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Wikipedia is swimming in money–why is it begging people to donate? (dailydot.com)
623 points by tech-historian 64 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 595 comments



Let's be clear about this, the donation money isn't just used to keep the encyclopedia online. They have hundreds of language versions of Wikipedia itself, and many related "sister" projects, with perhaps the most clearly impacting being Wikimedia Commons (a huge repository of free-content media with a focus on educational use - including much media in the public domain) and Wikidata (a project that has now emerged as the closest thing to a 'hub' in the still-developing Semantic Web ecosystem). Quite a bit of their funding also enables growth in least-developed countries, where access to high-quality educational content in local languages is going to be especially impactful wrt. broader development goals.

People like to focus on the excess growth of management roles within the foundation and call it "cancer", but all large organizations have some possible waste within them. It might just be one of the many costs of doing business and pursuing what are in reality some very ambitious and perhaps worthwhile goals. And building a long-term endowment only looks like the prudent thing to do, since the results of fundraising can be quite volatile and uncertain.


Let’s be clear, the article does mention the size of the org and some salaries, but it’s clear it’s main premise is the outrageous amount of money they have already amassed and still hiding it in their messaging to make more. It doesn’t matter if they have big plans, the way they ask for money doesn’t say that it says they can’t survive without my 10 bucks which is disgusting. I’d rather be shown ads than this.


What's your idea of "survival"? Wikipedia has already been bleeding editors for a long time as the overall climate on the Web has shifted away from openness and towards profit-seeking and mindless consumption. They portray themselves as "essential infrastructure in the ecosystem of free knowledge" which looks like a factual and fair assessment to me. This is what must survive for the foreseeable future. It's not just about hosting a bunch of articles.


Wikipedia is bleeding editors and keeping others away because of the ever more hostile environment. Try to edit something and you get blasted of Wikipeda very fast with a boatload of jargon.

This is something they should work on. But as every club that get successful and was open (I attended many Wiki/Wikipedia meetups 20y ago) it gets more restricted and close to keep the masses out. What a shame.


> Try to edit something and you get blasted of Wikipeda very fast with a boatload of jargon.

"Trying to edit something" is a bad idea these days - the content is far too developed for that. Instead, post on the talk page with a description of your suggested edit, wait for people to object/complain/discuss, refine the text on talk if needed, then edit. It's pretty indistinguishable from a "pull request" workflow on github.

Yes, I know that a lot of novice-focused content advises people to edit directly. That's fine for fixing typos and bad grammer, not for substantive work.


There’s a mental mismatch in here. The pull request workflow works on GitHub because 1. every piece of code has a clear owner that is in charge to gate-keep the changes, and 2. if the gatekeepers fail at their job, contributors have a reasonable recourse (forking).

Neither is true for Wikipedia. There are no clear owners for each article so the editors are more or less hidden in the shadows (from the readers and casual contributors, at least), instead of being front-and-center of an article and explicitly taking responsibilities. It is also very unclear why they get to “own” the article like a GitHub repository; are they the initial author? Major contributors that took the baton from the original author? In many cases they are, but Wikipedia does not make that relation clear, so the editors look like self-appointed to an outside eye, which is why people have issues with gate-keeping (not the gate-keeping itself).

Making things worse, an “outside” contributor also has no chance but to work with those (seemingly) self-proclaimed maintainers; only one article can be under an entry on Wikipedia, your own modified copy has no chance competing with the original, even if you managed to make other people aware of it and agree it’s objectively better. That’s competitive imbalance, another trait of undesired gate-keeping.

I’m not saying what the Wikipedia community is doing is wrong. But if that’s how they want to do things, they need to fix Wikipedia to reflect what they want the process to work. The current system is broken.


naw - I took three paragraphs of an important but obscure 20th century news event, rewrote using 8th grade English principles for clarity and order of facts, specifically and purposefully not changing any statement in the content, and it was immediately reverted with no recourse. The original was demonstrably awful writing -- total gatekeeping.


Rewriting whole paragraphs for clarity is very much the kind of thing that should be discussed on the talk page. That's why the feature exists.


.. that should be discussed by whom, exactly? That article had not seen but three edits in the last five years. You are implying that the self-appointed gatekeepers need to review it.. you are describing the gatekeeping literally right now.


People familiar with the article and the topic area, obviously. The way you prevent gatekeeping is by proactively showing good faith and giving people an opportunity to raise any real, actionable concerns they might have.


Your explanation sounds considered and fair, but, is this what is happening ? not in my experience


> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Be_bold

Wikipedia recommends doing things, not talking.

Articles are also graded, I don't know what article GP is talking about but I'd say anything below "good article" is fair game.


> Rewriting whole paragraphs for clarity is very much the kind of thing that should be discussed on the talk page. That's why the feature exists.

That's absolutely not how it's been presented for the last couple decades, though.


And then an admin removes your post from the talk page because they do not like it or start responding in a toxic way.


QED.


I do not see why it needs to be easier than making a PR. What would you propose?


Because the easier it is the the more people are involved. That was the original idea of the WikiWay, to make editing simple [1]

Second if this is the way to go - and I don't agree [2] - the UI should reflect this workflow and not propose a different one that mostly fails.

[Edit] PRs also assume some kind of owner and committer relationship, which might be right for open source projects but is not the case of Wikipedia - even if many editors on Wikipedia consider the content "their own".

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WikiWikiWeb - "Cunningham's idea was to make WikiWikiWeb's pages quickly editable by its users, [...] . The usefulness of Wiki is in the freedom, simplicity, and power it offers."

[2] Wrote a quite successfull wiki 20y ago called SnipSnap, the engine of which started Atlassian Confluence, and did several years of research in using Wikis back then.


The community is the owner, the individual editor/committer has to reach consensus if the edit is disputed.


But that doesn't go for reverters, does it?


then why they don't beg for editors? they also have enough cash to develop a more appealing editor experience, but all they are asking is money.


> then why they don't beg for editors?

They do, particularly in educational contexts - getting students interested in Wiki projects and having them write review articles with good sources as "homework" that can then be posted to Wikipedia. But supporting that takes money as well!


Fixing student's homework projects is actually a burden on other more-experienced editors.


Very solid point. I personally don't trust Wikipedia articles in many subjects. There are many proofs that Russian Wikipedia have paid by government editors solving its own propaganda. I think +/- the same situation for other countries.

Also, I know companies or celebrities who pay for their Wikipedia pages. You can find this service in 5 minutes by googling.

"Profit-seeking and mindless consumption" can be a motto for the current WMF.


> I personally don't trust Wikipedia articles in many subjects.

For the smaller ones, that is warranted - for example, the Croatian Wikipedia is infamous for its bias towards nationalist positions (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croatian_Wikipedia), something that's only made worse by the aftermath of the Balkan wars decades ago... as a half-Croat myself, I can only say: let's keep it at "the situation is complex and sucks all around, Wikipedia is just one symptom of a much deeper problem".

For bigger projects such as English and German Wikipedia, sheer numbers make outright disinformation spreading much more difficult - there the problem is different: what you see is usually factually correct and neutral-ish, but there is a widespread consensus that Wikipedia editors skew towards white, male and somewhat privileged (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia#Coverage_of_topics_a...).

Personally, I trust scientific and pop culture related articles in most if not all versions of Wikipedia - but keep a healthy skepticism for everything political, since there it is the hardest to judge completeness and accuracy of any subject.


Any article on the Middle East, in particular, is unreliable. Zionist gatekeepers are on constant patrol.


They bleed editors because they keep censoring and shunning people for not having the same monolithical point of views with regards to politics and social issues.

Money won't change that.


What bias are you talking about? I thought Jimbo was an Rand Fanboy, freedom of speech is their religion.


In the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Floyd article, they mention an event where he "held a pistol to a woman's stomach", but leave out that she was pregnant so it doesn't look as bad.

Example 2, there was two mass shooting in March:

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Boulder_shooting

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Atlanta_spa_shootings

In the Boulder shooting, all victims where white and the shooter was targeting white people but they don't mention any of that.

In the Atlanta shootings, the article goes out of its way to mention 6 of 8 victims where asian (asian-hate narrative). In reality, many spa owners are asian.

Theres is definitely a bias in their editing.


The George Floyd thing is not mentioned because it's not true:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/07/15/fac...


yes, I was misinformed, the report says there was a young child at home, but NOT that she was pregnant. The child being there is not mentioned in the wiki, my original point was wrong, but I think the bias still stands.


I do wonder what role Wikipolitics plays in the editor bleed.


It's a huge part of what made ME give up on the whole thing.


> Wikipedia has already been bleeding editors for a long time

Where can I learn about this?


A lot of fuss has been made about this graph: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Editor_Retention_Upd...

Roughly, English Wikipedia hit its editor peak around 2007 and has been very slowly declining since then. Various people argue about various causes. Theories I've heard include wikipedia becoming too rule heavy, to community just not scaling past that point, to the internet being a lot more interesting now then it was in 2007 so more distractions, community being mean/troll-filled now, everyone using mobile phones which are crap for writing long form content, all the easy to write articles are written, etc (Probably missed some).


Can't it just be that since 2007 most of the obvious topics for an encyclopedia to cover have been covered?

It's probably less satisfying to change the wording in one sentence in an article about an Australian cheese than it is to write that article. So fewer people care.


Yes, the standards for what counts as "good" Wikipedia editing have gotten a lot higher as well, at least wrt. mainstream topics.


No it is not. Some areas are perfectly describes, others basically empty. I remember dabbing into sewing a while ago and finding out wiki is basically empty.


Yes, I also notice the coverage dedicated to women vs men is extremely imbalanced. I know they have a separate team working on the issue and big advert banners about it... but the issue remains: Much more is written about men (living or dead) than women.


Aren't there far more prominent men than women though? Especially when you count the whole of patriarchal history.


History is always written by the victors, and due to patriarchy most of the victors in recorded history have been men. This has consequences if you want your encyclopedia to rely on existing sources.


I cannot personally agree with the first sentence from a modern context, but the second sentence is reasonable. I'm most bothered with I see articles about important ministers of a country and the women have either just a stub or a few measly paragraphs, and the men have flowing pages. I see the same for business leaders.


This was brought up as a major issue about 10 years ago:

https://slate.com/technology/2012/07/kate-middleton-s-weddin...


I mean, it may be because the coverage dedicated to women vs men was even more imbalanced in the past, fewer textual sources having been written about women so less to reference.


