The most realistic but still bleak scenario I can think of is Wikipedia becoming infested with ads. Anything more extreme, we'd see a fork become popular.
See https://news.ycombinator.com/reply?id=21700802 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Guy_Macon/Wikipedia_has_C...
The WMF has no plans to sell out to a commercial outfit like Google or Facebook , but is it actually illegal for them to do so?
While it can be difficult to sell a nonprofit like Wikipedia to someone like Google or Facebook, it isn't impossible.
There are two ways that the commercial entity could get a court to agree with the sale and both of them start with the WMF screwing up so badly that they run out of money and need to either sell of shut down. We are nowhere near that, but it could happen in the future. I have talked this over with people who appear to know the law on this, but I am an engineer, not a lawyer. If a real lawyer replies, please ignore me and listen to them.
There are a couple of things the commercial entity could do to make it more likely to get approval from a court.
They could simply say that they are abandoning all of the federal and state tax exemptions that a nonprofit enjoys. The easy way to do this would be for the wikipedia.org domain to announce the end of wikipedia and tell everyone that they have accounts with the same usernames and passwords on the new wikipedia.google.com site which runs the exact same software and has the exact same content as the now-frozen wikipedia.com version. Add the usual "we don't plan on changing anything; we just want to save the now-failed wikipedia" language.
Or they could create a new, independent nonprofit with the same rules as the WMF has now but with funding by a generous donation from Google and fork the content as above. As above, the key to making this work is the existing Wikipedia running out of money and shutting down.
So, while it isn't going to happen any time soon, it isn't actually illegal.
My experience in trying to donate any amount of time and effort to wikipedia has been nothing but pain and suffering at the hands of extremely possessive "little hitlers" that do everything possible to defend their "turf".
You are suggesting that volunteering at the corporate/entity level is different than volunteering at the wiki level ?
Of course, if the article doesn't exist at all, you risk a war with the deletionists who've decided certain turf shouldn't exist. And occasionally there's a one-two of one user shredding an article as "excessively detailed", then another nominating it for deletion because it lacks content...
But overall, I've found it a more approachable way to contribute than trying to change or extend any article with an opinionated 'owner'. (At this point, I suspect Wikipedia's factual errors are less likely to come from "anyone can edit" than from possessive and mistaken writers actively restoring errors.)
In my experience, some of these "little hitlers" appear to be (controlled by) larger corporate entities in some way, shape or form. When the "turf" becomes profitable for some, it becomes very difficult for others to cut the grass so to speak.
Wikipedia has a great output. In my view they don't need my time and effort. They're doing great now. When I see a message asking to donate money, I do, because I assume they do need that if they're asking for money.
Re: "Wikipedia has a great output. In my view they don't need my time and effort. They're doing great now." We really need a lot more help here:
"The Wikipedia Typo Team is dedicated to improving the quality of Wikipedia by correcting typos and misspellings. If you see any typos (even minor ones), please correct them. This kind of editing is a never-ending job, so we could use your help! Please consider joining our team. All you need to do is start correcting typos."
Re: "When I see a message asking to donate money, I do, because I assume they do need that if they're asking for money." please read
Or any person with any kind of ideological charge, especially a boogeyman to some group or other.
The problem with Wikipedia is the fanatics with infinite time, which it accumulates because they're the ones who never give up. The other issue is it's inability to actually deal with problematic users, as the moderation doesn't teach the fanatics to be good, it just teaches them to not be so bad they'll be banned.
There are hundreds of thousands of words of meta discussion about whether to use –,—, or - in titles.
This even made its way to Arbcom. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:Arbitra...
Pity, I profoundly admire Wikipedia.
If you had been allowed to edit, your edits would most likely have been reverted so fast as to be confused with an automatic process. New pages would be up for deletion immediately. A swarm of people with far, far more time on their hands than you could ever have would block you every step of the way.
There is this notion that well meaning, knowledgeable individuals can make small, worthwhile contributions to wikipedia and slowly refine the resource as we all chip in our little bit.
This notion is false.
It's a real shame because I would love to contribute time and effort in the way that people think they can contribute to wikipedia.
If you know that your edit is at risk of being reverted, you can argue for it on the talk page beforehand. Then if no one replies, you can just make the edit and mark it as "per talk"/"see talk page". If the other person reverts, you can now argue that they're in the wrong because they didn't provide a constructive objection beforehand.
It's a silly game, but it helps provide clarity when editing contentious topics.
Re: "Has it become that bad?" No. Not even close. The people who complain about such things are typically newbies who make the mistake of trying to "fix" articles on highly contentious topics with hundreds of edits per day. Just pick a page that hasn't been edited in a while, which is most of them. The history tab tells you how often it gets edited.
(BTW, thanks for disclosing your affiliation always.)
Re: "I habitually use a VPN, and Wikipedia does not let me contribute (specifically, edit pages), even if I am logged in."
You can request permission to edit Wikipedia through a VPN.
"Editors in good standing whose editing is disrupted by unrelated blocks or firewalls may request IP address block exemption, which allows editing on an otherwise-blocked IP address... If you will be editing using an anonymous proxy, including a VPN service, you must send your request to..."
