Monday, November 12, 2007

Progress report on begging

The Wikipedia fundraiser continues, which means the garish begging ad still disfigures every WP page. I've charted the progress of the beg-a-thon here. There was a noticeable upturn in donations after the new, even more obnoxious ad went up November 4. But the effect seems to have worn off. Not only are total daily donations falling sharply, but the average size of donation has hit the skids.

Which may indicate that WP has picked all the low-hanging fruit of substantial contributions. This is not surprising, since people don't like getting panhandled. Internet users have gotten used to content paid for by other people, namely advertisers. They don't like getting hit up for money to keep a site going.

That doesn't mean they won't ever shell out. The latest round of Wikipedia begging has picked up 600 grand so far, and the fundraiser will certainly do more than a million. It runs at least until late December.

But if WP's budget continues to spiral upward, the site has to find a new and more reliable source of funding. Paid advertising is the obvious answer, but WP insiders have an ideological abhorrence of ads - except godawful, obnoxious begging ads, of course. Veropedia, a for-profit fork of Wikipedia launched by Danny Wool, shows that ads don't have to be obtrusive and irritating. Wikipedia could easily tuck similar ads into its pages and relieve its money problems forever.

There's always talk of grant money, but it never seems to materialize in large enough quantities. Wikipedia has a checkered reputation at best, and the people who dole out grants aren't thrilled by the site's less than stellar renown for accuracy. Paid advertisers, on the other hand, aren't as fastidious. They want viewers, and WP can provide zillions of 'em.

UPDATE: The Wikimedia foundation has revised the numbers on its summary site. The daily totals are still going down quick as the effect of the new begging ad wears off. But the average size of donation is holding up. Anyway, unless some big money starts flooding in, the fundraiser will fall nine miles short of the ridiculous $4.6 million budget.

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