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To donate or no to donate? The Wikipedia Question

Leggi ed ascolta la traccia . Sorry for the audio quality, it sounds as if I have a lisp and sometimes it is a bit bumpy… sorry, will try to record a better version soon. I hope you enjoy it anyways.
read at your own risk…

Have you been on Wikipedia over the past few months?
Yep, I bet you most certainly did. You must have seen the rather aggressive banner atop the page, all in red with some words in caps, begging you to donate. The argument put forward? Wikipedia does not run on ads and needs its readers’ support to survive.

Even though most of us scroll down and ignore the plea, one can wonder, after all, if one should donate.

I happily lead a survey among my students and I am now going to share the thoughts I gathered and the reason why this dilemma really matters to me.

I remember when encyclopaedias had extortionate prices and were a symbol of status.
I have vivid memories of the pattern of the covers and the thrill of adventure when I was looking something up for my middle school projects… I actually did that twice, I barely touched those books and they were kept in pristine conditions, up there on the shelves, they were mostly a display of wealth, their function was showing guests that we had one… our guest didn’t really care.
Those thick paper format are a thing of the past, they are gone.
We now have an on-line version and it is completely free!
Well, free, they need our money more than ever and they are trying to get it.

In order to further understand the need for funding, it is key to remember that Wikipedia is administered by a non-profit, the Wikimedia Foundation.
So while the encyclopaedia is written and edited entirely by unpaid volunteers (the so-called Wikipedians), the Wikimedia Foundation employs 400 people and handles services, servers and tech support, ensuring that the website is secure and user data are protected.

Indeed, at its core, Wikipedia’s project is to make knowledge accessible, free and sharable. Of course.
Since it does not rely on ads, the website only runs on donations of either individuals or large corporates.
Like any non-profit, it must raise fund, but their insistent campaign has lately left many users rather sceptical- where does the money go?

According to reports shared by Foundation, about 49% of its financial gains was spent as direct support to the website (even though they didn’t bother to change the interface in the last 20 years ) while 13% was used to recruit and pay staff members in 2019.

As a matter of fact, following the aggressive campaign backlash, they emphasized transparency and addressed the concerns regarding their need for money (here is their FAQ.)

The justification is simple, like most Non-Profit Organisations (NGOs), Wikimedia attempts to keep in reserve up to one year of operating budget, so that if a crisis were to occur (Covid 19 anyone?) resulting in a struggle to raise money, the reserve would allow them to keep functioning. A disputable model but a model, nonetheless.

The real question though remains: why should I pay?

Sure, we use their service but mainly because it is the number one result when we’re googling anything. We would not mind going on other websites but really, Wikipedia made it so easy that we don’t even have to search for the website page to find the information we are looking for (you know that little Wikipedia top right corner on your google search results?). Yeah, that’s right. That, some of my students say, was exactly what Wikipedia wanted though, to erase the competition, to become the giant in free knowledge, they made their competitors bite the dust so isn’t it a bit unfair to beg for money now?

Some others claimed that Wikipedia, for the service it does – although literally sharing the knowledge of users- should be funded by government. So one student even suggested the encyclopaedia website should be funded through taxpaying money, just like health or education!

One can also wonder if the guilt-provoking, urgent plea is justified. Well, no, Wikipedia does not urgently need your money. No, your favourite know-it-all website is not on the verge of shutting down if you do not transfer 5 euros immediately. It is just raising money as usual and will continue to do so for the next few years so brace yourself for future strategies to come…

All in all, even though it is indeed practical to find in two clicks how old Tom Cruise is (58. I know, shocking) and who he is married to, some students believe there are better causes to donate to. Wikipedia or not, knowledge will not disappear from the face of the earth and I am confident the human race will always be able to capitalise on its knowledge (including the fact that Tom Cruise divorced all of his wives when they were 33) and to share it, for better or for worse.

Anyways, I found a quote from the Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and I would like to share it: ”Wikipedia is something special. It’s like a library or a public park. Like a temple for the mind. It is for everyone, we can go there to reflect, learn, share our knowledge with others”.

Before I leave you though, I would like to clarify, in case you wondered, yes I donated a modest amount, yes I did it because I had a sense of guilt after having used something for free, I should have learned it, I know. It is a basic concept of marketing. And you, in my humble opinion, should do as you please.


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