> An editor with a credible editing record who would be affected by this measure may be exempted from the block at administrative discretion, allowing them to edit uninterrupted through the IP address range block.
The conditions for granting this are that:
the editor's normal (non-proxy) IP address will be disrupted by an IP address block placed on a range they usually edit on, through no fault of theirs.
My highlights. At any rate, I'm not going to invest more time and work into being allowed to contribute to Wikipedia.
EDIT to add: Discussion of that (IMHO silly) policy here:
There are a huge number of trolls and vandals who would love to be able to avoid being blocked by using a VPN. Wikipedia has to balance the need to stop them with the need to let legitimate VPN users edit.
In May of 2018 I posted a request for Comment and got a clarification on who should be granted IPBE.
The result of that discussion was:
:It's likely safe to say that administrator judgement on a case-by-case basis can decide whether the provided justification constitutes a legitimate need and whether that need is sufficient to grant IPBE.. it's pretty clear that the community at large likely also doesn't want it to be routinely granted, for lack of a better phrase, just because someone wants it and could hat-collect it. Someone should likely, for example, actually be affected by a block to request it and/or someone should probably be able to explain their need for the additional layer of privacy rather than just, 'Hey I want IPBE because I said the word privacy.' "
That was the decision of the Wikipedia community. If you think that decision was "silly" you are free to post an RfC and see if the consensus has changed.
EDIT: But I do trust it. So maybe it doesn't matter?
Sometimes they don't even get through the first sentence before the person has to stop them with corrections.
edit: sorry, was being a bit rude.
I don't know a feasible solution, but I often think the prominent voices are more of a problem than the average contributor.
Maybe not tracking the amount of contributios would help. More anonymous access to help against echo chambers and networks?
But I do remember reading about a physicist who wasn't allowed to edit the Wiki on their theory! (sorry can't remember who / when)
:Would you really prefer it if Wikipedia allowed David Miscavige ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Miscavige ) to edit the Wikipedia page on Scientology ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientology )?
:Wikipedia's policies on writing about yourself are spot on. See
Re "I've heard bad things about writing articles on Wikis. Lots of ego-wars." you hear those things from new Wikipedia users who decide that the first thing they should do is either [A] "Fix" the Donald Trump article, [B] try to use Wikipedia to advertise their garage band, or [C] try to correct the biases I list at https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:YWAB
If you pick an article, check the history, and find that it ISN'T getting 300 edits every day, you will have a much easier time improving that article.
My Wikipedia page has a link so you can email me. I will be glad to help if you want to become a Wikipedia editor.
EDIT: Fixed a bad link.
Also, that link doesn't work. think you need a dot! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Guy_Macon/Yes._We_are_bia...)
I replaced it with another page on Wikipedia that redirects to the "User:Guy Macon/Yes. We are biased." page.
Full disclosure: I am the author of the Wikipedia essay "Wikipedia has cancer".
Wealth means you can buy nearly anything and that includes people who found a non-profit so one can use them to get to entities like WMF.
The scariest scenario in my opinion is their growing influence on the power of definition.
Like news organizations led by wealthy entities the WMF could just be slightly tuned to spread their alternative truth.
I think this power of defining truth is one of the major battlefields of the 21st century. Look at the annexation of Crimea for example. Was it an annexation or not? For us (people of the West) it seems quite clear but ask people from Russia and a lot of them will tell you another story.
Isn't truth truth by its definition?
I can't think of many people I know who have the time to become investigative journalists, in effect. And I know that a lot of things I think I know are probably propaganda or spin or just one sided stories.
Big problem indeed.
How can we flush this from our minds? How do we trust those that purport to speak the truth?
For example, here's an easy one, pi=3.14159 (if rounded to 5 decimal places). Great! I think we all agree this is true. The trouble is without context, this is trivia.
Here is a harder one as we move up the complexity scale. Is Human-driven climate change both 1) real and 2) something we can reasonably combat?
Well, the scientists who study it seem to think it's real and there are ways humankind can reasonably push back against it. But there are many, many who believe differently. Which stance is "true"?
Even harder. Is there a God? I mean, from a philosophical view. Sure by scientific definitions we have to assume there is no measurable supernatural. But does that preclude it's existence? For a significant number of people, G-d of some sort exists. And which is the "truth"????
I'm not soliciting hard answers, just trying to show that as you move to more complex, and in many respects more important, topics of today the notion that there is one singular truth in existence gets fuzzier.
"Here is a harder one as we move up the complexity scale."
What is the complexity scale? How do you measure how complex truth is? Can truth have properties other than rightness or wrongness?
This, I think, is where the concept of fuzzy truth could be invoked. What that is I have no idea, I just made it up!
Perhaps a far aside:
Annexation is a quite defined term, specifically: "the addition of an area or region to a country". Word definitions can change over time, but right now this is what it means. It's not necessarily a charged word either.
This was an annexation, regardless if you believe it was just or not.
