Post Advertising

SXSW: Commercialization of Wikis

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

Evan Prodromou gave an excellent presentation on Commercialization of Wikis: Open Community That Pays the Bills. Check out his slides.

A few points:

  • Other stuff will be recognized as having wiki nature, e.g., .
  • Four categories of wiki businesses: service provider (Wikispaces, Wetpaint, PBWiki), content hosting (wikiHow, Wikitravel, Wikia), consulting (SocialText), content development (WikiBiz). My comment: at first blush Wikia would seem to be a service provider, but they are also deeply involved in content creation and community management.
  • Down with and the notion that wiki contributors are suckers or sharecroppers. Better to think of wikis (and wiki businesses) as platforms for knowledge. Contributors use your wiki to help each other, not to give you free content. My comment: I’m not so down on crowdsourcing. Yes, it is MBA language, but the usually involve compensating contributors. Crowdsourcing shouldn’t be conflated with sharecropping, nor confused with community purpose.
  • For wikis purpose more important than friends or ego for blogs (cf. blogs and social networking).

Seven rules for commercial wikis:

  1. Have a noble purpose — e.g., shared knowledge (use a free license), help a community.
  2. Demonstrate value — most interesting example is “carry the torch”; wiki communities can be transient, an entity that keeps focus helps.
  3. Be Transparent.
  4. Extract value where you provide value — most obviously, advertising for hosting.
  5. Set boundaries.
  6. Be personally involved.
  7. Run with the right crowd — e.g., open source and open content, or you will be suspect of being a crowdsourcer.

It appears that Prodromou’s Wikitravel lives by these rules and has succeeded.

Update 20070317: Prodromou has a roundup of blog responses to his presentation. It was great indeed catching up with him.

SXSW: Online Publishers & Ad Networks

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

Skipped to the second half of Online Publishers & Ad Networks. I must have missed the part considering the question of “selling your own ad space, being part of a small ad network or teaming up with a search engine” but I imagine the first two have lots of explaining to do.

Nobody knows what form advertising accompanying short form videos on the web or small form devices will work best. I suggest that it should be as unobtrusive as text ads on a web page, or I will skip your video.

Mal engineering awareness

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

appeared on the wiki a couple weeks ago. It closes with very brief calls for capability security and agoric computing, unsurpsingly, considering the source.

But I wanted to point out the article’s proposal for mitigating social engineering:

The best place to defeat the hoax is in the mind of the intended victim. How? With educational tools shipped on the OLPC itself. Suppose the computer had a training course that taught each student-owner how to run the hoax himself.

This strikes a chord with me because I already think “we” (artists, bloggers, programmers, preachers, friends — see friends don’t let friends click spam) should promote not engaging spammers and scammers and because I’m annoyed by the practice of computer vendors (HP/Compaq anyway) pre-loading consumer Windows machines with scads of “special offer” programs that are annoyances at best and would fairly be considered malware if they didn’t come preinstalled.

Instead of bombarding a new user with vendor-approved spam the first time a computer is turned on an enlightened consumer PC vendor (I include OLPC here) would show a brief safe computing video. Support costs may even be reduced through such a move.

On the technical side OLPC posted a summary of their security platform. While much is left to the imagination at this point (there’s an annoying lack of references or even buzzwords in the specification), it sounds like OLPC programs could get a whole lot less authority than those on any mass platform so far.

Wiki search advertising

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

has launched. It’s a reasonable idea, searching Wikipedia and sites Wikipedia links to (recalling search engines that have used to seed crawls). It’s much faster than Wikipedia’s built in search, but doesn’t satisfy me, as its Wikipedia results are out of date and imcomplete (indicators of the former include turning up deleted articles and finding nothing for ‘wikiseek’).

I find it interesting that Wikiseek’s footer says:

The majority of the revenue generated by Wikiseek advertising is donated to the Wikimedia Foundation.

That’s nice — apparently Searchme, Inc., intends to use Wikisearch to demonstrate its vertical search prowess — and it inspires a potential non-intrusive revenue model for Wikipedia that precisely copies Mozilla’s: sell inclusion in the search box/search page.

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.

