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12/24/2008
07:07 PM
Michael Singer
Michael Singer
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Wikipedia Appeals To Readers For $6 Million

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is asking for donations to the nonprofit site. But with more than 150,000 volunteers at his disposal, the question remains: Is it in trouble of folding?

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is asking for donations to the nonprofit site. But with more than 150,000 volunteers at his disposal, the question remains: Is it in trouble of folding?Wales' short request is found on the header of random pages. Short of asking for a bailout, the letter mentions the foundation has annual expenses of less than $6 million with a core staff of 25 people. With eight years behind it and more than 11 million articles in 265 languages, Wikipedia has a larger contribution base than some open source projects.

It's not like Wikipedia is not struggling with readership. Despite its early editorial access issues, more than 275 million people come to the site monthly, making it one of the Top 5 most visited sites.

With so much going for the site, why is Wales walking around with hat in hand?

"Your donation helps us in several ways," Wales said in his letter. "Most importantly, you will help us cover the increasing cost of managing global traffic to one of the most popular websites on the Internet. Funds also help us improve the software that runs Wikipedia -- making it easier to search, easier to read, and easier to write for. We are committed to growing the free knowledge movement world-wide, by recruiting new volunteers, and building strategic partnerships with institutions of culture and learning."

Wales closes by noting that he really wants to keep Wikipedia advertising free, like a national park or a school -- though that's an unrealistic analogy as advertisers started injecting their products in both about 20 years ago.

As to the question of cash flow problems, speculation has run rampant that Wales is tossing his money around on lavish trips and gifts.

More likely, Wikipedia is looking to expand its operations and is taking the chance of the holiday season to do what every other Santa on the corner has been doing this month: asking for donations.

In a Dec. 17 interview with India's TechTree, Wales said his 5-year plan was to help Wikipedia to grow in all the languages of the world and that the foundation was holding a fundraising drive to build on its recent changes in editorial features and provide more content.

"In terms of participation, we are expecting people to participate at higher levels," he said. "If there is an economic downturn, then people cannot afford to go out for a fancy dinner or something, but stay home and surf the Net, which is a cheaper form of entertainment."

Follow my Twitter at MichaelSinger.

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