Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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4/24/2009
12:04 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
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Wikipedia At Risk From Financial Meltdown?

We've all come to take important free online services like Wikipedia for granted, and sleep soundly with the knowledge that much of the work done keeping them relevant is done by volunteers. But that neglects the fact that Wikipedia and other services still need to pay for servers, storage, power and other fixed costs.

We've all come to take important free online services like Wikipedia for granted, and sleep soundly with the knowledge that much of the work done keeping them relevant is done by volunteers. But that neglects the fact that Wikipedia and other services still need to pay for servers, storage, power and other fixed costs.Today's news that the New York Times is cutting grants by its foundation to non-profits and other educational institutions is a reminder of how vulnerable a portion of the Internet ecosystem is to the financial crisis, not to mention exposure to the Bernie Madoffs of the world.

It's worth noting that more than a quarter -- 28 percent, in fact -- of Wikipedia's funding comes from the Sloan Foundation.

PBS FRONTLINE's Digital Nation documentary and Web site is funded by non-profit foundations including The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Park Foundation and the Verizon Foundation. What would happen to that Web-based programming if either of those foundations lost buckets of cash through bad luck or fraud?

"Think what would happen if the [Sloan] foundation had invested their endowment in Madoff and the impact that would have had on Wikipedia. In general, things that are offered for 'free' are quite fragile in terms of sustainability," wrote Al Lee, a pricing strategist at Motorola, in an email.

At what point will we be making micro-payments for most things we're accustomed to getting online for free?

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