The beauty of Wikipedia is that nothing prevents you (or other people) from writing those missing articles.


Until some jackass with more authority than he should ever have had decides your article isn't "notable" enough to deserve existence and has it nuked on those grounds.


One of the major argument I have seen why the retention graph has gone down is that English Wikipedia is much more complete in 2021 than 2007. Writing about esoteric topics is by itself limiting to fewer editors, and the bar of notability is more restrictive. Non-English articles is easier in that sense, but much of that work seems to become a translation of the English version. Writing a non-English article from scratch is an alternative but can feel a bit less interesting when the English version is already of high quality.

I could be wrong but today it seems that most editor efforts in the English Wikipedia goes towards news, politics and media. It would not surprise me if those have a natural lower retention rate than other form of articles.


On one hand, Wikipedia has become more “complete” in the last 10 years (though information never is, really).

On the other hand, the grown amount of content means there is proportionately more content to maintain—which might take even more effort and attention to detail than writing new content.

That, as well as the reputation and pervasiveness of links to Wikipedia, together make it more vulnerable to and a more compelling target for instances of blatant or stealthy misinformation, censorship and vandalism.

On that topic, I suspect a resource that tracks change histories for sensitive Wikipedia articles[0], aggregating and correlating changes by IPs and usernames along with some smart NLP analysis on text contents of the diffs, could end up being insightful.

[0] Many of us know a certain date coming up, publicly remembering which starting this year is already punishable by a prison sentence in Hong Kong. Maintaining the article covering this one is hopefully taken care of for now as it is pretty conspicuous—but for how long, and how many lesser known articles are there…


That's not completely true, as it seems like the number of editors on English wikipedia hit a low point around 2013 and has been steady or going up since then.

https://stats.wikimedia.org/#/en.wikipedia.org/contributing/...


Being disgruntled about supporting a donations scam might be another reason to leave.


> Wikipedia hit its editor peak around 2007

It's a very sharp peak. What happened in 2007?


no-follow was added to links in Jan 2007. I wonder if the drop was a drop in spam editors when SEO stopped working.


I didn't know they did that. Sounds like a great decision!


The barrier to entry is often that more articles exist now, it's likely the random thing you know enough about to start an article about already has one.

Having 10% of new editors stick around seems amazingly high.

Has anyone done the same for post 2015?


Then let those projects fight and advertise for themselves.

People donating to wikipedia only want wikipedia, they are unaware of the other stuff wikimedia does.

Those projects would crash and burn though, because frankly, no one cares about them. Stuff like wikidata and SPARQL endpoints are an academic curiosity with no real value.

The semantic web won't happen, articles do and will.

In addition to that, the whole deletion first and no primary information attitude makes sentences like "ecosystem of free knowledge" laughable.


> People donating to wikipedia only want wikipedia, they are unaware of the other stuff wikimedia does.

On the contrary, Wikipedia itself has a lot of reliance on the other projects. For example, Wikidata solves the problem of interlinking Wikipedia languages and other projects when they're hosting content about the same real-world entity. In fact, this was Wikidata's MVP - the reason it got funded in the first place. It then took off from there.

Wikimedia Commons is a similar story - in addition to the obvious languages issue, there are a lot of concerns about media (such as licensing. enhancement etc.) that really are best addressed in a dedicated venue, with its own committed contributors. This has been very beneficial to Wikipedia itself.


Using RDF to store multiple languages of the same article is gross overengineering. Interlinking with other projects isn't nessecary when there are no other projects.


It isn't stored as RDF. RDF is provided as an export format. The language contents also aren't stored in wikidata, its just matching which title in language X matches which title in language Y.

Wikidata isn't just used for interlanguage linking. Its also used to keep infoboxes synced across different languages, and a way to easily query that data (Depends a bit on the language, english wikipedia isn't fully on board with the system, but its been a big boon to smaller languages).

As a result, people can update these "facts" independently of language, keeping them altogether more up to date, and it allows the data to be queried independently (via https://query.wikidata.org - try some of the example queries (button top left) if you haven't, the level of power SPARQL gives for querying this type of data set really is very cool).

Part of Wikimedia's mission is to spread knowledge. Allowing querying of factual data with a query language like sparql helps advance that goal by letting people use extract the knowledge for new purposes.


> its just matching which title in language X matches which title in language Y

Like I said, gross overengineering.

"You can save cents and seconds of time updating knowledge boxes, by spending millions and hours developing federated SPARQL query capabilities!"


More like, we put the facts and knowledge in a central (mysql) db, so that instead of updating them in 300 places (Wikipedia has a lot of languages), you just update them in one place.

And since the data happened to be there anyways, we added an RDF export feature, and threw that into a BlazeGraph DB so that people could do SPARQL queries if they want. The (not really federated) SPARQL queries have basically nothing to do with the central-place-to-store-facts that are used in multiple places, feature, but it was pretty cheap to do once everything was in a central place.


Is there a entry point for "how to make FOSS contributions to wiki-projects". I at the very least would be interested in finding out how all the pieces fit together, and maybe browsing the big list to see if anything was in my wheelhouse.

Edit: And thank you for some insight into the back end of wikipedia - I did not know multiple languages was such a big push and it is such a sensible direction . Keep up the good work and keep pestering me for cash each year.


https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/How_to_become_a_MediaWiki_hac... is probably what you are looking for.

There's a very old architecture doc from 2012: https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Manual:MediaWiki_architecture its kind of outdated and missing a lot of the newer pieces.

p.s. I used to work for the Wikimedia foundation about 1.5 years ago, but don't anymore. Prior to working there I was a volunteer for the FOSS project, and in theory I still am but I honestly don't do much anymore. My opinions are my own and don't represent WMF or anyone else.


As if thowing the messy complexities of MySQL queries into the serene simplicity of static hypertext is somehow better.

How often is numerical (which is the only knowledge you can really automate this way) knowledge updated? How often is said knowledge dependent on cultural idiosyncracies? How much effort is the code maintenance of the specialised editing system? How much effort is maintainance of the centralised infrastructure. How much effort is it really to change the data in multiple places, given that enough eyes every bug is shallow? What are the oppirtunity costs of not being able to properly distribute and share articles because they are suddenly tied to a very specific codebase? How much infrastructure cost do I have because I can't get volunteers to host my data?

Overengineering solving the wrong problems at it's finest, no wonder the software has stayed this bad for decades now.


> How often is numerical (which is the only knowledge you can really automate this way) knowledge updated?

Numerical knowledge is not the only knowledge that is stored there.

I'm going to go with update rate of often. It has a higher edit rate than english wikipedia does.

> How often is said knowledge dependent on cultural idiosyncracies?

Sometimes that is true, other times it isn't. The system is used where it makes sense, and not used where it doesn't.

> How much effort is the code maintenance of the specialised editing system? How much effort is maintainance of the centralised infrastructure.

There is certainly some. I wouldn't say its dominating, but it certainly exists. There is plenty of centralized infrastructure for other things too.

Prior to the introduction of wikidata, more complex fragile systems existed to try and keep things in sync in a more manual fashion. They also had a cost.

> How much effort is it really to change the data in multiple places, given that enough eyes every bug is shallow?

A lot. And we don't have that many eyes in lots of languages. There's a lot after all: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:SiteMatrix

> What are the oppirtunity costs of not being able to properly distribute and share articles because they are suddenly tied to a very specific codebase

Not sure what this has to do with it. Articles are written in a custom markup language. That's already tying it to a specific code base quite heavily. The wikidata dependency is pretty trivial, and there are open apis to get info out of wikidata, and regularly made dumps of all the data in wikidata if you want to copy it. If that's not good enough, just copy the rendered version instead of the source.

> How much infrastructure cost do I have because I can't get volunteers to host my data

I'm not sure what you're talking about. Wikipedia was never hosted in some magical peer-to-peer fashion on volunteer web servers, nor is there any situation where it is likely to be hosted that way. The goals of (near) instant update time, as well as some central quality control and user blocking, makes distributed hosting pretty impossible.


> I'm not sure what you're talking about. Wikipedia was never hosted in some magical peer-to-peer fashion on volunteer web servers, nor is there any situation where it is likely to be hosted that way. The goals of (near) instant update time, as well as some central quality control and user blocking, makes distributed hosting pretty impossible.

Everything wrong with wikipedia summed up in one paragraph, nice!


I mean, if you want to make a website with different goals and properties than wikipedia, by all means go make one. Wikipedia is just one way of doing things. Its hardly the last word on how to make an online encyclopedia, and quite frankly, some competition in this space would probably be good for everyone.

But disagreing with wikipedia's goals as a product is very different from a claim that the solution intended to meet those product goals is over-engineered.


> Wikipedia's purpose is to benefit readers by acting as a free widely accessible encyclopedia;

How are centralization, real time editing, and user blocking properties toward the above goal?

You probably know full well that network effects are prohibiting any other collaborative knowledge base from from ever croping up again.

All big companies link against wikipedia because the network effect, all funding and donations go to wikipedia due to the network effect, all editors spend their time on wikipedia due to the network effect.

Wikipedia is eating it's own childen, and if we ever want to get something better, it either needs to grow up and start acting like a responsible adult (which we know it won't because at it's core is the failed web equivalent of the stanford prison expetiment), or die and make space for a new genration of tools.


As somebody who has used these facilities I highly disagree. They are really awesome.

And if you have some magically technical solution that is much better and much easier, then please share it. And don't just complain that everybody else is doing everything wrong.


Every long-term successful operation needs to sustain a few wild bets that look pointless today, with great probability will turn out to have been pointless tomorrow, but has just a tiny chance of becoming really important.

If you just optimise for today, you will die tomorrow.

Gradual improvements won't get you out of a local peak when that local peak is swallowed by rising tides.

If your organisation isn't doing things that look pointless today but in a principled way, I don't think it has great prospects of long-term survival.

Heck, even the wiki concept itself started out as this long-shot experiment nobody at the time expected to be successful.


Wikipedia exploded over night.

The semantic web is "tomorrow technology" for 20 years now. At what point does tomorrow technology become yesterdays vaporware to you?


Wikidata gets more edits per second right now than the English wikipedia does. If that's not "exploding overnight", I don't know what is. It's just that fewer people are aware of it, because it powers sily things like search engine infoboxes and AI assistants - in addition to fostering unprecedented cooperation among knowledge producers in the Linked Data/Semantic Web ecosystem.


