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.

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