But overall this oped is misplaced. Running the leanest possible operation shouldn't be Wikipedia's focus at this stage in its lifecycle, it's improving the quality of its content.
Back in 2005 Wikipedia had 438k articles and the focus was expanding the reach of its content to cover all topics; today the article count is 5.4 million it's quality that matters more. You can't improve quality just based on crowd-sourcing alone (see: Yelp, Reddit, etc), and the bigger it's gotten the more of a target it's become by disinformation activists.
This attitude on budgets over value strikes me as a classic engineer's POV. The OP is nostalgic about a time when the site was run by a single guy in his basement, but could 1 guy handle the assault of an army of political zealots or Russian hackers? DDoS attacks? Fundraising? Wikipedia is arguably one of the most coveted truth sources the world over, protecting and improving its content is more important than an optimal cost-to-profit ratio.
If the OP has specifics, by all means, share them, but this kind of generalized fearmongering about budgets isn't spectacularly useful, IMHO.
That's not what I got at all. And that's why the article is interesting.
Wikipedia's funding is what's growing unsustainably. It's higher funding that's pushing the costs higher. And that's what makes it interesting (and only a little click-baity.)
It seems, having taken people's money for a charity, you have a moral obligation to spend the money on the charity, whether it needs it or not. And as a manager of said charity, it's very easy to believe (or to convince yourself) it needs the money. Or otherwise why were we making plaintive pleas for money?
(And that happens in a world of good intentions. When fundraisers become cynical, you end up with the US political outrage machine, which operates simply to raise money rather than to effect political change....)
From the OP: "After we burn through our reserves, it seems likely that the next step for the WMF will be going into debt to support continued runaway spending, followed by bankruptcy."
If it was just about wasting donations, they'd never go into debt. It's costs, and specifically costs-to-income ratio he seems perturbed about.
The point isn't that the donations are wasted, its that in spending them, you create an organism that needs to be fed.
So if donations don't continue to grow to match or at least keep pace, they could start running a deficit to eat away those reserves in no time. And once a non-profit organization starts running at a deficit, some contributors will question their contributions and they may shrink accordingly.
Those reserves could disappear in just a few years.. unless there's a change, two years should show the direction and another couple years, the course will be set one way or another.
And your evidence for this is...?
I've worked in the nonprofit space for 10 years and leaders, like for-profit companies, cut costs when they're facing a deficit.
If costs go up at WMF they'll either raise revenue or cut somewhere, like virtually any other mature business.
That's the problem. A non=profit is not a "mature business" because it's not a business at all. In fact, in most non-profits any effort to "run it like a business" will be met with opposition. Once again, for evidence look at any government agency, budget, etc.
But even if it was a "mature business" the idea that any organization knows when and how to cut costs after its past its prime is dubious at best. For evidence, look at any company bankruptcy. Their costs outpaced their revenue and they didn't react fast enough or in the right ways.
And that's assuming there were "right ways" to react.
As far as cutting costs and institutional maturity: sure, your all look at any company bankruptcy. You can also look at the millions and millions of non-bankrupt companies, and realize that you're overgeneralizing.
Or as the top commenter put it "the institutional imperative" - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14287430 - as described by Warren Buffet.
Is this some kind of Freudian slip?
That's backwards though. It's not unusual for a non-profit to run a deficit. A donor will question a non-profit that's running a surplus - why am I giving you money you don't need.
Once invoices or paychecks are delayed, people stop and question why the leadership is "making so much money" and the ROI on galas and events. And once a few donors see the deficits, the questions get harder and money slows down.. making the next round of invoices a little harder.
But there's no debt. The whole argument is pure conjecture based on imagination. Using it as if it were a fact that proves something makes little sense.
I believe the author's thesis is that by the time "it's not currently a problem" is no longer an argument that makes sense, it will also no longer be possible to effectively correct the WMF's course in a way that will solve it.
