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The Huge Fight Behind Those Pop-Up Fundraising Banners on Wikipedia
The Wikimedia Foundation wants a few bucks from you. But does Wikipedia need it?
You have likely encountered them before: the banner ads on English Wikipedia that encourage you to donate. Typically, they run for about a month at the end of the year. As one of the proposed December ads puts it, “If you donate just $2.75, or whatever you can this [whatever day of the week it is], Wikipedia could keep thriving for years. The price of a cup of coffee is all we need.” Many people see the banner ads on Wikipedia as something like the site’s version of a PBS fundraising drive—a bit annoying because they distract you from your regularly scheduled wiki browsing, but not particularly painful. If you’re not interested, just scroll away.
But for many of Wikipedia’s most dedicated contributors, this year’s proposed banner ads presented something like a moral crisis. The Wikipedia editing community recently held a poll rejecting the proposed banner ads, pressuring the foundation that supports the site into drafting alternative ads with softer language. “The wiki community is challenging the Wikimedia Foundation’s right or ability to run fundraising ads on English Wikipedia,” said Lane Rasberry, a long-term Wikipedian and data scientist at the University of Virginia. “I can’t imagine the Facebook or Twitter communities organizing a protest like this, attacking hundreds of millions of dollars for the parent tech company. It’s unprecedented. Could not happen anywhere other than Wikipedia.” Over the course of a messy monthlong debate, participating Wikipedia editors protested that the proposed ads were misleading and unethical, while raising the specter of what would happen if the site’s contributors and the foundation failed to come to an agreement before the start of the annual fundraising season.
Since then, the noise appears to have died down somewhat, according to Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales. “When the foundation responded with a set of proposed banners that fit some of the things that people were asking for, I found that dialogue to be incredibly constructive,” Wales said.
To understand what happened, it helps to know a little about wiki politics…
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