Wikipedia’s free culture survives with US$6.2m in donations

5 Jan 2009

All free content must be supported by advertising, right? That’s the way most media models work, but one hugely popular website that has managed to avoid this on principle is Wikipedia. Donations since July 2008 from over 125,000 individuals tallies up to between US$4m and US$6.2m in total – enough to keep the online collaborative encyclopaedia afloat for 2009.

The costs associated with running such a hugely popular global site (one of the top-five most-trafficked site worldwide) meant that before the fund-raising in the past year, founder Jimmy Wales was faced with the possibility of introducing advertising to the site, or even bringing in a pay model.

“This campaign has proven that Wikipedia matters to its users, and that our users strongly support our mission: to bring free knowledge to the planet, free of charge and free of advertising,” said Wales.

By late December, the total amount needed had not been reached, but, following a personal letter from Wales himself, donations pushed past the US$6m mark by 1 January 2009.

However, this free knowledge-for-all model has been criticised by some: if Wikipedia does not want to sully itself by selling ad space, why then is it okay to promise “special protection to one’s Wikipedia entry for a sizable donation”, asks an anonymous contributor on’s discussion area.

Wikipedia’s popularity may be uncontested, but its validity as a reliable knowledge source has been called into question time and again, especially when it was claimed that several organisations were editing entries to serve their own purposes.

Accusations of an editorial elite at work in the upper echelons of the foundation also cast a shadow on the site in 2008, when it was found that a senior administrative figure was blocking an established editor for spurious reasons.

By Marie Boran