And on the latter discussion, I'm much more interested in what people in Crimea think than Russians or us in the West.
Yup. This is the best definition of Orwellian.
Forking Wikipedia is already allowed and encouraged: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Mirrors_and_forks That page even has a place to list new forks so they are easy to find.
The only way to make it work would be for the existing Wikipedia to run out of money and have to shut down. That isn't happening any time soon.
That has been true for a decade now, since the days of Stack Exchange complaining about the clones riding their CC licensed content to easy Google ranking. You can put up a perfect clone of Wikipedia, you'll get nearly zero traffic despite having millions of pages of high quality content.
Having a few different pages isn't going to help.
With Wikipedia or stack overflow, I think whoever gets the majority of participants going forward and keeps activity high could start claiming authority in an objective enough sense, and engaged participants are more mindful of organization ethics than random searchers.
Losing even a small proportion of contributors could seriously affect the future development of Wikipedia.
Wikipedia has been slowly losing editors for ~12 years.
The sale or takeover would start with promises that nothing would change, and then would change slowly enough that each editor would have a different breaking point and thus be too fragmented to move over at a specific point.
A fork of Wikipedia with no community is just a content mirror and, because of network effects, you'll have an incredibly hard time attracting anyone to help out with it when they can just go to Wikipedia.
Wouldn’t that be legal?
To clarify, Wikipedia comprises not just the stuff which is free of copyright, but primarily the userbase, community, support staff, management structures, and (configured) servers it's hosted on. There's plenty to sell there.
Everything else is easily copied or duplicated, and indeed had been. The only thing you can't copy is the domain name. That's the thing that's worth millions of visitors.
The WMF is mission-driven. A large swath of their funds are spent as grants to other organisations, and they could par that back without affecting their ability to operate.
[disc: Wikipedian since 2004, many friends who are WMF employees]
Sure, but can they? Seems like an ever expanding cash sink, according to those financials...
I guess more concretely, the wikipedia.org domain is a very valuable asset.
Query google "can a non profit go for profit"
Result 1: How to Convert Nonprofit to Profit
>Notify the IRS by writing a "statement of nonprofit conversion"
Query google "statement of nonprofit conversion"
Result 1: PDF titled "Voluntarily Relinquishing of Tax Exempt Status" - PDF WARNING https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/eotopick85.pdf
So I'm doubting it is illegal, worst case they convert to a for-profit and sell in this scenario.
The could sell ads, but also edit-permission to articles or cleaning of content, usage of licensed content, user-data, or a gazillion other things which are for the average user harmless in the beginning. Heck, I could see stupid influencers paying $100 for getting their own wikipedia-entry.
I vote in these elections and count Dr. James Heilman (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Heilman) as a friend.
It is not true that "Over half of the board is elected by the community of editors".
The WMF board is composed of ten members:
Four who are appointed by the board itself;
Three who are selected by the community encompassed by all the different Wikimedia projects
Two who are selected by the local chapters and thematic organizations
One emeritus for the foundation's founder, Jimmy Wales.
That there are rules, eh I mean guidelines, is somewhat of a joke without means to enforce them. Disagreements across the void are more often than not resolved by ignoring the lower ranking editor. The concept of consensus[sic] is truly a joke with no clear path forwards. Money doesn't solve anything apparently.
Re: "In the case of insolvency I don't think the board will have much choice"; this is a key point to understanding my essay. Imagine someone winning a huge lawsuit and the WMF not being able to pay. Or imagine a really bad scandal (something like The New York Times publishing conclusive proof that the WMF is a front for ISIS) and donations drop through the floor, followed by the WMF continuing to increase spending until they run out of funds. None of these doomsday scenarios are likely, but they are not impossible either.
Is there evidence the WMF has considered a sale of its assets?
When we in the West heard about Dragonfly we didn’t stop trusting our own Google results.
Meanwhile kids are learning that the Holocaust wasn't all that bad.
I might have been unclear, or I'm misunderstanding you, but charging people for something that used to be free is a great business model, since Wikipedia is so big and is so trusted that it's not realistic to go somewhere else or start a new wiki and hope it gets just as big and trusted.
I don't donate to the WMF because they don't need my money, but I wish they just kept Wikipedia running and made small incremental changes over time for scaling/keeping up to date/adding helpful features. I would of course donate if Wikipedia were at risk of failing (not that it would be that hard to rehost and rebuild it), and they know that and exploit everyone who doesn't realize how rich they are with the annoying begging.
As they say: "The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy". If you keep giving a nonprofit money, it will keep growing, even if it has more than enough it needs for its earlier charter.
Re: "I have heard just the opposite: that having a decade-length endowment is generally a sign of hording by the non-profit, and unlikely to be contributing to the mission."
That's only true of charities where there is no natural limit on how much they can spend. If you are feeding orphans you can always do more until every orphan is fed. The WMF isn't like that, They have one job; keep Wikipedia and the sister projects like Wictionary online. That doesn't require ever-increasing spending other than to cover actual increases in hosting expenses and essential employees.