Ah yes, and that's not totally skewed by the fact that an "edit" in a knowledge graph is at the granulatity of a triple while an edit in an article has the granulatity of a coherent piece of structurally meaningfull information.

Piling onto the glorified garbage dump (just follow the isA edges of any concept you'll see what I mean) is a strawman metric.


It might be a "garbage dump", but it's one that large pieces of the Web are increasingly relying on. The pre-existing alternatives (mainly DBpedia - incidentally, based on scraping Wikipedia articles) were pretty disgusting hacks compared to what we have now.


I use Wikidata data (in a non-academic capacity) shrug

It's not that easy to work with, but there aren't any good alternatives in my case. Freebase died. DBpedia doesn't compare. Domain-specific databases don't have the data I'm looking for (or it's woefully incomplete and/or hard to link to external entities) because it straddles multiple domains, not to mention they're usually not free. I for one am very thankful for Wikidata existing and seeing good activity.


Nice (& same!) How do you use it that you couldn't use dbpedia?


How about you keep your 10 bucks and stop using Wikipedia rather than suggesting ads?

Please.


The main value of wikipedia has been provided not by the wikipedia foundation, but by the volunteers who write the articles on wikipedia.

My work on wikipedia articles is for the benefit of my fellow humans, not to allow some organisation to start implying that everyone has a moral obligation to give them money. That was never part of the deal when I contributed my work.


After the whole Fram situation, my trust in the WMF's direction and leadership is pretty much non-existent. That told me all I need to know about their priorities and ethics.


Having to see ads even there was never part of the deal when I contributed mine (puny as it may be).


>> (money) amassed and still hiding it? Asking for money is disgusting?

Disgusting?!! They ask for money. They don't sell your data, which is what most sites/apps you use do. They don't abuse their position, as an important information source. Disgusting compared to what?

Meanwhile, Wikipedia has some of the most accessible financial information of any comparably sized organisation on the planet. This is why the get so much heat. The financials are easily understandable, which means a financially literate journalist or commentator can understand what's going on and take a cheap swipe in under a minute.

You can literally understand wikimedia's finances better in 10 minutes than you could after weeks of studying any other non profit, publicly listed company, NGO or government organisation. There is no attempt to hide any controversial element... Asset accumulation, clearly and deliberately highlighted. Expense growth, ditto.

Here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation#Financial...


You find it disgusting that a service, which you probably use both directly and indirectly multiple times a day and costs you nothing, has the nerve to give you a suggestion of donating 10$ once?

That is a very peculiar attitude to have.


I find this attitude peculiar.

The editors who provided all that value will get $0.

It's like buying an album where $9.92 goes to the label and yet the label still complains about freeloaders depriving the poor musicians of income if they don't pay the $10.


And who exactly gets the money? Because as I see, there is no corruption in the system at all. There are a few inefficiencies, but it’s incomparable to the bleeding out of musicians.


Jimbo's friends, i think.


You are comparing apples and oranges there.


So? Why should one fruit grower get away with a practice that is almost universally condemned in another?


Making music is the livelyhood of musicians. Making edits on Wikipedia is for most a hobby, and they do not get paid for it and thus do not rely on it (I would know, I have made many edits on my language wiki and look at it mostly as something positive to give back). They have the option of stopping making edits and walk away without any hit to their income or professional growth.

That is not to say that those who make certain amount of quality edits shouldn't receive something for it, or even be hired in to be on staff editors (potentially there are these kinds of positions within Wikimedia and I just don't know about it).

Comparing the practice of asking consumers for an optional donation once in a while, without any access restriction to the content, versus being (legally) forced to buy the album (also taking into account streaming here) where the funds go mostly to the label doesn't make any sense.


If they're asking for donations and the middleman takes it all then yes, that feels exactly like the music business.


Short term it does kind of look like they have now money than they need and it may seem a little disingenuous, but I'm not sure that they amassing a large pool of money to ensure for their survival for the long term is all bad. They provide an invaluable tool to the world that allows anyone from anywhere to easily learn about anything. I would say that they are doing a great service to the world by ensuring their existence in perpetuity and that only focusing on securing funding for the short term would be incredibly short sighted and negligent.


The budget will expand to consume the additional funds. It did before.

This will make it more financially tenuous, not more.

Added to which, once the insitution is addicted to money it becomes that much easier to corrupt.


Yea, that could probably happen as well. Hopefully they are more judicious with their spending on current projects. But I guess aggressively spending in the short term to share more knowledge with a larger portion of the world could be a worthy cause as well. Hopefully those in power understand the gravity of the responsibility they have and they don't trend towards something like the leadership of the NRA (assuming reported corruption was true and not politically biased).


> The budget will expand to consume the additional funds

And the organization will grow? (More people)

How can one stop such things, generally, in an organization? (If it was large enough already)


Your response sounds like Wikipedia is putting a paywall!


> Let's be clear about this, the donation money isn't just used to keep the encyclopedia online.

This is the very source of the complaint though. People want to donate to fund the thing they actually use, not a bunch of other arbitrary projects they don’t care about.

I mean take a look at the donation page under “Where your donation goes”.

It does technically mention a “wide variety of projects” but the whole thing is written to make you feel like you are donating to the encyclopedia that is barely scraping by. And it certainly doesn’t mention anything about an endowment.


So which one would you cut out? The hosted pictures, media? Or the database syncing factual data across languages so that a smaller language’s article won’t get factually wrong information because a data was spotted to be incorrect only in the large English version?


How about the 20 million they spend on awards and grants? It doubled between 2019 and 2020, isn't it weird that they spend 10x as much in awards and grants than they spend on hosting everything?


So you'd want them to cut the item in their budget that most directly rewards and supports their volunteer editors' work on the projects? That would seem to be unwise.


Maybe?

First off, how much of this is going to wikipedia editors and how much is going to other stuff? Honest question, I tried looking and I couldn't figure out which grants actually get approved.

Secondly, the number of editors peaked in 2007, as far as I know. Why does the money spent on grants and awards keep going up if the number of editors keeps going down?


Maybe to counter the decline of editors?


Scratch "directly", there is nothing direct about intransparent rewards. Again this sounds ominous for non-profit building on volunteer work


Their grant-making process is quite transparent. Much of it is documented publicly at https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Grants


The encyclopedia wouldn't be what it is, absent these "sister" projects. It's all interconnected. (I have tried to address this in a sibling comment.)


> People want to donate to fund the thing they actually use, not a bunch of other arbitrary projects they don’t care about.

I see this argument often associated with Mozilla as well and I cannot put into words just how much I disagree.

They've both made a product that's immensely useful to me, to the point where I don't even second guess donating to these projects on a semi-regular basis (like once or twice a year, usually in the range of $50-$100 per donation, equivalent to what I pay to certain services for a yearly subscription). What they do with that money is completely not my concern. I've donated money, it's up to them to decide what to do with it. I trust them to make that decision because they've already made a product that I rely on quite frequently.

I couldn't care less if they use it to support an existing successful product (Wikipedia or Firefox), throw it into some other fringe thing that has a tiny chance of turning into another immensely useful product to me, fund advocacy projects, fellowships, CEO salaries... it doesn't matter. I trust the team behind it so I throw money at it.


Interestingly there was no mention of sister projects or the inflated activity in adjacent areas in the begging for money banner presented to me last time, did I miss something?!

It was asking for keeping the Wikipedia we use operational for a long time to come. No mention of educating the world or 'broader development goals'.

A Wikipedia that is created by volunteers (including the hundreds of language versions) for free, managed and promoted by sometimes high paid employees with expansion ambitions.

Are they risking the future of the Wikipedia we like and use today by the costly ambitions and the costly organization required to realize the big ambitions?!? Are they overstreching their means?!

The begging for money banners only talk about keeping it operational. Not about 'sister projects' or other ambitions, they do not ask money for those!

(not to mention that some of the banners condemn being commercial, saying 'it would be a great loss', exactly what Wikimedia LLC aspires to do)


> No mention of educating the world

"Imagine a world where every single person on the planet can freely share in the sum of human knowledge: this is our commitment." They could hardly be any clearer about it. And even if your goal is to keep Wikipedia thriving, you need these sister projects.


That quote is about sharing knowledge not about educating people. Different things with different requirements, a different (related) activity.

Sharing knowledge is a well understood long lasting profile, education is not.

Also the 'need' for sister projects is an unfunded claim, a mere opinion. Actually the "bring you unlimited access to reliable information" that is explicitly mentioned in fundraisers already thrives for long without sister projects.


> That quote is about sharing knowledge not about educating people.

So what is educating people, if not sharing knowledge?

> Different things with different requirements, a different (related) activity.

That's one way of looking at it. Another is: Just different words for the same thing.


Libraries and schools/universities are not the same thing, you should know that.

Allowing access to information is essential part of the education but is not the education itself!

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Chek out its home page, top left corner! ; ))

If they have big ambitions, want to be more than 'mere' sharers of information that is fine, having huge organizations with high paid managers and PR campaigns for the education of the world and the future or whatever big words they pick, it is fine. But then please communicate that when begging for money to keep "Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia" running.

They should not misinform us....


I don't have a big isssue with Wikipedia asking for more donations, even though 99% of the work seems to be volunteered for free.

That said, I think we are all getting tired of 501c3's begging for money when they seem to be doing fantastic on paper.

I once heard that St. Judes Childrens hospital has 20 years of funding in the bank, and that's taking into account of new procedures, and inflation.

Cars for Kids has one house in the Sierra foothills that benefits children. (This was true around 5 years ago when I looked into the nonprofit.)

My point is the charities we all know through endless advertising/begging might not need money.


Maybe maybe. But most of the large organisations you are refering to make the money they pay their waste^Wmanagers with not from donations, and are typically also not relying on so much volunteer work. In my book, it is totally fine to demand that organisations that are largely based on volunteer work and dontations dont pay the typical manager salaries. Why should we look away if a mostly-volunteer driven project gets cancer? Why should we ignore the cancer? Just because other companies have cancer too?


Profit seeking organizations have residual claimants who are directly incented to cut the waste, and they still get cancer. This ought to suggest to us how hard the problem really is.

ISTM that the only viable solution is federation, where multiple, independent, small, tightly-knit organizations cooperate on the shared goal of hosting content, media, etc. on real-world entities and topics. But, ironically enough, Wikidata and other Wikimedia projects are the closest thing we have to something that might actually enable this development! (The former in its de-facto role as a semantically-enhanced "web directory" of entity identifiers; the latter via the "right to fork" that's inherent in all free-content licenses.)