* If politicians can use that vacuous phrase to indicate they “support education” I can use it in support of funding free knowledge projects.

Jamendo ad revenue share with artists

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

is one of the most interesting music sites on the net (in terms business, community, and technology — there’s no competition yet for the vastness and bizarreness to be found on, yet). They’re trying every Web 2.0 trick and have somehow managed to avoid becoming overwhelmed with crap. I’ve listened to dozens of the 2,100 albums on Jamendo. While only a small fraction of these have strongly agreed with my taste, just about everything (weighted toward electronica and French rock) sounds professional.

Now Jamendo has introduced an advertising revenue sharing program with participating artists.

jamendo revenue share

Several video sites are attempting variations on this theme (among them ,, and ), but as far as I know Jamendo’s is the first attempt in the audio space. One might think an audio site would have a harder time making web advertising work than a video site (videos are usually watched within a web page and can have clickable ad areas or bumpers even if not), but I gather that listening via (usually Flash-based) audio players embedded in web pages is increasingly common (and Jamendo upgraded theirs recently), as will be media players that “play” a web page in a browser interface.

One data point: although Jamendo heavily promotes download of high quality copies, primarily via BitTorrent, their statistics indicate that low quality http “streaming” has accounted for more bandwidth. There are many obvious caveats here, but I think all points above indicate that advertising-supported web audio should not be ruled out, even if it is granted that web video has more potential.

Digg Jamendo’s revenue share page.

Wikipedia advertising redux

Monday, January 8th, 2007

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.

Evan Prodromou’s comment:

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’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 show that this can be lucrative. Anyone familiar with the Open Directory ( 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 become more like — 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?

I hadn’t thought of this scenario and don’t consider it likely, but do think it is an important consideration. I think the canonical was seriously disadvantaged in two ways Wikipedia is not — a fairly closed editorial process (e.g., I’ve applied a few times over the years and don’t recall getting any feedback, not even rejection) and probably a horrible editor interface (e.g., I was accepted as an editor at Chef Moz, a sister site of — and ran away screaming).

How could Wikimedia sites lose traffic to copies? Presumably much of Wikipedia traffic comes from Google. If Google published a branded copy (with ads of course) and promoted it in (or above) search results, Wikipedia would presumably lose lots of traffic (and many people would call Google evil for it, at least for awhile). I’m sure there are more creative scenarios in which Wikimedia sites lose traffic.

Peter McCluskey:

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.

Almost. The second X is Y and an order of magnitude or so smaller than X. McCluskey:

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.

Yes, this could be a major problem. As I said last year, “[advertising] could fund a staggering Wikimedia Foundation bureaucracy, or it could fund additional free knowledge projects.” The possibility that new funds will not be used effectively lowers the expected benefit of running ads. Two items give me some confidence that the Wikimedia Foundation would be less susceptible to waste than the average foundation:

  • Wikimedia Foundation’s history of transparency sets the tone for what would become a much larger organization
  • An incomparable set of watchdogs (Wikipedians)

Regarding subversion of current volunteer motivations and ethics (which is really the point of McCluskey’s post), I would not advocate financial incentives for functions currently carried out by volunteers, certainly not any content-related function. Of course given large amounts of money there would be pressure to convert an ever larger group of volunteers into employees, regardless of what advocates of advertising on Wikipedia might have wanted. The possibility that this would occur and go badly should also weigh against advertising.

Addressing this possibility, I concur with Per Abrahamsen’s recommendation segregating Wikimedia projects and foundation funding of compatible projects:

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.

Slashdot commenter FooAtWFU (and others) suggested that the real problem with advertising is that large numbers of contributors would leave in protest, seriously damaging Wikipedia. I doubt it. A very vocal minority would raise hell and some of them would leave, at least temporarily. I suspect most contributors would not even notice the presence of ads. I conjecture that Wikipedia contributors, however superior some may feel, are not that different from MySpace “contributors” (who seem not to be deterred by gratutous advertising). In a relatively short time (a year is my wild guess) a majority of contributors would have become contributors after advertising had begun. Such is the nature of a rapidly growing site.

