His Wikiness Requests Your Money

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 23 2010 4:28 PM

His Wikiness Requests Your Money

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If you've been on Wikipedia recently, you were probably greeted by a photo of Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia co-founder, hovering above the text, looking so omnipotent with his crystalline stare.

In other words, 'tis the season for Wikipedia's annual pledge drive. While Wikipedia thrives on the business model of getting people to do enormous amounts of work for free, it still costs a lot to host a host a top-10 website --around $10 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, nearly double what it cost from the year before, according to financial statements . (That includes other, much smaller sites in the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation's portfolio .) Since the organization refuses to run advertising, effective fundraising is essential to its survival.   

Wales may be a founding father, but does he really deserve the Caribbean-island-dictator treatment? Apparently, his face has been scientifically proven to be an appealing fundraising icon, albeit against somewhat unimpressive competition. The site periodically serves up different appeals for money and tracks how much money each one pulls down. The most recent English-language test   was on October 26, when Wales faced off against phrases like "Thanks for the brain massage" and "Admit it- without Wikipedia, you never could have finished that report." Wales’ face won with a daily donation rate of about $47,000. By contrast, "brain massage" netted an average of $582.

Now Wales has some more formidable competition from his own subjects. Wikipedia is currently also serving ads featuring Wikipedia citizen-editors making their own appeals. (It’s a little tricky to link to these things since the user-edited site is so fluid, but this page currently displays a few examples.) Since the effectiveness of each ad is carefully monitored, they are all essentially pitted against one another. It will be survival of the fittest—not unlike Wikipedia itself.  

Chris Wilson is a Slate contributor.

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