Imagine a future Wikipedia that is 100% funded by the endowment, which will always be there even if nobody donates, and which has no fundraising banners, just a small "donate" link. I think that is a goal worth pursuing.
As evidence I point to Boys Town, a philanthropy that quite literally exists to take care of orphans. It amassed a large fortune that exceeded anything justifiable by their core mission. In the 1970s, a tip from Warren Buffett on this won The Omaha Sun (which he owned at the time) a Pulitzer for reporting on the resulting scandal. (He was also an investor in The Washington Post which won a Pulitzer in the same year for reporting on Watergate.)
See https://www.philanthropydaily.com/nonprofits-mission-drift-b... for verification. And evidence suggesting that that particular charity has continued down the same path.
Your reference to boys town missed the point. Boys town didn't run out of orphans to spend money on. They simply failed to spend a large amount of it on orphans.
A better charity to compare with Wikipedia would be the the Washington Monument Restoration Project.
Once the Washington Monument is completely restored you can't spend any more money restoring the Washington Monument. If donations keep coming in, you shouldn't spend them on giving executives of the charity free ski vacations (yes, the WMF actually did that) You should instead build up an endowment that is eventually big enough that the interest covers all Washington Monument maintenance forever. Then and only then should you tell donors "look, we don't need any more money for restoring the Washington Monument. If you give us a donation we will use it for other things, starting with restoring the Lincoln Memorial".
Do you have a source for that?
My understanding is that boys town did run out of orphans who met their requirements. There simply aren't enough orphans in the USA with no family to take care of them who slip through the cracks of the adoption system.
But that fact didn't slow their appeals for more money.
That said, my understanding is based on my memories of a book that I don't presently have a copy of.
I am going to think about this, do some research, and see if I can turn it into an essay on Wikipedia about collecting money after the job is done. Thanks!
Didn't the march of dimes also keep taking in donations after polio was eradicated?
Full disclosure: I am the author of the Wikipedia essay "Wikipedia has cancer"
Second, the hoarding worry with charities still applies to those with limited possible scope. The idea is that such charities should not acquire perpetual funds because they become unaccountable; this doesn't rely on there always being more available orphans.
Third, why did you limit things to Wikipedia and Wiktionary? There are a bunch of other similar projects, extant and hypothetical, that the WMF would arguably be the best organization to run.
I believe that I did "actually describe a scenario where it was well functioning but ran out of money."
From my essay:
"Nothing can grow forever. Sooner or later, something is going to happen that causes the donations to decline instead of increase. It could be a scandal (real or perceived). It could be the WMF taking a political position that offends many donors. Or it could be a recession, leaving people with less money to give. It might even be a lawsuit that forces the WMF to pay out a judgement that is larger than the reserve. Whatever the reason is, it will happen. It would be naïve to think that the WMF, which up to this point has never seriously considered any sort of spending limits, will suddenly discover fiscal prudence when the revenues start to decline. It is far more likely that the WMF will not react to a drop in donations by decreasing spending, but instead will ramp up fund-raising efforts while burning through our reserves and our endowment."
* The recession hypothetical is highly unrealistic, as already explored in this thread.
* A lawsuit is exactly the sort of thing that is exacerbated by giving the organization a huge endowment. You want fewer assets to be exposed. Non-profits have bankruptcy protection just like for-profits (in fact, greater), so WMF can resume operations with new donations following closing of the bankruptcy proceedings. The only thing a pile of cash helps with is staving off bankruptcy in the first place, but making WMF a juicy target is not a strategic method of doing this.
* A "scandal" that causes the WMF to lose donor support is exactly the sort of thing that should cause it to lose donor support! Why would you especially, as a critic of WMF, think that the organization should be protected in scenarios where it experiences a scandal so severe that it undermines its ability to raise the minimum funds necessary to maintain operations?
* There is no reasonable political position WMF could take that would cut off donations so severely that operations couldn't be maintained. It's donor base is huge, vastly better than other open-source non-profits, and it only needs a tiny fraction to agree with it.
An extended economic downturn that dries up charitable donations.
Re: "They're working on an endowment afaik", Yes. They are. which is why I have called on the WMF to "build up our endowment, and structure the endowment so that the WMF cannot legally dip into the principal when times get bad."
The danger I warn about in my essay is the WMF continuing to increase spending even if donations stop increasing. If they do that there is currently nothing stopping them from draining the endowment and spending it.
Re: "Here's another view of the WMF's runaway spending", that same graph is part of my essay, but the version in my essay has links so you can see the sources used to create the graph.
I do not believe that the above "It was a plan from a past Executive Director that never even started" claim is accurate. See:
"In May 2015, Risker observed that a team called 'Search and Discovery' was 'extraordinarily well-staffed with a disproportionate number of engineers at the same time as other areas seem to be wanting for them'."
"We also know at some point it was an ambitious project to create a brand new search engine as an alternative to Google."
My essay says "We should limit spending increases to no more than inflation plus some percentage". It doesn't say how big that percentage should be. If the WMF limits themselves to not spending more than ten times what they spent last year they would have done what I ask. Right now there are no limits.
