That is the general thrust of an interesting article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times this week. It starts by describing how the offices of one of the world's most popular websites is a rented space stuffed with furniture bought off of eBay and with a printed paper sign taped to the door which states 'Wikimedia Foundation' the name of the not for profit organisation that actually runs Wikipedia.
It goes on to quote the foundation Executive Director, Sue Gardiner, as saying that as far as money is concerned "we are about as unsophisticated as we could possibly be" and continues "it's time for us to grow up a little bit." Which is good news, because many people must wonder just what is going on when a top ten website that gets 300 million page views a day resorts to rattling a box and asking its users for cash all the time.
By simply selling advertising space, Wikipedia could catapult itself into the multi-millions, hundreds of millions of dollars value bracket in one fell swoop. Heck, the advertising doesn't need to be intrusive, and it takes a lot in these days when we are all used to websites relying on the advertising dollar to produce a page that is so in your face that we don't bother to use it anymore.
Anyway, the value of Wikipedia, the content, will always be strong enough to draw in the punters even if it did mean having to skip through an advert or two along the way.
If only it were so simple: advertising is like a red rag to a bull as far as the Foundation trustees and the majority of Wikipedia editorial staff are concerned. The Los Angeles Times article points to them threatening the neutrality of Wikipedia and being a commercialisation of the work of volunteers who have built the site into the behemoth it is today.
To be fair, the print magazine industry as well as national newspapers manage to maintain editorial freedom and neutrality while accepting advertising. The volunteer commercialisation is a much bigger, and more bitter, pill to swallow however…