A Rebel Begs for a Bailout

Add Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to the list of those begging for a bailout.

"Wikipedia is different," Wales wrote in an appeal for donations at the site:

It's the largest encyclopedia in history, written by volunteers. Like a national park or a school, we don't believe advertising should have a place in Wikipedia. We want to keep it free and strong, but we need the support of thousands of people like you. I invite you to join us: Your donation will help keep Wikipedia free for the whole world.

Has it really come to this? A rebel threatens conformity just to survive? It's as if Craigslist dumped its trademark peace icon for a dollar sign, in a bid to become more like eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) or Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK  ) .

In his plea, Wales wrote that Wikipedia's annual expenses are less than $6 million but that, as of today, the site remains $750,000 short of its funding goal.

To me, that's a tragedy. I consider Wikipedia, with apologies to marketer Seth Godin, one of the Web's most successful idea-viruses. Traffic tracker Alexa says it's the Internet's eighth-most-popular site. And its ambitions have never been greater.

"Wikipedia is more than a website. We share a common cause: Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's our commitment," Wales wrote.

Eat that, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) . You, too, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) ; Encarta is so yesterday. Encyclopedia Britannica? Great, for a site that Alexa ranks 2,593.

Wikipedia, at its apex, proved the extensibility of the open-source movement that birthed rebels such as Red Hat (NYSE: RHT  ) . But now the rebellious reference needs my help, and yours. I'd love to oblige as I have in the past. (Here's how you can, if you're able.) But this year, the recession has taken its toll. This article and others like it provide my family with grocery and tuition money, and little else.

Try me again next year, Jimmy -- if, that is, Wikipedia hasn't gone commercial by then.

Get involved with this year's Foolanthropy drive:

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers team; he had stock and options positions in Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy is open for business.


Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (5)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2008, at 10:46 PM, ChesapeakeSailor wrote:

    I find Wikipedia a great resource. I also find Facebook and Google search results to be great resources, and the ads don't deter me from taking advantage of them. Sometimes they actually help.

    Rather than succumbing to some imagined evil of commerce, turning Wikipedia in to an advertising funded business would in fact demonstrate it's value and ensure it's longevity. The advert model is already proven as a sustainable and profitable business. No, it is not limitless as some Google stock speculators at first believed, but certainly viable.

    Wikipedia is not a charity feeding starving orphans or helping unemployed families back on their feet and it is unrealistic to assume it can sustain itself with fund raising techniques that appeal to emotion like such charities do. Neither is it a university or medical center that can solicit fat cats to fund an endowment in exchange for getting their name on the building (isn't that an advertisement?)

    I won't donate to wikipedia.org for altruistic reasons. But I might consider buying stock in wikipedia.com.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2008, at 11:04 PM, thekohser wrote:

    Why did you choose the word "founder" to describe Jimmy Wales, rather than "co-founder"? Do you hate Dr. Larry Sanger for some reason?

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2008, at 11:20 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    thekosher, no not at all. Please forgive my oversight. I'll make note of it for the editors so that we correct the story.

    Thank you for commenting and Foolish best,

    Tim (TMFMileHigh)

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