The figures don't look anything like growth rate of cancer, they look like growth rate of a toenail.. 10-15% a year.
Then the author claims that "spending is growing at an ever-increasing rate" like cancer. But it is not. Draw a trend-line over the spending graph, and you'll see that the growth rate is actually damn linear (and well aligned with revenue growth).
Rest of the article is reasons why spending should be reduced. Well maybe it shouldn't. As long as there is revenue growth, maybe it is better to invest the revenue on better tools. When revenue growth stops, you've got the better tools you invested in, and can then reduce spending by not building further new tools.
If toe nails grew like wikipedia expenses - with a doubling time of 5 years - they would grow at 7 meters a day by the time you're 80.
Wikipedia has been reading too much WebMD.
But as we know, they die or sell instead.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, do you think there is no way donations may decline leaving Wikipedia in trouble with hundreds of people on it's pay roll?
Anybody who is not aware of 'Philip Cross' can read about 'him' here:
"According to Craig Murray, whose Wikipedia page has been repeated edited by Cross remarked that "the purpose of the “Philip Cross” operation is systematically to attack and undermine the reputations of those who are prominent in challenging the dominant corporate and state media narrative. particularly in foreign affairs. “Philip Cross” also systematically seeks to burnish the reputations of mainstream media journalists and other figures who are particularly prominent in pushing neo-con propaganda and in promoting the interests of Israel."
Wikipedia management, all the way up to Jimmy Wales are well aware of 'Philip Cross' and yet 'he' continues to operate freely as an editor. Despite the basic usefulness of Wikipedia for non-controversial topics, I decided that I cannot and will not support an organization that allows this kind of astroturfing.
First off, the above comment is an example of hijacking; using a discussion about one thing to try to get attention for something else. You see this a lot with Abortion, Gun control, and US presidential politics. I am not saying that those aren't important topics, but do they really need to be inserted into a discussion about how much money Wikipedia is spending?
I would strongly encourage the person trying to hijack this discussion to start a new discussion
I would strongly encourage all HN readers to not give the poster the attention he wants and to downvote any comments that are not about WMF finances
I also would strongly encourage all HN readers to not respond to this sort of thing and to stay on topic.
For those who are interested, here is what Wikipedia has done about this situation:
Philip Cross is indefinitely topic banned from post-1978 British politics, broadly construed. This restriction may be first appealed after six months have elapsed, and every six months thereafter. This sanction supersedes the community sanction applied in May 2018.
Passed 11 to 0 at 18:34, 26 July 2018 (UTC)
Amended by motion at 20:08, 9 August 2018 (UTC)
Wikipedia's relevant policy states:
"The purpose of a topic ban is to forbid editors from making edits related to a certain topic area where their contributions have been disruptive, but to allow them to edit the rest of Wikipedia. Unless clearly and unambiguously specified otherwise, a topic ban covers all pages (not only articles) broadly related to the topic, as well as the parts of other pages that are related to the topic, as encapsulated in the phrase 'broadly construed.'"
If anyone thinks Wikipedia should do more, they should bring it up at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests -- not on hacker news.
Again, I encourage all HN readers to not respond to hijacking attempts.
Also not helping your cause, you had to try to negate my argument with a false assertion: Philip Cross HAS NOT, in fact, been been banned, and just last month made 49 edits to James LeMesurier's page (clearly a post 1978 British political figure):
Although you may not agree, this is holistically part and parcel of Wikipedia's ongoing funding saga. Plenty of people have tried to appeal to Wikipedia about this, so it is disingenuous to state that option while dismissing the topic here. We are on HN, not Wikipedia, so one man's 'hijacking' is another person's 'information.'
This doesn't make any sense to me. Why would the number of pages and hosting costs be linearly correlated? I can't think of any other scenario besides Wikipedia where this would be expected to be true.
How would one expect them to be correlated?
As an aside, a friend of mine relaunched an ecommerce site in March. Wordpress + WooCommerce, stripped of fluff.
His hosting plan costs him $3/month, including tax.
He told me his site took just over $60k in revenue in the first 6 weeks.
This is the first time I have seen any comment saying that I should have listed page views instead of pages. I hadn't given it much thought until you brought it up, but I don't see any reason which I shouldn't remove the pages statistic and replace it with page views. I do want to make the essay as accurate as I can, and criticisms/suggestions are a big help in doing that. (you never see the flaws in your own writing).
Can anyone think of a downside to me changing it to pageviews?
I think what is happening here is that the server costs argument is weak as a first argument. Maybe x33 expenditure is high, but I know WP has grown, and it's hard to quantify how that growth translates into expenditure - it's easy to imagine higher reliability, more accessibility, more need for maintenance of established products and so on as WP matures. If I happen to like WP and am willing to give them benefit of the doubt, why wouldn't I trust that their engineering team knows what they're doing? You haven't established your credibility as an SRE(or enough facts) to really shake that initial goodwill.
Once I view your initial argument as shaky, I am naturally more inclined to view the rest of your arguments skeptically(or just outright ignore them).