How about considering it not cancer but necessarily inefficiency? Like, are you angry at your car for not being 100% efficient?


"necessarily inefficiency"? what sort of legitimation is this? Besides, I dont own a car.


Okay, your computer is far from 100% efficiency, nor any appliance in your home, nor for-profit companies, nothing is. Why are we so outraged when a non-profit company doing great work is also inefficient a bit?


Because it is strictly unfair to volunteers. Volunteers do most of the important work, and usually get no pay at all. So why should managers get paid and everyone should look away and just call it an inefficientcy?


100% this. Furthermore, in a non-profit, reporting requirements let you see what the money is being spent on, what people are making exactly what salaries, what vendors are involved, etc.


Sounds good but Wikipedia asks money with pitch ”help keep Wikipedia running”. It’s a lie if the money is diverted to other, how ever commendable, pursuits.


In the UK your donations can be for a specified purpose, and must be earmarked for it. Is there no equivalent in the rest of the world?

And perhaps more to the point, Wikipedia has legal personality in the UK, so one assumes the above applies.

But really it would be pointless: I'm not going to tell Wikipedia what their strategy should be when I donate. So even if you do, they can put my donation to whatever purpose it is that yours precluded.


It applies to the USA too. (Note: Wikimedia UK is an independent organization. It is associated with, but not owned/controlled by WMF)

However, often restricted donations result in people spending money on things that don't matter, because it might be earmarked for something that isn't needed. Even if not, it can distort priorities in ways that people earmarking the donations aren't aware of.

Its the sort of thing, where the bureaucracy of it clearly isn't worth it for small donations.

According to WMF's financial statement, there was about 4 million of such restricted donations in the 2018-2019 year.


"earmarking" -- I would say this is done a case-by-case basis. When the donation is large enough, anything is possible.


> The WMF also has high-flying, global plans to “become the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge” by 2030. It says it wants to create “knowledge equity”—a world where people everywhere will have as much access to information in their own language as a first-world citizen—and that this will require continuous budget increases.

Godspeed to them in this endeavor. I think this is not the time to become absolute purists in the choice of tech overlords. The tech world is being controlled by less than a handful of trillion-dollar monopolists that crush anything that stands in their way. A few hundred million in this war is a drop in the ocean.

Yes, power corrupts, and money is power. Yes, left to their own devices, people in NGOs will maximize revenues and expand their employee empires - just like those in the for-profit sector. What matters is the strategic goals and their execution by the leadership, and there is nothing - absolutely nothing - to indicate that WMF went astray from its stated mission.

I cannot but feel this is another pissing contest like the open source world experienced, where everybody and their brother started their own distributions/forks to virtue signal their true commitment to the open source goals. This led to a massive fragmentation of the scene, the few companies that tried to use the model, like Redhat and Ubuntu, were exposed as deviationists from the party line; meanwhile big tech ate the world and put every man, woman and child on the planet in invisible jails.


Ridiculous question and even more ridiculous factoids.

The assumption that operating as a non-profit implies an entity should stop asking its audience for help advancing the mission, or that it should pay its necessary staff less than competitive wages...please.

Give wikipedia more so they can take on the MUCH more well-endowed and entirely opaque private capital taking over nearly every other information outlet in the US and often around the world.


I feel like we've already seen this pan out once. Mozilla received a large payment from Google for many years for making Google Search the primary search engine in Firefox. They used that money to pay large salaries, launch a dozen side projects (none of which ever achieved anything like the success of Firefox) and aim for lofty goals much like Wikimedia is doing here. Now the money's drying up (because Firefox's market share is dwindling) and Mozilla are having to cut staff, including staff who work on Firefox development, to survive.

It's less obvious what would cause Wikipedia's money to dry up, but in light of Mozilla's example the only part of this I disagree with is the article's negative angle on the endowment. Creating an endowment like that is exactly what Mozilla should have done.


>Now the money's drying up (because Firefox's market share is dwindling) and Mozilla are having to cut staff, including staff who work on Firefox development, to survive.

I think Mozilla did some good or at least had the right intentions with some of their sideprojects and think they should keep trying.

On the other hand I have to contain myself from insulting their current CEO in this context given she made her wage shoot up whilst their marketshare was shrinking so much, laid of so many from the servo team among many others which i think could have been very important for firefox's future whilst at the same time running projects like giving half a million to artists to look into the potential intersection of AI and racism if I understood it well. I wonder it's a project by one their new board members the addition of which i don't exactly see the point of either.

I don't think they should keep themselves busy with this kind of stuff but if they do fine... If they keep themselves busy with this kind of stuff they should try to make an impact but if they want to analyse and highlight fine. If they want to analyse and highlight i feel like they should give this money to researchers or a study or so. But then they give the money to some bloody artists. If it works i'd like em to fix world hunger with a painting next. And what's worse.... They do it whilst they're laying of the staff of the ship they're sinking.


Lemme know when you've outcompeted a free product advertised on Google home page that Google considers a strategic priority, then I'll listen to everything you have to say about how it's Mozilla's mismanagement that caused the decline of Firefox. Once Chrome was a priority for Google, Firefox stood no chance no matter the funding.


You misunderstand me. I don't think Mozilla's mismanagement was responsible for Firefox's decline in market share, although it probably can't have helped. My concern is that now that that decline has happened, for one reason or another, Mozilla's mismanagement of their finances means the entire existence of Firefox is at risk, along with the seat at the web standards table that it represents.


If Mozilla didn't obtain and spend all that funding, Firefox would have been obsolete years ago. Google spends bazillions on Chrome, you can't compete with that on a shoestring budget.


Mozilla did NOT spend the money on Firefox. You did hear how they fired their core engineers recently, didn't you?


They downsized because they have less money coming in now. So? They might well be overspending on execs or whatever, but that doesn't make much difference in the face of the existential threat they're facing from Google.


> none of which ever achieved anything like the success of Firefox

Hi, let me introduce you to this weird newfangled language called Rust... /s


Rust is definitely a significant and important project. That said, Firefox's peak market share was a little over 30% of desktop browsers (in 2009 so they weren't yet a sideshow), while Rust isn't even currently in the TIOBE Index top 20 (can't find any easy way to see a peak position sadly).

More importantly though, we have other Rusts. Rust has half a dozen competitors and essentially nobody thinks that making a robust new systems programming language is an unachievable goal. Firefox is the only non-profit browser engine we have and most people consider it an impossible undertaking to develop a new one from scratch at this stage. Indeed, Microsoft recently tried before conceding defeat and switching Edge over to Chromium's Blink.


Could you name these six Rust competitors please?


I'm thinking of Crystal, Nim, Zig, Odin and (ignoring that the topic at hand is avoiding Google having unnecessary control over things) Go. I'm aware they may not share Rust's exact feature set; Crystal is the only one I've used, including Rust itself. That comment was intended to illustrate that this is a field where attempts are made regularly and manage to achieve some measure of success, relative to browser rendering engines where I am only aware of a single (proprietary, incomplete) attempt in recent years: Flow.


Rust was supposed to be the basis of servo, a truly awesome engine that should have been under the hood of Firefox long ago. That should have been the best thing to come out of Mozilla.

We got some of it: the Rust language and Quantum. I would say the only two good things that Mozilla did in the last 10 years.

Finally, in 2020, the Servo and Rust team got the recognition they deserved, they got laid off...

It is almost like the old joke with the rower, where on a boat race, a team of eight people rowing and one steering beats a team with one person rowing and 8 steering. The losing team change its structure, now with a complex hierarchy but still a single rower, who eventually gets fired.


How much are they bringing into Mozilla with that?


What a ridiculous criticism of a valid article with a lot of facts.

I have donated to Wikipedia several times and feel violated now. They might have not lied outright but acting as if you’re a poor Non profit when you are most definitely not poor is outrageous. I don’t know if Jimmy Wales is part of this entire charade but this is exactly what you expect to happen when you employ a CEO who charges north of half a mill to run a non profit - their intention is to just increase their coffers with no clear plan on WHAT they are going to use it.

There might have been a time when the banner was genuine and a donation from the user was needed to plan their budget a year in the future, but if they’re showing the same banner now after making hundreds of millions (and if this article is accurate, willfully hiding it as much as legally possible) they’re disgusting. I feel less disgust interacting with entities like apple and google, at the least their intentions seem far more honest than this bs.


FWIW, Jimmy is on the board but hasn't been involved with the day-to-day for a very long time (Although I'm sure as a board member he would be involved with major decisions like budget).

I don't think its fair to call this willful hiding. I mean, they've written blog posts about this subject - https://diff.wikimedia.org/2016/01/14/wikipedia-15-foundatio... you don't write blog posts about things you're trying to hide.

Disclaimer: used to work for them, don't anymore.


I'm sorry, but your worldview is completely out of line with reality.

The banner IS genuine.

Non-profit funding IS scarce.

Funding streams are fickle and Wikipedia has none of the monopolistic advantages that keep Apple and Google and FB and MSFT owners vastly vastly richer than any Wikipedia staff will ever be.

By volunteering you ARE doing something so much more valuable than any post to any for profit social media platform, INCLUDING this one.

The reason you think "intentions" are "honest"? Advertising.

Please revisit your assumptions.

Best wishes, sincerely. Cheers.


Their banner says:

> “This Thursday Wikipedia really needs you. This is the 10th appeal we’ve shown you. 98% of our readers don’t give; they look the other way … We ask you, humbly, don’t scroll away.”

You think "really needs you" IS genuine?

And what does "volunteering" have to do with the question being raised in the article or by the OP you are responding to?


What wikipedia does with their banner ads is hardly worse than what NPR does or any other nonprofit for that matter. It doesn't surprise me that they are well funded. Have you ever heard of wikipedia going down?


It wasn't north of half a mil, though that does sound nice. It was $300k when I started and just over $400k when I left five years later, which is all data that is entirely accessible through the organization's public 990 filings.

To inform this conversation a bit, the biggest driver of salaries is the market cost of domain expertise and leadership. Wikimedia's salaries are pegged to a basket average of leading US non-profits, but (particularly for more experienced staff) dramatically below market rates for technology organizations.

You cannot run something at the technical and social scale and complexity of Wikimedia without exceptionally talented people, and you can't compete for talent without some degree of competitive salary. Although Wikimedia employees leave a lot on the table in order to work for a mission-driven non-profit (comparative compensation but zero upside equity), it isn't sustainable (or arguably ethical) to ask people to work for significantly less than the value of their labor.

IMHO, the Wikimedia ecosystem organizations could (and perhaps should) be significantly better resourced than they currently are in order to serve the mission of the organization. Currently most of the funding goes into servicing the existing infrastructure, much of which is dominated by the scale of the largest, largely European-language, Wikipedias.

To truly serve the world free knowledge, and serve it well, Wikimedia would need to continue to invest in increasing its global competences, often in regions/languages/markets where operations are more challenging, with commensurate cost. That would mean scaling up that expertise, whether language engineering or legal. All that costs money, which is why so much of the world is so poorly served by businesses with ROI models.

Fortunately, that's not Wikimedia, and will never be. And hopefully, it will also never be the case that some loud people on the internet dissuade the projects, movement, and organization from investing in the necessary capacity to sustain the remarkable good it does for so many hundreds of millions of people and hundreds of millions yet to come.


Hi Katherine.

What is not ethical is to create the impression that you struggle to have enough money to keep Wikipedia up and running, when in fact you are three or four times richer than just five years ago, and are building a $100M endowment in half the time anticipated.

What is not ethical is not to correct that mistaken impression – that you often struggle to have enough money to keep Wikipedia up and running – when you are asked directly, on TV, whether it is true that you often struggle to have enough money to keep Wikipedia up and running:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKdn1s9Sjfo&t=270s

Global plans for knowledge equity are well and good. But then you (or now, your successors) should TELL readers about these plans when asking them for money. Instead, under your watch the WMF has scared people – including millions in third-world countries like India, where it takes 200,000 people donating the recommended $2 to pay just one year of your annual compensation – into thinking that Wikipedia is about to go under, or may have to raise a paywall.

https://www.freepressjournal.in/technology/is-wikipedia-dyin...

Telling prospective donors about your plans for global expansion, including the plans for machine-translated Wikidata-based articles in hundreds of languages via the new Wikifunctions project, the building of regional hubs, etc., has several objective advantages, over and above just being a simple question of honesty.

Among these advantages are:

1. People can decide whether or not you are the right organization for the job, and the best organization to support for this.

2. People can compare actual progress made to the rhetoric, and demand to see results for their money. How much money is stockpiled, used to fund WMF salaries rising to even greater levels, and how much actually finds its way to Africa, India, etc.? How much free content is created? Is the work cost-effective?

Raising funds by pretending you are struggling to have enough money to keep Wikipedia up and running relieves you of that scrutiny and accountability – because then the mere continued existence of Wikipedia will appear to have justified the money demands, and the money donations.

Avoiding scrutiny and accountability is a slippery slope. It is not good for an organization. You don't just want cheerleaders.

Moreover, consistently pretending to be poor also makes you vulnerable (deservedly so!) to backlashes like this one:

https://twitter.com/marcan42/status/1399236909495328771

This Twitter thread, with 1.6K Likes and nearing 1K re-tweets at the time of writing, describes your banners as "deceitful", "manipulative", designed to "guilt people into donating money they would've otherwise spent elsewhere." The author goes on to describe your fundraising practices as "predatory, misleading, malicious and downright evil," saying you've been "preying on poorer folks from less well-off countries" to give you money you absolutely didn't need.

When people learn about the actual state of WMF finances they feel fooled, had. You can see this from the comments of past donors here on this very page. Why do that to them? The German fundraising banners (the only ones authored by a local chapter rather than the WMF, I believe) don't pretend there is an emergency. Germans still donate millions each year, because people love Wikipedia. Why overegg the WMF banners in this way, when volunteers have told you, year after year, that they feel disgusted and ashamed by them?

This is my view of the ethics of the situation. I have a question about transparency, too. As mentioned in the article, last year the WMF had an underspend because of the pandemic and put $8.7M of this unspent money into a Tides Advocacy fund: the "Knowledge Equity Fund".

Last December, a volunteer expressed disbelief that such a substantial amount of donors' money had been secretly transferred to an unaffiliated outside organization ( https://lists.wikimedia.org/hyperkitty/list/wikimedia-l@list... ).

The WMF had promised in its 2019/2020 financials FAQ to provide further information on this fund by the end of 2020. Then it promised the information would be made available in early 2021 ( https://lists.wikimedia.org/hyperkitty/list/wikimedia-l@list... ). Then it promised it would share details in May 2021 ( https://meta.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=Talk:Wikimedia_... ). These repeated promises have all remained unfulfilled.

It is now June. Almost a year has passed since this money disappeared from the WMF accounts. As far as I am aware, still no one outside of the WMF and the Tides Foundation knows what has happened to those $8.7M.

Whatever this is – even if there is nothing whatsoever improper about the fund, and full details describing exactly what has happened with donors' money will in due course appear – it falls short of the standards of transparency the WMF and its spokespersons have often claimed to uphold.


Andreas, you do realize interviews are edited, right? The editorial POV of that interview you link to was that WMF is a nonprofit and deserves support. They appear to have cut directly to my answer about the value of being a nonprofit. Whatever is left on the cutting room floor is a decision of the production team.

I agree that there were some problems with the fundraising messaging in India. It's an example of where the initial message testing worked, but when it went to a full campaign, the press ran with stories that were misleading and alarmist. In fact, WMF staff then worked extensively with the communities in India and did a significant amount of press, including television interviews, to clarify the purpose of the fundraiser and dispel concerns.

You continue to push for messaging that you personally believe to be more truthful to your belief about how fundraising works. Okay. That's fair, and you are entirely welcome to continue to do that. However, years of research and focus groups and testing has continuously demonstrated that the primary reason people donate to Wikipedia isn't a fear it will go away, nor is it a strategic interest in the future. The overwhelming reason is gratitude that it exists, and the opportunity to have contribute in their own way.

Would I personally respond to a message about mission and strategy? Yes, I would. But most people do not. Instead, millions of people find the donation banners acceptable and even inspirational -- far more so than messages about product and feature improvements. So despite the loyal opposition of you and others, I'm fairly certain that the WMF will continue to fundraise with messages that work on the level of what people care the most about, which is what Wikipedia means to them in their own lives.

Moving on, the WMF has been entirely clear that $4.2m of that $8.7m is going to affiliates for this year's APG funding. I would have wanted to get information about the $4.5m set aside for knowledge equity out the door faster, but I am no longer at the organization, so cannot speak to your concerns.


> the primary reason people donate to Wikipedia isn't a fear it will go away

> I'm fairly certain that the WMF will continue to fundraise with messages that work on the level of what people care the most about, which is what Wikipedia means to them in their own lives.

Those two are obviously contradictory. WMF's messaging is clearly, blatantly aimed at presenting the Foundation as having a problem staying afloat. If you didn't think the primary reason people donate to Wikipedia was a fear of it going away, you wouldn't be pushing messaging that is designed to cause people to have precisely that fear.

Quite frankly, your messaging reads like typical corporate doublespeak, and does nothing but further make me lose trust in the foundation.


I've lost count of the number of donors who've said they felt stung by learning just how well off the WMF is financially, felt they'd been lied to, wished they had donated to someone else, said they'd now cancelled their monthly donation, etc.

The implication is that for them, the sense of urgency was precisely the reason they donated. They believed they were helping "a friend in need". That's what made them feel good. Being used, not so much.


Minassian Media are the WMF's PR consultants. Mr Minassian's wife is a producer on The Daily Show. This being so, it seems highy unlikely to me that the interview would have been cut in any way that would have run counter to your and your PR company's wishes.

Still: Do you recall what you said in response to Trevor Noah, when he asked you, "The downside of it means you often struggle to have enough money to keep Wikipedia up and running. So ... is that true and how does it affect you?"? Would you mind sharing it here?

People who donate to Wikipedia are indeed generally motivated by gratitude. They would feel this gratitude whether the banners evoke a sense of financial emergency or not. The Germans (the only ones, I believe, who do their own banner wordings rather than translating the WMF's) have demonstrated that it is possible to achieve adequate results without evoking this sort of threat.

Now to evoke such an illusory sense of threat to Wikipedia's independence in Latin America in the middle of a pandemic, when the WMF was already nearly $50M ahead of its overall year goal with three months to spare, seems unconscionable to me, whatever the focus groups say.

Do you not think that people reading this exchange will find your attitude towards readers disrespectful and exploitative? Are you not saying, in so many words, that they're not capable of understanding what you would: that they, unlike you, need to be manipulated?

You appear to be saying that as long as readers, donors, don't know they've been tricked, but rather feel inspired, enriched by having given, everyone's needs have been served: theirs to feel good about themselves, yours (the WMF's) to have more money.

This may all be true: but it's manipulative. The idea that this sort of thinking should guide the management of such a widely used source of information as Wikipedia, which purports to be about informing people about reality, is unpalatable.


Like the other reply, this is flat-out gaslighting.

First, it's a fallacy that executive rates for nonprofits should be set by the market based on others. Who would say their nonprofit CEO is in the bottom half? Nobody, or they wouldn't want that person to be CEO. Therefore, everybody reevaluates and pushes salaries up, up, up to the sky ... exactly like they do in for-profit businesses, an endless cycle of greed. Would you have done the job for $200K? If so, you should have. If not, you shouldn't have been at Wikimedia. It's really that simple. Interestingly, the techies do work for significantly less than market rates but the suits don't. You are (or were) very well paid.

As for the fundraising, the messages are self-evident and dishonest to the point they're arguably fraudulent. Like Jimmy Wales using the term "bankruptcy" when he said well, we'd never want that. Sure - it's like a mobster saying "it'd be shame if..." then denying the threat. Both of you know exactly what those messages were meant to and did imply. Stop gaslighting.

I'm sure the WMF will continue to fundraise because, let's face it, that's all the organization actually does. They fundraise and nothing else. Wikipedia is 100% volunteers. Have you even edited anything on Wikipedia? You were/are the PR person before your higher role.

As for the final piece, moving on... no. Absolutely not. Wikimedia exists to make money. You're/they're working on a project right now to charge Google, Amazon, Facebook and the rest (who, oh yeah, are colluding to support Wikipedia as a single-source of truth ... which is exactly a long-term goal. of the CFR - but I'm sure that's a total coincidence). This is a fundraising organization, barely tied to Wikipedia.

