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Business - Written by on Friday, November 7, 2008 9:17 - 10 Comments

Wikipedia starts advertising

Sure, Wikipedia may not be “advertising” in the strictest sense of the term, but to me: a banner ad is a banner ad is a banner ad. Here’s what those banner ads look like on Wikipedia (the puzzle piece at top with a red button next to it for donations):
Wikipedia Advertising

It appears (sample of 2-3 random articles) that these banner ads are now atop most of the entries in wikipedia.

On one hand I think it was rather noble of Wikipedia to refrain from commercial advertising on its site (because as Lawrence Lessig mentioned at a recent event of ours: commercial income might cause us to question motivations of contributors).

Yet on the other hand, I find it ironic that wikipedia’s “supported by donations” model has lead to banner ads on every page anyway. I’m guessing I’ll be flamed for saying it – but I say why not go the whole way. If we have banner ads on the top of every page, I suggest opening them to the highest bidder.

Done right, perhaps there is a way ads could actually keep wikipedia pure. Instead of hundreds of companies trying to quietly and subtly weave their agendas into wikipedia entries on the sly – why not give this commercial activity a proper and transparent place on each page and call it what it is – marketing!


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Jonas Wisser
Nov 7, 2008 10:21

I’m fairly certain this has happened before, and they’ll go away again after they’ve reached their current $6 million goal. And yes, I /am/ inclined to flame you for suggesting advertising on Wikipedia. It’s hardly the same thing—one is a direct and infrequent request for support, and the other is intrusive and unrelated marketing.

Nov 7, 2008 13:56

I don’t think that “advertising” for yourself constitutes “advertising” in the sense you imply.

There are many reasons the Wikimedia Foundation has given for declining to advertise or otherwise commercializing their site. Given their mission and vision, I think they are right in doing so.

Alan Majer
Nov 7, 2008 17:06

Jonas, I do find Wikipedia’s banner intrusive. However no more or less intrusive than any other banner ad. One ways to look at it is that there are many people who do not donate to wikipedia – those people are free riders (especially if they don’t edit articles either). The problem with Wikipedia’s current “ads” is that only those kind enough to donate contribute to Wikipedia’s bottom line. These ads make zero impact on Wikipedia’s bottom line when “free riders” view them. But if Wikipedia had commercial ads, all traffic (including former free riders)could contribute to Wikipedia’s bottom line.

Alan Majer
Nov 7, 2008 17:19

Karen, I agree that this is a delicate area, and perhaps the possiblity of alienating contributors is simply not worth the risk. However, I also remember arguments in the GoTo.com days(first company to do paid search ads) that keyword ads destroy the purity of search (perhaps one could make a case that it has). However, for the most part, solving that problem was about making the ads tranparent. Now we accept search advertising as a given. The questions are really 1) would commercial advertising truly compromise the “purity” of wikipedia and 2) If ads were more profitable could that money be used for good in a way that would outweigh any drawbacks (think giving excess to worthy causes. For my own part, I would tolerate such ads if I thought that revenue from them were to go to a worthy cause AND that editorial neutrality would never be compromised. Perhaps the latter issue is the biggest challenge, maybe ads are just a slippery slope to compromise no matter what. Thoughts?

Nov 8, 2008 18:54

It’s just like public radio’s periodic fund raising (via pledges). The “ads” will go away after a while.

Dec 21, 2008 14:06

Since they are like #7 most visted site on the ‘net, they could probably make a f**k-ton of money from banner ads or even text ads. Probably enough to build their own HQ and hire dozens of employees. But you see they don’t really need all of this. Wikipedia is driven by volunteers. :) So why do they did all this money? They don’t.

Jan 16, 2009 1:43

Commercial banner ads are a problem for Wikipedia. At the moment Wikipedia is driven by the users need to contribute and assimilate knowledge. If banner ads (specifically commercial, external, context sensitive banner ads) are brought into Wikipedia, it leaves a big loophole for people to pollute the knowledge content to drive the ads.

Alan Majer
Jan 16, 2009 13:13

Jon – I imagine their hosting needs alone are very expensive. Wonder how many servers they have.

MeMo – agreed that banner ads could be a slippery slope – and I think banner ads for wikipedia funding are the first step onto that slope. It should be one or the other: either banner free, or use commercial banners to support wikipedia and the good it does. I’m not fond this middle ground while claiming not to do ads – banner ads asking to fund wikipedia still seems like ads to me.

Chokyi - banner ad
Feb 23, 2009 2:11

I personally have no issue with seeing banner ads on Wikipedia. Agree with Alan on his point that if the banner ads were more profitable, that money should be used for good. Let’s say if the revenue from banner advertising is used for covering operating costs, sharing a portion with the volunteer content contributors and the rest goes to charity, that would probably make most people happy.

Alex from All Acronyms
Jan 5, 2010 19:51

Banner is always a banner regardless of what’s advertised (external or internal product).

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