Yes, Wikipedia should take the money

by on March 18, 2008 · 6 comments

17wiki.190-1.jpgOver at Techdirt (and here on TLF), Tim Lee takes issue with my post suggesting that Wikipedia should consider selling ads instead of asking for donations. He has a good point, which is that right now the only reason to volunteer to work for Wikipedia is because you’re passionate about it, but that might change if money became involved. But I think Tim overstates his case:

Being a member of the Wikipedia board would no longer be a thankless exercise in public service, but would be a relatively glamorous opportunity to direct hundreds of thousands of dollars to one’s pet causes. Over time, the senior leadership positions would be sought out by people who are more excited about doling out largesse than editing an encyclopedia.

I’m not sure why that would be the case. By that rationale we could never have large philanthropic foundations because they would attract self-interested directors. As long as their actions are transparent and they are accountable to the wikipedians, I don’t see why the money couldn’t be directed for the benefit of Wikipedia. And if the directors enjoy some vicarious “glamour” as a result, then I think that’s a fine reward for hard work—it might even attract better candidates than are interested today.

Since it’s Sunshine Week I’ll stress that the key is transparency. And Tim is right on this point, too: institutions matter. Right now Jimmy Wales is taking some heat for conducting his Wikipedia business in a less than transparent manner. If that’s how Wkipedia is going to operate, them perhaps money will corrupt it and Tim is right that “there’s no reason to think an institution built to edit an encyclopedia is going to have any special competence to oversee the spending of millions of dollars.” Still, I guess I’m just more optimistic about what the Wikipedia community is capable of.

P.S. Yeah, I love Twitter! Check me out at

Previous post:

Next post: