I use Wikipedia all the time. Sometimes to Susan’s dismay I will look up the answer to a question that has come up in conversation in the middle of dinner (I find that easier than remembering to look it up afterwards). I have linked to Wikipedia extensively from Tech Tuesday series. I refer our kids to Wikipedia as a source for many of their homework projects. And the list goes on.
I have given money to Wikipedia in the past, but still their need to appeal to users for donations bothers me. Donations are not very predictable and at least for me carry the wrong emotional connotations. So I have been thinking about how Wikipedia could operate as a for profit company in a Benefit corporation model. Meaning Wikipedia would commit to maintaining its principles of openness, etc. in its corporate charter so that these could not be endangered by operating as a for profit.
What then might be a business model for Wikipedia? I would hate to see banner ads on the site — the big ones they run for donation drives show what that would look like. So here are some other ideas instead (these are from the top of my head, so there may be much better ones):
- Paid firehose. Offer a paid firehose of all Wikipedia activity through providers such as Gnip or Datasift. There may be signal in Wikipedia that would be valuable to investors, government agencies, etc.
- Business content and analytics. Expand peer produced business content a la Crunchbase (maybe even acquire Crunchbase from AOL). That could be the basis for a paid analytics product — while still leaving all content freely accessible.
- Paid vanity pages. Individuals and companies that don’t have Wikipedia entries could pay a fee to add an entry. These entries would be clearly marked as such and would not supersede any organic entries.
- Search ads. I don’t know how many search queries Wikipedia gets directly (I imagine that a lot of querying takes place on Google), but they could allow for keyword based ads. When done with a quality score and clearly identified I certainly wouldn’t mind it.
I am sure there are other ideas. Given Wikipedia’s global reach and traffic any one of these or some combination could be enough to make Wikipedia completely self sustaining without needing donations. I recently wrote about extending peer production to machine learning and would love to see someone pursue such a model from the beginning.