Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Are You A Wikipedia Freeloader?

I got an email from Jimmy Wales today asking for a donation to Wikipedia.  My only problem with the email is that their choices of different donation levels didn't have an option "I already gave."

As a blogger, I use Wikipedia a lot.  Partly because it comes up near the top if not first in most searches.  Partly because it generally has the most balanced starting point for me on any topic.  

I posted about my check on Wikipedia's fund raising in 2011.  It seemed like a good idea.  Since then, a relative got a job with the Wikimedia Foundation, so I need to disclose that now.  Fortunately, I checked on Wikipedia long before I knew I'd have any connection to them.  

Below is the letter I got this year and I encourage you to help keep this organization publishing their information for the world to read.  Actually, their small staff doesn't and couldn't post all the information.  That's done by volunteers around the world and it's success and quality is a testament to people volunteering and doing what they believe in without having to be paid.   

I was at their headquarters this year and I can guarantee that this is not one of the luxurious hi-tech companies you read about.  This is a non-profit with funky furniture.  And the employees don't get paid incredible sums and there's no promise of shares in the company, because, well they're not a profit making company and there are no shares to be had.  
"When the clock strikes midnight, our email fundraiser will end — but we haven't yet hit our goal. I'm asking you, sincerely: please take one minute to renew your $25 donation to Wikipedia.
These images are vestiges of encyclopedic knowledge of the past, when scientific, factual information was expensive, hard to digest, and hard to come by. Even today, your name-brand, hard copy encyclopedia would cost nearly $1,400 and contain about 65,000 articles. You get Wikipedia's 40 million articles and 35 million images for free. We just ask that once a year you contribute a little bit -- whatever you can -- to keep this amazing resource available for everyone.
If everyone who used Wikipedia gave today, we wouldn't have to worry about fundraising for years to come.
We’re a nonprofit. We’re independent. We don’t run ads or sell services to our readers. Though our size requires us to maintain the server space and programming power of a top site, we are sustained by donors who give an average of about $15. This year, will you take one minute to keep our work going?"


  1. A criticism of Wikipedia is information is contested, but so is consensus on anything we humans much reach. Read carefully, continue your quest for answers and you'll be fine. Wikipedia is that great, first place to look, nearly always.

    Because I use it, I give every year, for years now. Good investment in a world resource we all gain so much from in return.

    Love the information? Love the organisation. It's really that simple.

  2. Frankly, it sounds like you are very gullible -- the whole notion of how you research the "need" of a charity without even looking at their Form 990, and that you think an organization with nearly 300 staff members constitutes a "small" staff. I guess Wikipedia is a perfect reference source for folks with your level of skepticism.

    1. Mr. Kohs,

      You actually make an interesting point about the size of non-profits, though I’m sorry you need to make it so condescendingly. The previous post about Wikipedia (linked in the post) discusses Charity Navigator, a site that uses the 990s to evaluate non-profits. And whether Wikipedia has a large or small or medium sized staff, is a matter of interpretation, not gullibility. After all, small is a relative term. An ant is small compared to a butterfly, and both are small compared to birds of prey. But an ant, for its size, is far more powerful than a human.

      Finding out non-profit staff size is not a simple process. 990’s clearly show us the top employees and their salaries, but finding the total number of employees is hardly straightforward. Looking around on the web, one gets different numbers that are not clearly stated. Some give numbers for the national office, but not the whole country or world. I couldn’t find any lists of non-profits that included numbers of employees and budgets. Ironically, Wikipedia is one of the easiest sites to find this kind of data, with footnotes so one can check the sources.

      If you have an easy way to get that sort of information, it would be helpful if you shared it.

      Your point that “nearly 300” employees is not ‘small’ is correct on one scale: the typical non-profit has far fewer employees. But they also have budgets of less than $1 million as well. Usually significantly less. Relative to total income, Wikipedia’s staff size is small in comparison. I wasn’t able to find an easy source of such information. But the Smithsonian Institution says it has a budget of $1.3 billion and a staff of 6500. Wikipedia’s $75 million budget is 1/17 that size. Wikipedia’s staff size is 1/23 the size.

      Yet another way of determining ‘small’ is in terms of impact on the world. I strongly suspect that there are very few organizations with 280 paid employees who reach as many people as Wikipedia. Coca Cola (yes, I know it is not a non-profit) says that after 130 years in business it serves 1.9 billion people per day and it’s supported by 700,000 employees. Wikipedia has been in business since 2001. As of 2014, Wikipedia reports it was getting 18 billion hits per month (or 600 million hits per day) from 500 million individuals per month (or about 16 million individuals per day) with (then) fewer than today’s 280 employees. And they don’t advertise like Coke does.

      My basic thought when I wrote ‘small’ was that for its worldwide impact - and I suspect people in the space station use Wikipedia as well - it has a relatively small staff.

      This blog attempts to be relatively gentle. We like people to contribute information, even be critical, but to check the superiority outside. We recognize that people have strengths and weaknesses. As long as people aren’t in positions where their weaknesses cause harm to others, we give them some slack. So your tone was louder here than it might be at other websites.