I'm not sure I have any idea how to effectively determine if the author is correct about that, but certainly I don't think "it's not currently a problem" actually contradicts anything he's saying.
The point is that costs will continue to rise (or not fall) after the funding inevitably falls (or fails to rise enough)
The table in the article suggests it's growing sustainably, as assets are increasing and revenues exceed expenses. The whole unsustainability hypothesis seems to be based on one metaphor "if it's growing, then it's cancer, ergo it is deadly, ergo it has to be stopped".
The 1,250x cost growth seems like the heart of the article - it's a claim that the growth is disproportionate to, and unmotivated by, actual value. Since WMF is funded as a charity, not a business, the revenues are 'sustainable' based on what people want to give. So if revenues exceed expenses, that says people like WMF and will give when asked. It doesn't say anything about whether the expenditures are justified.
I'm not sure I accept the thesis of the article, but I think it deserves deeper consideration. The bankruptcy line seems overwrought, but there's no intrinsic reason that high (charitable) revenues prove high expenditures justified.
This claim is largely unsubstantiated, as "number of pages in Wikipedia" is not a good measure of value of the whole project, especially when you take it naively as the only parameter that must numerically match expense figures in linear proportionality. I think such measure is nonsensical.
> It doesn't say anything about whether the expenditures are justified.
How you define "justified" then? There's an extensive process for financing and planning projects. The article author seems to either be completely unfamiliar with this process, or ignore it altogether, focusing only on one measure, which is number of pages. I do not see this as a good argument. Of course, the concern "do we adequately spend the money" is valid - but this concern is known, and constantly on the radar, without alarmist articles. The contribution of this particular article seems to be null - the valid concerns it raises are already known and accounted for, and the new ones are not valid.
Is is clearly a poetic metaphor - no-one clicking on the article seriously believed that Wikipedia has a literal biological cancer (the "cancer" metaphor is hardly a new one, if any criticism can be made here it would be that it is almost verging on cliche). Indeed the entire article is structured around this metaphor - the title is hardly false advertising.
I disagree strongly with this new obsession that every article title and headline must be written as pure "Man Bites Dog" factual summary, particularly for opinion pieces like this. Surely there is room for some attempt at poetic flair.
(A hypothetical example of a real "clickbait" style headline for this article might be "Google Will Buy Wikipedia").
You forgot the obligatory "this" in the title. Better would be: This Is Why Google Will Buy Wikipedia
Please note that https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Guy_Macon/Wikipedia_has_C... is the origiginal essay, and the version in the Signpost has been modified at the request of the Signpost editors.
The thing is that there doesn't really seem to be any REAL alternatives challenging Wikipedia in an honest, high effort way. As a wiki/knowledge fan myself, I've gone to different sites with different takes such as Quora (which is fantastic, can't really say it's a real competitor though), Genius.com (which is comparable only in a very narrow sense for songs/texts and nothing else), and Everipedia (which is the closest thing to a real competitor with all Wikipedia content imported, but is tiny in comparison to the last 2 sites above - Alexa 6k US vs Alexa top 100 for the other 2).
I would say out of everything I've found Everipedia comes closest in a valiant effort and I frequently contribute to it here and there, but at the same time, Wikipedia is just too dominant to see any real necessity to change how it is doing anything, whether that is for good or for bad. And my personal opinion is that maybe that is how it should stay too, given the size and scale that Wikipedia operates and its general continued success across most of its fronts. One thing is for sure: the world is definitely better with Wikipedia continuing onward even if "it has cancer."
so I enabled google analytics to see where they were coming from. the source was one of our sub pages on redlining was the 5th external link listed in wikipedia on that topic.
IMHO if Wikipedia loses that, it costs dearly not just to Wikipedia but to society.
So long as there's a contingency plan for donations falling, whereby all the nonessential stuff can be dropped if necessary, there's no need to worry.
tldr; prepare for the worst, expect the best.