Wikimedia exists to pull in money. Nothing else. The messaging is questionable enough I believe it should be investigated by various consumer agencies. At most, 1/3rd of the money raised goes to support what people know of as Wikipedia - those are Lisa's numbers. I doubt the figure is even that high.

People: Wikipedia's server costs are about $2.5M per year. That's it. Figure admin fees about 3x that, $10M per year give or take. The rest ... you can sit until you're blue in the face wondering where the money goes because they're not saying.


> but if they’re showing the same banner now

Sadly, the banner has only gotten bigger and more dire over the years.


> I have donated to Wikipedia several times and feel violated now

You need some perspective.


That is a ridiculous and ugly accusation to make. If you don’t know what it takes to run a globally available top site, it is better not throw stones at people.


I am not the original commentator but all the replies to this seem like attacking the individual (for a lack of better term) than providing a counter argument. They clearly state that they have been donating and assume that "their intention is to just increase their coffers with no clear plan on WHAT they are going to use it."

Is that wrong ? Far from reality? Help them (and readers like me) get a clear understanding.

OKAY, it is an ugly accusation considering "don’t know what it takes to run a globally available top site", but why? How much does it cost to run a Wiki like site on that high traffic using some modified form of mediawiki platform?

I am just trying to get a clearer understanding than attacking / siding anyone


What about running a freely query-able database https://www.markhneedham.com/blog/2020/01/29/newbie-guide-qu...

Or hosting all the images? Or paying developers, devops, managers? Like sure, some middle manager may be unnecessary but a big company will have inefficiencies. Also, it is a good decision to not stop accepting funds once a monthly quota is reached since donations are fickle. An article like this may suddenly cause an outage in donations, they have to have reserves for such cases.


> What about running a freely query-able database [link to Wikidata]

When someone goes to Wikipedia and feels "this was awesome; I want to support this... and OMG, they say they might fail if they don't get money from people like me!" it is absolutely unethical to take their money and spend it on Wikidata, a product this user might have no clue exists and may or may not care at all about. Maybe Wikidata is a great thing, but then the pitch should be "we are glad you enjoyed Wikipedia! don't worry: Wikipedia is safe, as we have more than enough money to fund it! however, we have other projects we think might make a similarly positive impact on the world... maybe you would want to donate to one of them?".


Wikipedia actively builds both on Wikidata and their media hosting solution. But if you feel like using wikipedia without any media or a significant part of the factoid tables, go on..


Have I run a site comparable to Wikipedia? No. Do I know nothing about that topic? Debatable. Leaving that aside, Wikipedia was live and ticking when it had 1% of today’s coffers, so it’s hard to substantiate why they need money approaching a billion dollars for a non profit running a website all things considered.


I wonder how much Facebook spends on running _its_ website?


This assumes that traffic has not changed since "1% of its coffers". Traffic has grown and the site has become faster.


They are not just running a website?


Then their donation banner should reflect the true purpose of the donation, rather than misleading readers into thinking it’s necessary for Wikipedia.com.


It is necessary for Wikipedia.


I'm with you. Wikipedia has revolutionized access to information. I can't imagine where we would be without it today. I'd much rather they be more than ready to weather a few storms than about to pull the plug before people feel the need to donate.

I think this article rubs me the wrong way because it leans a little heavily on vagueness to take you from the facts to how you should feel about them. Some volunteers are not amused? How many? A majority? A vocal few? "Wikipedians who have made hundreds of thousands of edits may well feel someone else is enjoying the fruit of their labor." Well, do they or don't they? Did you ask them?

I'll even admit that my initial reaction to this article was why do they need more of my money? But I gave $10 last year (basically nothing for my current income), and I'll do the same this year. Don't give so much money that you get bent out of shape about where it goes. If everyone gave an amount that meant relatively little to them, they would be in great shape. That's also basically what the donation banners say, too, but the article doesn't mention that.


Wikipedia in my experience doesn't "take on" anyone. They have a list of sources of large information outlets that are marked, mostly arbitrarily, "reliable". With the media landscape being as skewed as it is (largely reflecting interests of media owners and advertisers, see Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model), Wikipedia has set itself up to reflect those same biases by relying on the same sources.


Here's the list:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reliable_sources/Per...

You'll note that (eg) Wall Street Journal, Mother Jones, The Economist and Al Jazeera are all considered "reliable" (green), while Fox News is yellow (OK except for politics).


Or maybe they're marked "reliable" because they're less likely to make stuff up. I know that it is problematic when all the most obvious sources are slanted towards one political point of view, but citing the Daily Mail and other tabloids for stuff that the viewer's supposed to trust is even worse.


I mean there's definitely left leaning banned sources too, like Alternet.


Wikipedia (Like all encyclopedias) is a tertiary source. Its goal is not to provide the capital-T Truth, but to summarize as best it can contemporary knowledge. It aims to do that as neutrally as possible, but perfect neutrality doesn't exist, so all it can do is always try and get closer and closer to that ideal.


I've donated to Wikipedia and contributed content as well but now I've decided not to anymore for the time being. Any kind of controversial article is decided more by the amount of time which side has to push their agenda rather than any kind of objective Neutral Point of View. There is a lot of astroturfing as well.


But the arguments and the edit history are public.

Better than any other site where the pov is decided by who has the most money


With respect, think about what you are saying. You are not going to contribute with good intentions to a public service because there are people with bad intentions contributing to it...


The problem is that there is nothing done about people with bad intentions on organisational level.


Wikipedia folks are aware of the problem and there have been many changes over the years to better protect neutrality. I agree the situation is still far from perfect but Wikipedia is still one of the bastions of free information out there. They could have commercialized it but it became a non-profit relying on donations from users (as opposed to corporations) for a good reason.

What will happen when Wikimedia is gone?

There's a reason there's such a relentless smear campaign against it. Instead of turning our backs we have to think of ways we can support Wikipedia and protect it from shills with deep pockets. If you have any ideas on how this can be done more effectively try bringing them up! Anyone can sign up and participate. That's Wikipedia's strength and weakness.


> Instead of turning our backs we have to think of ways we can support Wikipedia and protect it from shills with deep pockets.

Have you actually looked at where most of the donations come from? They come from DEEP POCKETS.

In 2019, Google made $2 million contribution to the Wikimedia Endowment and another $1.1 million to the Wikimedia Foundation:

https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/22/google-org-donates-2-milli...

Amazon, Google.org, Musk Foundation, George Soros, Facebook all donating $2 million+

https://wikimediaendowment.org/#benefactors

Look at who their benefactors were in 2019 apart from 7 "Major benefactors" who were anonymous:

https://wikimediafoundation.org/support/benefactors/

Wikipedia folks have done the exact opposite to "protect neutrality" and "bastions of free information". They openly block any edits of articles even when the said article is slandering someone as long as it fits the political narrative. And if one simply looked at their co-founder and other admin's twitter feed, one would realize that they don't care about "neutrality".


Wikimedia foundation spends over 55M to pay for 400 staff. That’s 137k a year in payroll costs per employee. Are they all top management and or US based engineers?!


Yes, most of them are. And most of them work on "Advancement" (begging, fund raising, and schmoozing rich people and organisations for future fund raising) and "communication" (PR and brand building).[1] And of course with the obligatory diversity and inclusion staff, also on six digit salaries, also based in the swanky skyscraper in central San Francisco.[2]

[1] https://wikimediafoundation.org/role/staff-contractors/

[2] And the rent for the swanky office is another million and a half per year, because it's not their money after all...


> pay its necessary staff less than competitive wages

My opinion is that basically no-one needs to have an income above a couple of times median in the country they're in [it's hard to normalise across countries]. Just because CEOs, etc., think they're worth $millions doesn't mean that charitable organisations should adopt that model.

You're panhandling effectively, you beg people to give money but you already have it, you're only distributing it to wealthy people instead of favouring the aims of your charity.

Sure, pay your staff for a median income in your/their country; much higher in a poor or developing country is fine. But I don't donate to any charity that thinks one person needs to be paid >£120k (that's >4x median graduate wage in UK). Some people are awesome at what they do, but they're using the same proportion of their lives to do it as the people who are awesome and getting paid a pittance, it's wrong to beg people and then fritter it away on luxuries for a limited set of staff.

If a person wants to beg for money for themselves then they can, "I have an income of >$500,000 per year and work $days a week for $charity, please pay me money", sure, but don't hide that support of someone's ludicrously income (compared to ordinary people, not SV programmers) by fronting it through a charity.


First enforce your (valid) criticism in other companies. If a person could make 10x what he/she currently makes with the same work, why would he/she settle for less? Even with very strong morals, this failing of capitalism should not be dealt with at Wikipedia’s level. Comparatively to US companies, wikipedia’s salaries are hardly extreme.


Fair, but those other conscious aren't begging me to contribute to them paying their execs. And yes, as a consumer I do try and take note of the companies who have the most egregious pay disparities. Charities that spend a lot on donation acquisution, or who use immoral techniques (doorstep pressure, 'gift' giving to create psychological compulsion, ...) should not be supported.


Outrage where there is no reason for it. Wikipedia is using the University Endowment model to fund its work. They are creating a permanent source of funds that will finance its work for the long run(forever?) and are using special fund raising for special projects. There is nothing wrong with that. It's a form of non-profit funding that will ensure it continues to function. Management should be congratulated for following a non-profit model that will keep it going for many years and not have to deal with the never ending danger of not getting enough money for the following year's budget. A hand to mouth existence is not the best way to run an organization. Yes, there's danger of money getting wasted but all non-profits get a high level of scrutiny from people looking for waste and eventually the waste goes away.

There's no such thing as a large organization where there is no waste. Even very lean for profit organizations have to deal with the problem. The best you can do is to keep an eye out for cases where there is waste and fix it as soon as possible.

Bottom line, if you don't like it then don't give. Period!


>Wikipedia is using the University Endowment model to fund its work. They are creating a permanent source of funds that will finance its work for the long run(forever?) and are using special fund raising for special projects.

I think people wouldn't feel off about this if the fundraisers presented themselves as such. When you see them asking for donations, it is typically worded in a way it says "no one donates! if you don't we are on the brink of going bankrupt and shutting down the site! stop, don't scroll away!" and I think if they are sitting on a pile of cash (however noble their intentions are) some people might feel off about how they are being manipulated. Because that is not what they are asking the money for, at this moment. It is disingenuous to make it seem like they are asking for donations for covering the immediate day to day operations. Yes, it probably allows them to gather more donations that way but some people are not comfortable with being a target of manipulative ads. Immediate gains vs. poisoning the well situation here.