A 2002 fork of () could be interpreted as evidence in either direction. The fork apparently occurred in part due to “our rejection of censorship, of an editorial line, and of including advertising.” Whatever the merits of these claims, article counts show the fork growing more quickly for about a year and a half. From 2004 on Spanish Wikipedia grew much more quickly and currently is over five times the size of Enciclopedia Libre. So the loss of those ideologically motivated against advertising and perhaps with other complaints could be seen as a terrible blow to Spanish Wikipedia (a year or more delayed progress) or no big deal, considering current relative sizes. Is there any reason to think the proportion of Spanish Wikipedians disgusted by advertising is significantly different than that of any other language?

Of course it is possible if Wikipedia had taken ads in 2002, many more may have left, and perhaps the fork would now be five times the size of the parent instead of vice versa. This would not necessarily be a horrible thing. After all, the two sites (and any potential Wikipedia fork) use the same license, so work done on one is not entirely lost to the other.

This does suggest an experiment however — run ads on Spanish Wikipedia and see how many contributors move to Enciclopedia Libre. The existence of the latter would make it both easier for ad objectors to move and easier to determine who had moved, indicating a probable maximum negative impact on contributions to other Wikipedias, should they run ads, as no other language has an alternative as viable as Enciclopedia Libre — at least not viable for those who hate ads! The largest encyclopedic wikis outside Wikimedia run Google AdSense, e.g., (Russian) and (Swedish).

I support advertising on Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

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.

AOLternative history

Monday, August 7th, 2006

Tim Lee1 (emphasis added):

The relentless march of open standards online continues, as AOL effectively abandons its paid, premium offerings in favor of a free, advertising-supported model.

I’m happy to see open standards win and happy to acknowledge good news — I am, for the most part, an optimist, so good news feels validating.

Time Lee, closing his post (my emphasis again):

Fundamentally, centrally planned content and services couldn’t keep up with the dynamism of the decentralized Internet, where anyone could publish new content or launch a new service for very low cost.

But just how hard is it to imagine a world in which closed services like AOL remain competitive, or even dominant, leaving the open web to hobbyists and researchers?

One or two copyright-related alternative outcomes could have put open networks at a serious disadvantage.

First, it could have been decided that indexing the web (which requires making and storing copies of content) requires explicit permission. This may have stunted web search, which is critical for using the open web. Many sites would not have granted permission to index if explicit permission were required. Their lawyers would have advised them to not give away valuable intellectual property. A search engine may have had to negotiate deals with hundreds, then thousands (I doubt in this scenario there would ever be millions) of websites, constituting a huge barrier to entry. Google? Never happened. You’re stuck with .

Second, linking policies could have been held to legally constrain linking, or worse, linking could have been held to require explicit permission. ? Never mentioned in the context of the (stunted) web.

In the case of either or both of these alternative outcomes the advantage tilts toward closed systems that offer large collections “exclusive” content and services, which was exactly the strategy pursued by AOL and similar for years. Finding stuff amongst AOL’s exclusive library of millions of items may have been considered the best search experience available (in this reality Google and near peers index billions of web pages).

Some of the phenomena we observe on the web would have occurred anyway in stunted form, e.g., blogging and social networking — even now services like LiveJournal and MySpace feel like worlds unto themselves although they are not technically closed and services like FaceBook are closed. Journaling and networking on AOL would have been hot (but pale in comparison to the real blogosphere or even real closed systems, which face serious competition). It is hard to see how something like Wikipedia could have developed in AOLternative reality.

Fortunately aggressive copyright was not allowed to kill the web.2 As a result the march of open standards appears relentless. I’d prefer an even more relentless march, even if it means diminishing copyright (and patents).

1. I’m just using Tim Lee’s post as a jumping off point for an editorial I’ve been meaning to write, no criticism intended.

2. What is aggressive intellectual protectionism being allowed to kill or stunt? Online music is obvious.

Filesharing a waste of time

Sunday, June 4th, 2006

Well over a year ago Sameer Parekh called out an obvious flaw in my argument:

I find it funny when I read technologists arguing that downloads of movies aren’t a problem because they’re slow. When do technologists talk about how technology sucks and isn’t going to improve? When the improvement of that technology hurts their public relations effort!