      Perhaps, Mr. Kohs, there is something else about Wikipedia that bothers you that you didn’t articulate. Are you upset because Wikipedia relies on volunteers? Are you upset because some Wikipedia posts have inaccuracies? I ask because your level of disdain seems out of proportion to the use of the word ‘small’ in this post.

      Spreading bad karma isn’t good for you or the people you target. If there is some serious problem with Wikipedia that I don’t know about, please, let us know. Calmly. Otherwise, relax. Go for a run or a bike ride or a swim. Take joy in the young children in your life. Walk your dog. Listen to some good music. Go dancing. Smile at your fellow human beings and be more tolerant and less judgmental of our weaknesses, just as we’ll do the same for you.

    2. Thank you for your gentle and thoughtful response. I will ask you to read this, then respond: http://wikipediocracy.com/2014/09/21/wikipedia-keeping-it-free-just-pay-us-our-salaries/

    3. Mr. Kohs, I read the link. Sure, you’re right that behind the scenes at Wikipedia things have not always been sweetness and light, just as that has been true at Apple, or just about any other organization where people have strong commitments to an idea, whether it be a free online encyclopedia, making money, feeding the poor, or electing a president. In addition to the organizations' goals, employees are working out their own goals and their own issues. Conflict is inevitable. If it gets too bad the organization will fold. Non-profits in the tech world have an extra problem - the best people could get much higher paying jobs elsewhere.

      Does that mean people shouldn’t support Wikipedia? If we held every organization to a no bickering rule, there would be no organizations. Nothing that requires collective action would get done. Things would be pretty primitive.

      Googling 'Gregory Kohs' leads me to conclude that you have a passion for attacking Wikipedia. And Wikipedia itself offers something of a reason, for that which is more or less confirmed elsewhere.

      “MyWikiBiz is a wiki directory that allows people and enterprises to write about themselves. The brand began as a service creating Wikipedia articles for paying corporations; the founder and owner of MyWikiBiz, Gregory Kohs, was soon blocked from Wikipedia.[2]”

      The Google search also led me to an email interview at edit desk in which you are quoted as saying,

      “Our mission is to draw attention to unprofessional and unethical practices and content on the Internet. We strive to present complex issues to the average citizen, while deepening our commitment to values like respect for others, personal responsibility, high-quality information, attribution of work and common courtesy.”

      Those are admirable goals. In your original comment on this post, you certainly drew attention to internet practices that you feel are bad, though you didn’t explain how they were unprofessional or unethical. And while one could interpret what you wrote as ‘present[ing] complex issues to the average citizen,’ you didn’t do it with ‘respect for others,’ ‘high-quality information,’ or ‘common courtesy.’

      Your second comment was more in line with these values.

      I appreciate that you didn’t post anonymously and that you signed your name (I’m assuming someone isn’t impersonating you here). And I understand you might have bad feelings because your business idea for MyWikiBiz ran afoul of the vision Jimmy Wales had for his creation. But it seems like this might have become an obsession on your part. It’s like he’s not letting you play with his toy at the playground and you start hitting him.

      Retaliation for a perceived wrong uses up one's positive energy and turns it into a destructive force. If you found my tiny Alaska blog post about Wikipedia and took the time to attack Wikipedia through the comments here, I have to assume you're going out of your way to take swipes at Wikipedia and Jimmy Wales. That’s your right, but you seem to be a smart guy and you could redirect your anger to more positive endeavors.

      If you're wondering about my approach here and why I take this much care in replying to you I’d encourage you to look at this old post of mine called “Buddhist Influence on my Views of Anger.” Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

  3. You don't have the full story on my background with Jimmy Wales. You see, the main issue is that he demanded that I operate MyWikiBiz in a particular way, and as long as I did that, he would support its function. So, I operated MyWikiBiz in that particular way, but 8 weeks later, he reneged on our agreement and removed all support. At the same time, the Wikipedia community was working toward a guideline that would have more closely matched how I wanted to interact with Wikipedia as a paid editor, and Jimmy Wales expressly announced that he would support that guideline, but not for me in particular. Finally, all while he was making sure I would have difficulty helping build Wikipedia content on behalf of clients, he was clandestinely devising ways that he could personally profit off of Wikipedia from policies implemented at his direction. If there's something I don't like to witness in leaders, it is hypocrisy. Jimmy Wales has repeatedly lied about me and I reserve the right to not stand for that. Good luck with your blog, and I'm glad that I helped you learn more about Form 990s, so that you may be more informed when giving your readers advice about non-profit organizations.

  4. P.S. Charity Navigator used to assign a 1-star rating (out of 4) to the Wikimedia Foundation, on "program efficiency". The Wikimedia Foundation then lobbied Charity Navigator to change how it calculates that rating, when it applies to charities that function primarily online. Then, by magic, the Wikimedia Foundation started getting 3- and 4-star ratings from Charity Navigator, even though their program services were still only accounting for about 45% of their expenditures (which is a terrible program efficiency rate, whether you're online or offline).


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