?

  82. [...] Mike Linksvayer has a fairly good argument that raising X dollars by running ads on Wikipedia won’t create more conflict of interest than raising X dollars some other way. But the amount of money an organization handles has important effects on its behavior that are somewhat independent of the source of the money, and the purpose of ads seems to be to drastically increase the money that they raise. I can’t provide a single example that provides compelling evidence in isolation, but I think that looking at a broad range of organizations with $100 million revenues versus a broad range of organizations that are run by volunteers who only raise enough money to pay for hardware costs, I see signs of big differences in the attitudes of the people in charge. Wealthy organizations tend to attract people who want (or corrupt people into wanting) job security or revenue maximization, whereas low-budget volunteer organizations tend to be run by people motivated by reputation. If reputational motivations have worked rather well for an organization (as I suspect the have for Wikipedia), we should be cautious about replacing those with financial incentives. It’s possible that the Wikimedia Foundation could spend hundreds of millions of dollars wisely on charity, but the track record of large foundations does not suggest that should be the default expectation. [...]

  83. [...] Many good comments regarding supporting advertising on Wikipedia (or not) here and also on Slashdot and other blogs. I may further characterize and respond to these in aggregate (see the update to my first post for some of this). For now I want to call out or respond to a few particularly worthy comments and criticisms. [...]

  84. [...] This wouldn’t be worth the hundreds of millions annually that tasteful text ads on articles could be (and the ability to fully fund* the Wikimedia Foundation’s mission), but it would surely obviate the need for begging to cover the costs of running Wikipedia. [...]

  85. Blueskyboris says:

    Two questions should be asked: Why is Wikipedia popular? Who made wikipedia? If advertising threatens either of these it should not be supported.

  86. [...] Wikipedia, search engines will raise Wikipedia even higher in the ratings. With the rumours that Wikipedia may soon start accepting advertisements, one could even conclude that this not much more than an attempt to boost their revenue. Read more [...]

  87. Hinotori says:

    Your take on this, while well-written and understandable, drastically oversimplifies the issue. Personally, I don’t think there will be any problem -initially-, as you say, but I believe there is a potential slippery slope to a future Wikipedia that is propped up more through commercial advertising than from the very users who keep it alive through effort and donations. If this should happen, those advertisers would find themselves with the ability to apply pressure via the purse strings. While it would be nice to envision a Wikipedia that would never buckle to such pressure and that would always be self-sufficient enough to ignore such threats, that future IS possible.

    Most importantly, however, you show complete naivete in “completely discounting” the users who are paranoid about advertising. Even if you were right in every way about everything else, credibility is even more important than currency. What good is an encyclopedia if people don’t TRUST it? It doesn’t matter if that trust or mistrust is misplaced. If people don’t trust the project, it is doomed, end of story.

  88. Your pal Johnny says:

    Sebastian Says:
    I do not support advertising on wikipedia. Because then you are making money on information that isn’t yours (e.g. the users)

    Sebastian, you’re a little shaky on the whole “public domain” thing, aren’t you? Some things don’t have owners.

    But Chris is right that this decision should be made by the community. Speaking for myself, I support having text ads on Wikipedia.

  89. [...] I support advertising on Wikipedia [...]

  90. [...] question that will be of interest only to mister Mike Linksvayer. How Wikipedia manages to harness the wisdom of crowds is much more [...]

  91. x says:

    wikipedia will have ads sooner or later. when it will be too damn late to take them down:)

  92. [...] Wikimedia Foundation might do lots of good things and Slashdot readers objections to ads doesn’t sound good to me [...]

  93. Joe Blogs says:

    I support small text based advertising on Wikipedia.

    A small one line bar at the top of the page would be fine. Perhaps just to people who are not logged in. I would see this as a great way to fund a great project.

  94. Matt Lee says:

    I support the idea. I think all these big sites should have advertising — any more money they can get to help them move things faster, the better.

    Something like AdBard — http://adbard.net/ — which delivers ads about Free Software to Free Software sites would be good. Some third party service, which delivered ads from within Wikipedia itself — ie. ads under PD/CC 0/BY-SA or GFDL, protected in some way from being deleted/defaced, but actually served as part of the page itself, instead of via third party javascript, would do well.

  95. Alex says:

    Recently Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales placed his image on each and every Wikipedia page, asking for donations. Wikipedia boasts nearly 400 million unique visitors monthly, with 3,000 views every second. In other words, while Wales is soliciting donations he is arguably the single MOST VISIBLE INDIVIDUAL on the Internet, surpassing top celebrities, politicians and religious leaders.

    While unquestionably effective for promoting Mr. Wales, is relying on donations really best for Wikipedia? At WikipediaExperts.com, we believe that advertising revenues could provide incomparably better financing of Wikipedia, without affecting its neutrality. For example, would we have an easier searchable Internet if, instead of relying on $23 billion of annual revenues, Google adorned every search page with its founders’ pictures and their personal appeal to donate?

  96. Ashok says:

    I strongly support idea of ads on wikipedia. I have donated couple of times in the past and cannot make this as subscription every time. There was a banner that portrays the current donation scale that reaches close to 6 million and was there for almost a month and half. If they could enable that space for ads then it would have reached in few days the same amount.

    As a end user who craves for information never mind to have some ads on one side of the site, which would help the site to sustains and grow as big as google day by day and I would enjoy more free services as google provides.

  97. [...] well have destroyed the project; I advocate neither, though I have advocated huge revenues in the past) would be a billion dollar company by valuation and perhaps revenue as well — Wikimedia. I [...]

  98. Marc Selman says:

    I support ads on Wikipedia if the ads are related to the content of the article. It could actually be helpful in some cases. Maybe they could have a fixed location called ‘related advertisements’ or something like that so the ads don’t mix with the article content.

    If I was reading an article about some device I could see ads to buy one.
    If I was reading an article about a famous person I could see ads for posters, books merchandise etc about that person.

  99. […] is an old theme: examples from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2012. 2009 and 2010 are absent, but the reason for my light blogging here bears […]

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