I noticed Parekh’s blog again recently, which reminded me to respond. I find it interesting (but somewhat tangential) that in the interim centralized web-based video “sharing” ( and many similar sites) has taken off while decentralized P2P filesharing has languished.

Anyhow, I do not argue that P2P filesharing is a waste of time merely because it takes a really long time to download a movie. Even if downloads were instantaneous the experience would be trying. Making it easy and certain for an average user to find a complete copy and find and install the video codecs to be able to watch the copy is not something that improved bandwidth will fix automatically. They are social and software problems, which tend to not improve at the rate bandwidth and similar increase.

In the future when today’s huge downloads are (nearly) instantaneous, they’ll be nearly instantaneous via underground P2P or via centralized download services. The only people who will struggle with the former are the very poor, those who enjoy fighting with their computers, and those who seriously miscalculate the value of their time. Unless the latter are encumbered with DRM so frustrating that there is no convenience advantage to using a centralized service.

By that time I expect most entertainment to be some combination of supercheap, server-mediated and advertising.

SXSWi wrap

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

There were a surprising number of panels more or less concerning entrepreneurship. I only attended one of these, Sink or Swim: The Five Most Important Startup Decisions. It was very mildly amusing but as far as I could tell the only important decision discussed was whether to look for outside funding or not, a well-trod topic if there ever was one. There was even one panel on Selling (Big Ideas to Big Clients).

I understand that was mentioned in passing on many panels. Attendees coming to our booth were much better informed than in years past, part of a greater trend.

The Digital Preservation and Blogs panel I was on was interesting for the self-selection of the audience — I imagine every librarian and historian attending were present. A writeup, photo, and my narrow take.

Both accepted panels I helped conceive went very well, especially Open Science. Though an outlier for SXSW the audience Q&A as high quality. Moderator John Wilbanks did a great job of keeping a diverse panel (open access journal editor, synthetic biologist, IT standards person, and VC) on point.

Commons-Based Business Models included Ian Clarke of Revver, which encourages sharing of short videos with an unobtrusive advertisement at the end under a CC license that does not permit derivative works. This licensing choice was made so that stripping out the advertisement is not permitted. Jimmy Wales challenged Clarke to think about opening up some content on an experimental basis. Sounds like a good idea to me. I suggested from the audience that attribution can require a link back to Revver, so even modified videos are valuable. Clarke responded that advertising at a link away is far less valuable. True, but the question is whether derivative works that could not otherwise exist become popular enough to outweigh those that merely remove advertising. I suspect many derivatives would be uploaded directly to Revver, allowing the company and original creators to take full advantage of additional revenue and to become the leading site for explicit remixing of video, a la ccMixter for audio. Seems worth an experiment — Revver is in no danger of becoming the leading video site at the current rate.

I also asked Clarke about interest in his patronage system. He said Revver is aimed at the same problem (funding creators) but was easier to implement. In the same vein I met John Pratt of Fundable, which is based in Austin. I got the impression he didn’t think the service could be viral (I disagree). I’ve written about FairShare, Fundable and related ideas several times in the past, mostly linked to in my Public Goods Group Shopping post and its comments. The field is ripe for a really good service.

The EFF/CC party was very well attended, even not considering its obscure location (an Elks club). In the middle of the facility was a room of Elks members, playing cards and other games, oblivious to the SXSW crowd that outnumbered Elks even in that room. I gave a very brief thank-you speech for CC, which I closed with a prayer (because we were in Texas) to J.R. “Bob” Dobbs (because we were in Austin).

At the end of the trade show Rob Kaye alerted me to the giveaway of every book at a well-respected computer publisher’s booth to “cool geeks” or similar. 5-10 years ago this would’ve really excited me, but this time I was mostly concerned about bulk and weight. I took a few. I suspect they’ll be among the last computer books I obtain, free or otherwise.

James Surowiecki gave a presentation which I did not attend but I hear focused on prediction markets. I should’ve made the time to attend simply to see the crowd reaction. Several of the latest sites cropping up in that field certainly look like they were designed by potential SXSW attendees — circa 2004/5 generically attractive web applications. I should have some posts on that topic soon, starting with Chris F. Masse’s 2005 Awards.