From an outsider POV, your two strong arguments are:
- I want to donate to just WP because I don't care about the rest; As the non-WP fraction of expenses grows, there will be a tipping point where the "waste" will erode my willingness to donate
- Even though there are growing development costs, WP tools have stagnated, core problems aren't addressed, new features aren't being used(another signal of "waste")
I think if you lead your essay with those arguments, the server costs argument would be better received. It's much easier to comprehend "Out of $1 I donate, only $0.50 goes to WP", and as an experienced WP user you speak from a position of authority on the second point. From there, it's easier to convince me that WP is also being wasteful in server costs.
In general though, I think you need more evidence put forward to really convince an outsider that WP is wasteful - more comparisons of overall spending vs just-WP spending, more examples of development stalling or going in the wrong direction. The essay may be convincing to an insider who already is aware of the problems, but from an outside perspective it's light on evidence.
I don't think I have ever hinted that Wikipedia is spending too much on servers. I consider that part of Wikipedia to pretty much be the best managed part, and everything they do increases reliability, helps with disaster recovery, or makes the site faster. I even said "It costs a certain amount to have reliable servers, run a good legal team, maintain the core software, etc. But none of the things that the WMF needs to do require ever-expanding spending."
In my opinion, spending 1,250 times as much to do basically the same job is all the evidence you need. I wouldn't squawk at 5 or 10 times as much, but 1,250 times as much? At that point the burden of proof is on the person who claims that such a huge increase in spending was necessary.
Calling out concrete examples of waste also has a downside. It usually results in the discussion going off into the weeds about whether individual expenditures are justified. There are many people who focus on individual examples of waste. I chose to focus on the big picture -- overall spending growth.
No, it makes sense.
In my experience in several organisations, as soon as there is even an inkling of "spare money" in (part of) an organisation, humans will invariably starting coming up with creative ways to spend it. This may end badly.
If you start with the premise: "there is [almost] no budget, what can we do anyway?", then you often get the most creative and useful solutions.
That's a total guess, but in general I'm of the belief that a higher hosting bill does not necessarily imply waste or that something nefarious is afoot
Could this be done in 2015 with $2500 / $1000 or even $500.
I'm not seeing any problems. The Annual Report is available here: https://wikimediafoundation.org/about/2018-annual-report/fin...
- What is the $7 million for "Professional service expenses"? That's 8% of the budget and I've got no clue what it might have been spent on. Salaries, travel expenses and depreciation is already accounted for.
- What is the $7 million for "Other operating expenses"? Again 8% of the budget in "other" that doesn't include something that is depreciated and doesn't include travel?
- What is the $2.7 million for "In kind service expenses"? To me that sounds like internal "funny money" where you are paying for one service with another service you perform. But how are they calculating the loss and what account is that money actually coming from?
I worry that millions of dollars are being spent on consultants who are essentially just pocketing donations.
Also, I'd really like to see the operating costs broken down because it's impossible to see what's going on here. You've got $3 million in depreciation, but what is that paying for? Desks, computers, telephones? Do they pay rent, or do they own a building?
The thing that's frustrating is that there may be nothing at all wrong. For example, I can see $38 million for salaries and wages, with 300 employees. But where are the other expenses? Is that the "other expenses" section? If so, how hard would it be to break down that cost for me so that I can understand what the money is being used for?
While I disagree with the approach the author of the page is taking, I completely agree that their financial statements are as clear as mud. If this was a company I was thinking of investing in, I would give it a really wide berth based on the terrible financial reporting. As a non-profit operating on public donations they should be doing a much better job.
>"In-kind service revenue” includes goods and services that the Wikimedia Foundation would normally pay for, but have been donated to us at no charge, such as bandwidth and hosting services and pro-bono legal services. Further detail is available in ...
> "Other operating expenses” include expenses for facilities such as rent and office and non-office supplies, insurance, annual staff meeting, recruiting, staff development, property taxes and Wikidata project funding.
You can find a more detailed audit report at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/foundation/6/60/FY17-...
The detailed audit report indicates that rent is about $1.5 million. The rest is essentially computer purchases.
I'd still like to see a better explanation of the professional services. But it definitely makes more sense.
The bulk of it is likely going to lawyers. A lot of the in-kind donations fall into the same bucket:
> In-kind service revenue and expenses recorded in the statements of activities consist of contributed legal services. The amounts of specialized contributed legal services as revenue and expenses are $2,748,512 and $156,191 for the years ended June 30, 2018 and 2017, respectively. The value of contributed internet hosting services for the years ended June 30, 2018 and 2017 are $32,722 and $58,390, respectively.
Organizations grow and morph over time. Assuming Wikipedia should be a barebones hosting platform like it was at it's start is probably dreaming.
It appears that their biggest expense is the $38,597,407 in salaries distributed to ~350 employees. This makes the average salary $110,278 at the Wikimedia Foundation. I don't really have anything negative to say about that.
However I guess you could question why they need 350 employees. So I looked at the projects they are currently working on:
Reduced spending and reduced donations would be a good outcome for Wikipedia readers (especially in the long term). Lower running costs allows putting more current revenue towards that endowment, and means the future is a bit more sustainable in less favorable economic cycles.
