The blunt truth about the future of Wikipedia

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This is a guest post by LocalList founder Jason Adriaan.

Wikipedia sits proudly amongst the likes of Yahoo, Bing, Google and others as one of the largest websites on the Internet in terms of traffic. It is run on a creed of non-profit and charity, it literally reeks of good intention. Unfortunately Wikipedia has unwittingly become a victim of its own ideals as the world witnesses how a giant with so much promise is unable to live up to its own expectations.

The sad fact is that although Wikipedia is ranked as one of the biggest websites on the internet, it is not making a breadcrumb in comparison to the rest in terms of annual revenues. The argument was first made in 2006 by Jason Calacanis, then executive at AOL, that discussed an encounter he had with Jimmy Wales where he offered Wikipedia free hosting and up to $100 million in annual revenues in exchange for a simple ad banner. Jimmy Wales without much thought rejected the offer and till today Wikipedia has never run an advertisement.

The argument proposed by Jason Calacanis in 2006 was ahead of its time perhaps, but is now more relevant than ever. His view was simple โ€“ Wikipedia should take the money and give it to charities as they see fit and use it to grow and sustain itself. Wikipedia prides itself as the moral giant against whom all must be measured, but considering its potential should it not be doing more? Like perhaps funding Haiti relief or funding HIV/AIDS research?

Wikipedia now has much more traffic than ever and the potential to convert that into enormous revenue, yet it does not, as it holds onto its ideals for dear life. Annually around Christmas time this is most evident as Wikipedia begs for donations with giant red banners across Wikipediaโ€™s every page as to cover their expenses.

In early January of 2009 I entered into a discussion with Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) about the future of Wikipedia. The primary topic of our discussion which had lasted for months was in fact the very topic at hand.

His concern is an respectable one: how does one monetize Wikipedia without selling its soul to the devil. How does one retain the integrity of the site and make money enough to do the wonderful things I mentioned earlier?

Non-profits all around the world are constantly busy finding ways to make money, if it be through selling cupcakes or washing your car on a Saturday to fund their causes. What makes Wikipedia different? Why can it not use every resource available to it to maximize income as to expand and spend on the various causes for which it stands?

The blunt truth is that Jimmy with Wikia will do everything in its power to monetize Wikipedia in the next few years in ways other than banner ads as an attempt to reach the sort of things I have discussed here. Everything from selling Wikipedia printed books to making documentaries and much more will eventually happen, but the fact is that it is only when we see ads in the sidebar that Wikipedia will truly be changing the world.

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