> There is nothing wrong with that.

The wrong part is that this is not disclosed anywhere discoverable. While they toned down how blatant their claims were, as the article shows, their banners still create the impression that they're struggling to just barely stay alive, not building an endowment.

I've looked into Wikimedia's finances before and completely missed the endowment.

Take a look at https://wikimediafoundation.org/about/annualreport/2020-annu... - I see no mention of money going from Wikimedia to the Endowment. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/foundation/f/f7/Wikim... mentions it in passing among other examples of their project work.


This seems to be about the endowment - That's not the same as normal donations, and they can't just "use it", they can basically only use the interest of that money, from what i understand.

Disclaimer: Used to work for wikimedia, once upon a time, don't anymore.


The article mentions both the endowment ($100M) and also WMF's funds on hand ($300M?). So the main point is still valid.

Wikipedia's fundraising strongly implies that they need your $3 to keep the site online.

WMF has $400M which would be enough to keep the site online for up to 40 years with no further donations.

Thus, their fundraising is misleading and deceptive. I bet 9 in 10 donators won't donate if they knew WMF has $400 million in the bank -- isn't it morally wrong if you paint a deceptive picture of your finances?


I think you have those numbers reversed. According to the article (I presume its accurate), the endowment total is $300M [including funds from multiple years], and the fundraising total so far this fiscal year is $142M (I assume that's gross, fundraising has costs).

The majority of Wikimedia's money goes to software development, not keeping the lights on. I think there are definitely reasonable criticisms that could be made about WMF's priorities and efficiencies (Not to mention how its situation is conveyed in the fundraising campaign), but I struggle to see a world where WMF spends the absolute bare minimum to keep the lights on, with no further funding to new software development, and Wikipedia is still a success.

Disclaimer: used to work there, don't anymore.


> The majority of Wikimedia's money goes to software development, not keeping the lights on

The majority of the money goes to grants (because they don't even know what to do with it internally), followed by fundraising and brand building ("advancement" and "communications") which has the largest staff numbers. Then lawyers, and technology staff and contractors are a distant fourth...

> a world where WMF spends the absolute bare minimum to keep the lights on, with no further funding to new software development, and Wikipedia is still a success

I 'member back in 2005-2008 that was the state of the world. WMF paid Brion Vibber and the bandwidth bills and Brion kept the lights on. It was the most successful time for Wikipedia with massive growth and recognition.


This is almost exactly backwards. Half of the staff work on tech. https://wikimediafoundation.org/role/staff-contractors/

2005-2008 was extraordinary from this standpoint, no question. A reminder of what a small group can accomplish with a vision that brings together a community ready to rewrite the world, from the ground up if need be.


The WMF has refused to state how the endowment is stuctured, so we have no proof that they cannot dip into the principle whenever they feel the need/want.

Users have tried asking for clarification. Multiple times: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Guy_Macon/Wikipedia_has_C...


I dont think your link really supports what you're saying. One user speculating on a user space page (what amounts to essentially a personal blog) is not the same as actually asking for clarification, and it definitely isn't a large group of users asking for such, as your use of plural would imply.

Which isn't to say nobody has ever asked, im sure someone has at some point, just that's not supported by your link.


I use the plural because I know there is more than one editor (Guy) who cares about this, if only because there is also myself. I know there is more than that, however, because of the discussion pages (a sampling of which is linked below) regarding this.

The page itself is a starting point. If you want the meat of the community discussion, here's direct links:

* The original "Signpost" op-ed, a curated meta newspaper of which the user-page is merely a constantly-updated copy of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2...

* Requests to the WMF for clarifcation:

https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_Board_n...

https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_Board_n...

https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Talk:Wikimedia_Endowment#How...?

etc, etc, etc. You get the point.

This is a huge rabbit hole and I didn't want to be accused of "Gish galloping" by linking all this at the top.


> they can basically only use the interest of that money

That's even more of a problem if you do not support such scheme to extort money from the working classes.


I don’t understand the hate here. Wikipedia clearly states that the point of donations is to create an endowment. They need to get enough money for their principal to generate enough money to ensure the project can live even in case of black swan events. [1]

They are still a long way from being independent from donors given their growth in projects, paid contributors (employees) and therefore expenses.

If you don’t agree with their governance or even specific ways they spend their money, stop donating, it is not like they are forcing you. You can even write an article an share it but don’t try to take shortcut like I feel it is done here. Money is a necessary ressource to survive, and if an entity have a lot of capital or spend plenty on projects or useful human ressources doesn’t imply evilness.

[1] : https://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/endowment.asp


> Wikipedia clearly states

Where? This thread is the first time I remember reading about this, and I've seen a lot of Wikipedia beg-nags. They moved from outrageously deceptive messages that strongly implied that the lights would go out without my donation and that the donations were used to keep Wikipedia alive "for another year" [1], to slightly more vague "keep Wikipedia online and growing" [2] banners.

Never did I see those banners mention an endowment.

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/2012v201...

[2] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/Mob-lg-s...


They would have an overfunded endowment if they didn't match their spending to their fundraising


Related threads:

Wikipedia Has Cancer (2017) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21699011

Wikipedia doesn't need your money (2012) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4946912


The author linked the report: https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/200...

I know it's from 2018 and maybe something changed, but: they took $115M. They paid $90M in costs, including $38M in salaries and <$1.7M to officers. Look at Part IX. You have all expenses listed. If you run any company ever, you know it adds up pretty quickly. Like other benefits to employees are $5M, pension plan is $1M, and payroll tax is $2M. They had $138M in assets, but only $64M invested in public stocks, and they took $2M from it, which is like 0.03% indicating they held some treasury bonds. So in absolute numbers, it seems big, but when you analyze it, it looks normal.

Imagine you just hire a techy support staff. Let's assume you only need 50 people, each making $100k to operate a global website in all timezones. That's probably like $140k total costs per employee (healthcare, benefits, payroll, all sorts of taxes). You need 50*140k=$7M/yr. Assume you buy AT&T stock with 6% dividend. You need $120M of assets to get $7M. There is no safety here, and also my calculation doesn't include maybe like 5% increase in costs per year.

I often wonder how could I create a fully self-sustainable non-profit: the one, that doesn't require begging for money and wasting time every year. Instead, the one that could operate independently. To make this happen, you pretty much have to invest the money very, very well, and diversify to the point where the yield is low, yet high enough to hire staff etc. (an example of sustainable donation is present in the Thorp's "A man of all markets" wrt. his endowment to UCI math department) For this you must have a pile of money, if you do the math, and it'd make perfect sense for Wikipedia.

Unless they shrink, lay people off and optimize, they'll need $2B to be fully self-sufficient and sustainable. Otherwise, the fundraiser will need to bring $100M/yr at least.


A non profit shouldn't be setup forever. It should have a cushion and other than that it should keep providing enough value to society that people keep contributing. Creating an endowment is saying that even if in the future nobody thinks what they do is valuable and stops donating, they'll still be able to keep going. Why?


> But keeping Wikipedia online is a task that the WMF could comfortably manage on $10 million a year

This part is disingenuous and bordering on malicious. The linked email (https://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikimedia-l/2013-March...) has so much more nuance, and in typical fashion a single number from it is taken completely out of context to push a certain narrative. It is also an estimate from almost a decade ago.

Wikimedia's finances are audited and published every year. Here's the latest one from 2019-2020 - https://wikimediafoundation.org/about/annualreport/2020-annu.... They had $120M in donations and $9M in other revenue for the year. Expenses were $112M. That isn't even close to the buffer that the article implies. The foundation's total current assets (~$160M) would keep their sites running for <2 years, and maybe a few more with major operational cuts. Why on earth shouldn't they fundraise more?


The expenses for operating Wikipedia.com would be around $10m. Their $112M expenses include the sky high executive compensation, money sent to the fund, millions spent on fundraising itself, and financing a host of programs not directly related to Wikipedia.

I stopped donating because of this - definitely want to contribute to keeping Wikipedia online, I don’t necessarily want to give my money to a larger foundation running all kinds of other projects and wielding that cash as a political tool.


Wikipedia is not a dot-com. And their executive compensation is hardly "sky-high"; it amounts to a FAANG middle manager's salary, for a positive impact on the world that's easily as high as that of any FAANG.


For others interested in this, Wikimedia salaries are all public [0].

[0] https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_salarie...


Chief of Community Engagement

Chief Community Officer

Chief Talent and Culture Officer

Chargée d'affaires

Chief Global Development Officer

Chief Creative Officer

Chief Communications Officer

Chief Revenue Officer

VP of Strategic Partnerships

55 million USD in annual salary expenses seems a bit high, even more so for a non-profit. I have seen startup unicorns spend less on salaries. I think there really needs to be some scrutiny into how funding is being spent.

Looking at the list of execs there I really have to question what role they play and how their compensation is justified. It's not just their individual salary either. At their level they have entire organizational hierarchies working under them and the collective salaries can add up. What precisely are they contributing to the movement?

I can't imagine the kind of things Wikipedia needs to do that needs such roles. These guys should be focusing on product and tech primarily. They have a solid product which hasn't changed in years and a strong brand. They have a singularly unique and special thing in this world and need to protect it as sacred. They need to focus on maintaining and scaling this system for eternity instead of experimenting and branching offshoots into community engagement, strategic partnerships, ambassadoring and all that crap.


For a second I thought that someone in Wikimedia is getting a 55M salary. But no, we're talking about one person earning 375k and a bunch of ~200k. The 55M is for the total ~450 employees. It's really far from outrageous.

Sure, some of these positions sound a bit surprising. But, having checked just the last one, it existed only for a part of 2016. So, eh, what's your point again?


Much of this stuff is needed in some form. It's the kind of things that random Internet volunteers don't do well. And with the unique opportunity that Wikimedia has of establishing the broader free-knowledge and free-content movement as a leading force in global education, I think we should be happy that significant resources are being used to pursue this strategic goal.


It’s a community-edited encyclopedia with thousands of contributors and billions of users, I feel like community engagement is very central to that. Global development also seems central to scaling their core product. Communications is likewise no surprise for an organization of their scale and global importance.

Obviously there’s a debate to be had about what and how much Wikipedia should engage in other ventures but even for their core work a lot of these roles seem pretty reasonable...