Donations also don't exist in a vacuum; the best use of donors' limited money is probably not WMF burning a pile of it.
I'd encourage, for example, https://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities in place of WMF giving.
The worst part of it for me is that they advertise it on Wikipedia as if wikipedia were going out of business. When in reality, if you give $1.00 to WMF, ~$0.03 goes to server expenses. Wikipedia is their cash cow that funds a ton of random pet projects and a dozen or so executive staff (which seems huge for a 300 person organization).
If they were honest about that in their fundraising, I think they'd see flat or down revenue. I dislike the dishonesty used to solicit donations and then use them somewhere else. It feels similar to a con.
> [The 2016-2017 report] has numbers for "Grants and awards" and "Professional service expenses" but there is no obvious way of finding out the details of those expenditures
Oof. Aside from compute costs, what could justify a more than 100% increase in expenses from 2012 to the present? The platform has barely changed in terms of functionality in that time (at least from my basic user perspective).
I’m curious, it sounds like you’re a casual Wikipedia user so - how do you have any idea if this is true? What about editor features, community, moderation, administrative improvements?
This kind of attitude frustrates me - it’s the sort of attitude that kills nonprofit fundraising efforts unless they are for show in a way that laypeople can understand. Surely you can see how inefficient it would be to run a non profit if everything they spent money on had to be highly visible?
The pace of change appears to be very carefully managed to almost always be positive and minimize pointless disruption. The complaints in this thread are part of why you get those big, flashy redesigns that look great but hurt utility.
Of course as a donor I'd never turn down more good for less money, but I don't think maximizing thriftiness always yields the best value. I'd rather things be just a little plush (if that's how you'd describe the current state) and see Wikipedia continue to succeed as it (largely) has.
My money is limited, the causes which can benefit from it are not. It seems to me the height of self-absorption that an organisation should expect donations over the many other worthwhile causes without justifying the benefit that money would bring.
Changes to editor tools and processes don't cut it. All of those exist in service of improving Wikipedia as a resource. If I can't see those changes as an end-user, I question whether any of them really mattered. Is a fantastic new user-friendly diagnostic machine justified in a hospital if treatment rates don't go up?
In the same period, expenses have grown from 25k to 80M, a 3200x growth. [TFA]
As it has attracted global attention and ever more significant influence on people worldwide, Wikipedia's threats are likely more varied and insidious than they were in 2004. The cost of offsetting these threats may not relate to the volume of edits.
I'm not, by the way, suggesting that a 3200x growth in expenses is inherently unjustifiable, just that it should in fact be justified.
https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_Annual_... Planned spending 2019 ~92mil
https://stats.wikimedia.org/v2/#/all-projects/contributing/e... - ~130% page edits growth 2012-2019 (~35mil expenses, a 260% increase)
https://stats.wikimedia.org/v2/#/all-projects/contributing/e... - ~80% page edits growth 2015-2019 (~65mil expenses, a 140% increase)
The rate of increased page edits is closer and closer to the rate of increased expenses. I personally don't think that's a convincing argument, because I haven't seen this massive improvement in tools to justify the extra costs(most of the extra expenditure doesn't seem to be on development, anyway), but I don't think the argument can be dismissed out of hand.
Honest question: How would we as end-users know if information quality went up due to work-reducing changes to editor and administrator tools?
Being pragmatic I agree that there needs to be some saleswork involved in actually getting donations, but I don't like that this is true. It has nothing to do with the quality of the job being done, but simply visualizations of stuff (representative or not) that potential donors want before opening their purse strings.
We can talk all we want about the nonlinearity of cost, but that's such an enormous jump that the idea that a, by your own suggestion, possibly unnoticeable increase in quality is worth the cost beggars belief.
This is a joke, isn't it?
"Make Wikipedia better" is about as explanatory as "Cure Alzheimer's!" yet "Make Wikipedia better" is far more likely to be done and less likely to be funded than "Cure Alzheimer's!"
But here's an easy way to justify:
"Improve the moderation and content-editing tools to encourage more contributions," which has been the justification WMF has used for many recent projects.
It can easily be explained to you, but if that's your criteria, no foundation trying to cure any disease that isn't socially-caused should have your money.
I don't claim in the parent comment that Wikipedia don't justify their expenses (although I don't think they do so sufficiently). I'm responding to the specific claim that there shouldn't be an expectation by donators to understand the benefit of their donation.
To use your hospital analogy, diagnostic quality might be the difference between a hospital that works well, and one that carries our mostly unnecessary medical interventions.
You can't run a government by referendum.
The things do not need to be highly visible of course -- but they should be at least explained. I don't understand why they are not saying things like "we hired 50 more programmers to keep our servers running, and 25 more to develop new AI to fight spam".
Instead, I looked at "2018 Annual Report" , and found those specific points:
- Support researchers who make offline wikipedia
- Advertise itself in Nigeria
- Support participation of women in Wikipedia
- AI to detect vandalism
- Page previews
- Content translation tools
That's 1 user feature and 2 editor features. Did I miss something?
