The Wikipedia Way

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 1122 , Published on 12 May 2013

"Dear Wikipedia readers: We are the small non-profit that runs the #5 website in the world. We have only 150 staff but serve 450 million users, and have costs like any other top site: servers, power, rent, programs, and staff. Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind, a place we can all go to think and learn. To protect our independence, we'll never run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations averaging about $30. If everyone reading this gave $3, our fundraiser would be done within an hour. If Wikipedia is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year. Please help us forget fundraising and get back to Wikipedia. Thank you." -

This is a typical Wikipedia fundraising message. Wikipedia is largest content-based website. Its use is enormous- from school assignments to scholarly articles- Wikipedia knows it all. Wikipedia is run solely by fundraising on the website. And this seems like a miracle that people willingly give enough money to keep this site going.

But, why take trouble with funds? Are they happy raising money by donations? Well, what options does Wikipedia have?

1. Make it a paid website

There have been some paid services on web. But most of them have met or are likely to meet their cruel fate. Web is one free world with zillion activists- and the ease of replication is so enormous that anything paid cannot sustain.  So, even if say miraculously, Wikipedia manages to survive, what will happen?

Well, Wikipedia doesn’t create content as of now. The users create contents for themselves. If Wikipedia makes the site paid, the visitors will be fewer, so to keep the paid folks satisfied the Wikipedia will have to create content- which will need a lot of staffs! Even if Wikipedia miraculously manages to create and maintain this huge amount of content, they will have to assure quality of content.

Just by counting the number of “miraculously” in the paragraph, you can know that this is not sustainable.

2. Put ads

Putting ads has been one big practice of the paid websites. Facebook and others - they all run by the ad revenue. The targeting is spot on, Click through rate is good- the medium is way more efficient the mass media (of course one can argue the penetration), and no wonder that the companies are willing to put ads and pay good money for it. So, there are a couple of ads on your favorite website and people don’t mind much. This model of business has grown so prevalent on web that even bloggers, YouTube users are making money. The question is, can Wikipedia adopt this model?

Well, why not! They can place ad in a corner of site, people will accept in all likelihood and Wikipedia will make money - a lot of it. Then what’s the catch?

Let’s start again. The way Wikipedia runs is pretty miraculous, the model is seemingly unsustainable. They have “no idea” where they will make money from next year. If some new entrant tries to enter- he won’t be able to charge a penny as Wikipedia is free. Then he won’t be able to get any content developers as Wikipedia is already satisfying the users well- so the new guy will have to hire people to write content for them and so on and so forth… They will end up piling loss for decades. So the “industry” is enormously unattractive for any new entrant!

And that’s the awesomeness. Wikipedia survives and thrives in an industry which is apparently so unattractive, so infeasible. And they are the ones who have done it. Result- a monopoly, perhaps the world’s most loved organization, perhaps the most sensible thing on internet, perhaps the teacher with largest number of students.

It’s really amazing how you can make monopoly and still be loved by everyone. The Wikipedia is truly one lesson for all the organizations out there.

So what does the future look like? To quote Gandhi, “The Earth has enough for every man’s need, but not for greed”. The same is true for web. Wikipedia can sustain as long as they want. What happens when greed creeps in? What happens when they go for IPO? What happens when it start being run like any other business?

Let’s hope out favorite site lives long; and long.

The article has been authored by Shiv Shankar from XLRI Jamshedpur.


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