Dec 28

Wikipedia Begs Gracefully

Wikipedia-logoIt’s one thing to encounter prominent banners at Wikipedia soliciting donations during a fund drive. Such things are understandable and I can easily dismiss them with a single click.

But it’s another thing to receive direct e-mail solicitation messages asking me to pester my friends to donate too! Today I received my first such e-mail solicitation from the Wikimedia Foundation and the message looks like this:

Dear Stephen,

You’ve already done your part this year. Thank you so much. But you can help us again by forwarding this email to a friend who you know relies on Wikipedia and asking that person to help us reach our goal today by clicking here and making a donation.If everyone reading this email forwarded it to just one friend, we think that would be enough to let us end the fundraiser today. Of course, we wouldn’t turn you down if you wanted to make a second donation or a monthly gift.

Google might have close to a million servers. Yahoo has something like 13,000 staff. We have 679 servers and 95 staff. Wikipedia is the #5 site on the web and serves 470 million different people every month – with billions of page views.

Commerce is fine. Advertising is not evil. But it doesn’t belong here. Not in Wikipedia. Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind. It is a place we can all go to think, to learn, to share our knowledge with others.

When I founded Wikipedia, I could have made it into a for-profit company with advertising, but I decided to do something different. We’ve worked hard over the years to keep it lean and tight. We fulfill our mission, and leave waste to others.

Thanks again for your support this year. Please help spread the word by forwarding this email to someone you know.

Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia Founder

If I’ve already done my part by contributing to the cause, why are they asking me to do more? The truth is, I regularly donate to their organization because I use the service every single day and want to support the cause. I believe in their efforts, accuracy issues notwithstanding.

Why can’t they tell it’s me, a loyal donating patron, when I visit the site? I permit browser cookies from sites that I frequent instead of globally denying them from a privacy standpoint as many security experts recommend. You’d think it would be possible to connect my identity and my generous nature with an alternate response when I visit the site, right? How about a banner ad that reads, “Hi! I’m Jimmy Wales and I thank you for supporting Wikipedia!” instead of the beg-banner?

But I suppose that’s too much to ask, eh? Perhaps it’s a little like wishing I could tune-in to National Public Radio and NOT hear their pledge drive drivel (warning – mature content linked) since I’ve already donated, got the coffee mug, the T-shirt, and the wall plaque along with other useless swag. Exposure to frequent hawking for cash is just annoying. And it pains me to say that I listen to Public Radio less now that a seemingly larger percentage of air time (by my perception) is devoted to soliciting donations.

I think NPRs official position is that they spend less than 10% of air time on solicitations. And that may very well be true. But it never seems to fail, no matter what time of year or month or day or minute of the day it is when I tune in, within just a few minutes I hear variations of “Listener contributions are a critical source of income for this station. Every dollar counts and every dollar matters in helping us continue to bring you the programming that you count on every day. Pledge your support today!” And then another extended support promo begins. Such continual requests for support are tiresome.

I would pledge a recurring monthly contribution if I could receive an encrypted audio stream of NPR that had no additional requests for support. That of course, would require extra infrastructure and technical support for each local station. This would in turn cost more in station operations. All these things would most likely require yet another round of on-air advertisements begging for support. ”Tis a vicious cycle indeed.

As a test, I tuned in to my local NPR station via internet stream at the start of this post composition. It took just 14 minutes 50 seconds (I know, my post composition is rather slow – but thoughtful!) before I heard the beg message. (Sigh) But they do what they must to garner support.

So the moral of this story is, “Support the causes that matter most to you. And learn to live with continued solicitations for more money as a result of your contributions (or just because they have to do it).” Try your best to appreciate the content delivered regardless of the fact that contributing doesn’t mean you’ll be exempt from advertisements for continued support.

Support for this post is NOT sponsored by WikiMedia, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Pew Charitable Trusts, or Citgo Petroleum . . .