Komen style charities aren't charities.
Source: continuously edited since 2007, and continue in large part due to improved tools.
Do you think that $40 million is a reasonable cost for those improvements?
And yes, it's reasonable. I work in tech as a software engineer and it's not as cheap as people think.
But you’re right, plenty more companies burn through that without much to show for so in comparison WMF aren’t doing too bad, I guess. It still sounds somewhat excessive to me though.
People have finite attention spans and often ignore what isn’t clearly broken.
Also, the cost of those resources — bandwidth, storage, etc — have been decreasing on a per-capacity basis over this time period. Bandwidth, compute, and storage are all vastly cheaper than they were 10 years ago or even 5.
Their financial statements say very little about what they’re doing with it, but it is an exorbitant amount of money to keep a website running, even one the size of Wikipedia.
Other threads state that they’re funding all sorts of side-hustles with the money. If so, that is fraudulent, since when they do fundraising campaigns, they claim to be raising funds for Wikipedia. Really slimy of them to then go and spend it on something else.
Honestly, I always felt that these kind of conparisons are insensitive, and doubling down on it like the linked article does doesn't help.
> 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
Um, the graph shows that the reserves are increasing every year. Money in exceeds money out year after year.
As a grad student I made a total $1,300 per month, but ten years later I'm spending that on just housing costs. So what?
Re: "Um, the graph shows that the reserves are increasing every year. Money in exceeds money out year after year."
You missed the first part of what I wrote in my essay:
"Nothing can grow forever. Sooner or later, something is going to happen that causes the donations to decline instead of increase. It could be a scandal (real or perceived). It could be the WMF taking a political position that offends many donors. Or it could be a recession, leaving people with less money to give. It might even be a lawsuit that forces the WMF to pay out a judgement that is larger than the reserve. Whatever the reason is, it WILL happen. It would be naïve to think that the WMF, which up to this point has never seriously considered any sort of spending limits, will suddenly discover fiscal prudence when the revenues start to decline. It is far more likely that the WMF will not react to a drop in donations by decreasing spending, but instead will ramp up fund-raising efforts while burning through our reserves and our endowment."
I made it clear that Wikipedia is not in trouble at the present time. But there is a real possibility that there are bad times ahead, and we should prepare for them now.
You started this page in 2017. The revenue has continued to increase at as steady a pace as expenses. And an argument along the exact same lines as yours could have been made in 2009 or 2010 or 2011. Actually, your argument has gotten weaker -- expenses used to be higher than the previous fiscal year's revenue, but in recent years the growth has been much flatter.
There's no compelling reason to think that now is the time to act to make sure that it's not too late to act at some vague future point in time. Sure, something can't grow forever. Granted. But are we at 127 grains of rice or 131,071? How can you tell?
I carefully considered the above objection when I first wrote my essay, but I decided against removing the cancer analogy. I though that making an analogy that would be remembered was important. For what it is worth, I myself am a cancer survivor and even after 10 years of it not coming back I still sweat bullets every year when I do my annual cancer screening.
That may be an ancillary goal of theirs, but it’s demonstrably not close to the primary one (in a revealed preference sense).
I highly recommend not donating to an entity that can't even be bothered to respect your time.
To clarify, I have never explicitly requested "not getting more email from you" (in fact I'm sure the unsubscribe link works fine), I just haven't opted into any e-mail in the first place besides it being mandatory to provide an e-mail address when donating, but I didn't expect it would be kept for anything other than the receipt and any legal obligations. It's most likely against the GDPR as well if you think your organisation falls under the regulation.
So my problem is less about unsubscribing from the list and more about why I was on the list in the first place which is the only reason I'm making a big deal about it.
The tech requirements of Wikipedia are straightforward. The content comes from volunteers. The software development could be handled via a community development process like Debian's.
You can donate at https://donate.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Landi...
If the endowment is just one more account that can be drained at will we have no protection from a sudden drop in revenue while the WMF maintains the current spending levels in the hope that revenue will recover.
I also looked into whether the endowment is legally protected against a large payout as a result of a lawsuit. I am not a lawyer, but it looks like the WMF needs to structure the endowment so that the WMF cannot legally dip into the principal to get that sort of protection.
They hold just under 135 million in assets, so they'd need 12 times what they currently hold. That's why living off interest wouldn't work. They'll need the telethon til they can make that equation work, or at least come closer.
Letting the endowment grow by at least inflation is already covered in my essay:
"We should make spending transparent, publish a detailed account of what the money is being spent on and answer any reasonable questions asking for more details. We should limit spending increases to no more than inflation plus some percentage (adjusted for any increases in page views), build up our endowment, and structure the endowment so that the WMF cannot legally dip into the principal when times get bad."
"If we do these things now, in a few short years we could be in a position to do everything we are doing now, while living off of the endowment interest, and would have no need for further fundraising. Or we could keep fundraising, using the donations to do many new and useful things, knowing that whatever we do there is a guaranteed income stream from the endowment that will keep the servers running indefinitely."