"Let's just do the one thing we've always been doing, that will surely work forever" said Kodak, manufacturers of carburetors, Blockbuster, GM, I don't know, Sears, and many others. The road to stagnation and eventual failure is littered with their corpses.

The ones that made it through were specifically the ones that embraced and prepared for change, by running parallel long-shot projects and branched out from doing whatever they were doing before.


In my youth, my parents spent quite a bit of money on a Funk & Wagnal's encyclopedia set. I do not regret my $20 donation, as I've received far more in return.

However, this seems like excessive marketing for an organization that does not produce a physical product (unlike Funk & Wagnal's).

I have seen less online criticism of WikiPedia accuracy of late; perhaps this is the result of the marketing dollars. If true, it is good, but it could likely be done with marketing efforts a fraction of the size.


As someone who worked in a sandwich shop to survive while going to college($7.5/hr, 30 hrs/week), I can't imagine the universe some people live in where an income of $375,000 doesn't seem sky high. It's like there is a section of people who live in a different world.

I understand that it isn't much for an executive, but then that stuns me even more.

Edit: median US salary is around $70k. This executive's pay is over 5x median income. Those who say it's not a lot are disconnected from the way that most people in the country and the world live.


On the same HN front page there has _just_ been a "senior developer drunk post", where a guy was complaining that full stack developers are being paid peanuts, and they deserve a compensation of at least 500k USD—and the comments were cheering "amen to that".

I don't understand anything about US IT salaries anymore.


The $500K developer trope is getting out of control. The truth is that there are a small number of companies in a small number of locations paying those high salaries to a small number of highly talented developers. Once you enter that bubble it can feel like everyone around you is earning the same amount and therefore you can’t understand why everyone else in the US isn’t doing the exact same thing.

In reality, the number of developers making $500K is relatively small. Even in California, the median developer compensation is a fraction of that. FAANG companies can have admission rates that are more selective than Ivy League universities, and they don’t even hire in most cities in the US.

This causes a lot of compensation confusion and anxiety for young people who grow up reading HN comments and snarky Reddit posts when their first job offers don’t come anywhere near the $300K to $500K range that they read about online. It also causes a lot of grief for developers who think they’re overworked and underpaid because it seems like everyone on HN casually acts like $500K is the going rate for being able to spin up a React project.


"there are a small number of companies in a small number of locations paying those high salaries to a small number of highly talented developers"

Are they really that talented, or are they just good at whiteboarding algorithm questions that they almost never actually use on the job?


A PhD and being good at whiteboarding (I've started algorithmic challenges at around 10yo) got me a L3 job. Which levels.fyi values at a total of $190k, but in my location was actually around €100k. Anything above that, you have to show something more valuable than coding on a napkin.


It’s a myth that whiteboarding problems are the only criteria used in FAANG interviews. Being able to complete coding challenges is necessary but not sufficient for getting one of these jobs.

These companies that spend $300K or more on their developers aren’t keen on keeping under-performers around, either.

The idea that you can bluff your way into a FAANG job by memorizing enough LeetCode problems yet by somehow remaining an under qualified programmer is a myth.


Ok, I'll bite, please tell me what makes your average FAANG hire so much better than the rest.


> FAANG companies can have admission rates that are more selective than Ivy League universities

I've heard this comparison before, but I'm not sure how meaningful it is because the Ivies charge an application fee. There isn't much cost to applying to FAANG and hoping for the best.


Oh, but US IT salaries are very easy to understand!

They're too high, though not high enough.

We've become the new priesthood. People who complain that sacrificing one calf to us each year would do well to be reminded that we're not demanding one child per year.



Spot on!


Probably not the same people writing comments, but also I think everyone has a bias towards being told people with their job should be paid more :-)


That’s a joke. $200k is a high developer salary if you ignore the TC amounts thrown around which are due to stocks popping in the past 3 years.


There are 3 or 4 non-tech or semi-tech people around every dev in most operations. It is easy to make the case that the devs are worth at least 5x and great ones worth 10x


I don't understand why people are downvoting you.

I am from Brazil, mentioned in the article. I see wages of 60k USD year as a dream job (by the way, if you need a C or Lua dev, and don't want me to relocate to an expensive place to live, I am for hire, for that price tag, I really need it. I currently make around 11k USD year)


I am from Brazil, I've been working remotely for US companies for 4+ years. Here's some advice: Open an EIRELI type of company (not a MEI), find a job that give you equity as a person and a salary as a company contractor. Ask for no benefits. Should not be that hard to find a job, since US pays so much. You will have to setup yourself health insurance and other stuff, so don't go for 60k, as there will be taxes involved too. Ask for 80k minimum because of all that.


I survived by doing landscaping and construction labor. You really know you're earning your nickels and dimes in the Florida summers when you work those jobs. Imaging a universe where people make $500k+ is pretty easy. I mean, let's be serious for just a minute. This is a tech focused community. Programming, IT, computer science, you didnt really get into this line of work because of the glamour, the guaranteed spot in line to heaven, or because a Thumbs Up equals a bag of rice to someone in need. Beginning at late Genx to early millennial, you're in this for the money. Gates, Dell, Jobs, and the other early titans are why you're in this. You wanted that and you know it. Now, the tech community is riddled with anxiety, depression and disillusionment all due to the golden handcuffs dilemma. Or just not quite cut out for the industry and not accepting that fact. Other industries at least are self aware enough to see the handcuffs and shortcomings. You're just better at lying to yourself than a stockbroker lying to the SEC. Being surprised that someone in tech wants a high 6 figure paycheck is like being surprised a bottle of Snake Oil doesn't cure cancer. Just stop and grow up.


I'm in tech because I enjoy it. There's something fun about programming - it's similar to the logic puzzles I play in my own time. If we're on HN, probably on a bank holiday for most of us, then I assume if you read this you enjoy it too. I don't know anyone who got into tech for the money - much easier to earn more in IB/Quant Trading.


I can only second this. I entered software because I enjoyed making things with little computing devices. It was unlocking many new possibilities compared to a non-IT job that I could never do otherwise, since we had not much resources in our disposal.


Have you considered the possibility that there are those who were drawn to that screen, and making it do what they want, at very young age, and never lost that sense of wonder and accomplishment when it did?

I do think that the sky high salaries are ridiculous compared to societal contributions of, say, a nurse or a teacher. But I also like very much that I get them for doing a job that I still do with a small on my face.


As someone who has been through school I would like to dispute the average teacher having any "societal contribution".


I used to write computer programs on the toilet when I was in primary school, using an old thinkpad my dad got for cheap when his work upgraded to newer models, and a $5 copy of vba5 from a garage sale. My pride and joy was a reader I built for my downloaded webcomics collection, which I coloured lime green in a rebellion against all known UX principles. At some point someone gave me $10 for making a bootable cdrom that opened a webpage, back when computers executed arbitrary code when you inserted external media, but until university that was the full extent of my income.

I got into this line of work because it's fun. It's still fun. If I didn't get paid I'd do it for free, although "it" would be lime green hobby projects rather than the productive and tasteful work people employ me to do.


There definitely are a lot of people moving into computer science for the money, but there are also many people doing it because they enjoy solving the problems. I would argue the people who deserve the high salaries, the "10x" engineers, are more often the latter than the former and the rest just gets dragged along.

Personally I recently quit my high paying industry job and moved to an engineering heavy PhD position (HPC), because I enjoy solving complex problems.


>Beginning at late Genx to early millennial, you're in this for the money.

Huh, this is interesting, maybe in some areas of America? But broadly speaking... Outside of America, no. Take a look at even senior dev salaries in Canada.

They're equivalent to master's of social work positions, oftentimes less. Having had education and work experience in both social work and computer science, I can tell you that if you want a stable, low-stress job that requires an "easy" degree, that MSW degree will serve you far better.

Not to mention that remote work is still rare. So that 90k senior AI research job, requiring a Phd at the Autodesk office in Toronto is... not great. Most computer scientists I know are happy with being middle class and just really enjoy the subject matter. Maybe this is rare in your area of the world?


I see you got downvoted, but I created this throwaway because I wanted to respond, because salary is not the same depending on where you live. Mine is an extreme case, but it is a real case:

I am a software engineer who used to live in the Bay Area but now live in Europe. In my country, my family is living off of a salary of 30000 (Euros, or about 36k USD). (This is my wife's salary, I'm not currently working). Our income officially puts us below the poverty line, so we pay 0% in income taxes.

With this 30k, about 50% goes to housing, about 1/6 goes to special needs schooling for one of my two children (they both need it, but the younger one's school is currently free), and the remaining 1/3 is for food and bills and misc. expenses.

We own a small, fuel efficient car that my wife drives while I bike or take public transportation. Our entire apartment runs on an average of 250W (servers, laptops, cell phones, electric stove) because everything is energy efficient. (LED lighting, double-pane windows, good applicances) We pay 10 euros a month for gigabit internet, 200+ channels, and unlimited calling to 150+ countries.

We live comfortably in a large (100 m^2) four bedroom apartment in a safe neighborhood (working class, but nice). We eat well, we can afford to go to restaurants occasionally, and even take the occasional vacation.

While we're not currently saving any money, because we have money saved up, we're not living hand to mouth, even though "technically" we are.

If we wanted to return to San Francisco, the budget would look something like this:

    * 60k Schooling for both kids
    * 60k Four bedroom apartment or split home
    * 30k Food, car, bills
Once you convert that to pre-tax in SF, you're looking at about 300,000 USD gross, just to maintain the same standard of living. That's a greater than 8x disparity in cost of living, mainly because of the social net here.


Just to be clear, ~$70k is the median household income. The median individual income is about $50k for full-time employees [1].

Of course, this only makes your point even stronger.

[1] https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/wkyeng.pdf


> Those who say it's not a lot are disconnected from the way that most people in the country and the world live.

I live in Canada. I earn much less than USD $375K/yr. But can we agree that I am very connected with how people live in other parts of the world?

Good. Now let me tell you that were my employer to ask me to move my family to the US, ANYWHERE in the US, I would want way more than $375,000/yr to duplicate the lifestyle we have now.

That’s just how it works when you move from a place with a safety net to one where losing your job could mean certain death.

And in my family’s case, I am not exaggerating: My partner is a cancer survivor. What would we have done if we were living in the US? Hire lawyers to fight with insurance companies for her treatment? What if I was laid off and lost my benefits right when she was diagnosed?

SHUDDER.

Were I to live in the US, I would want to be stinking, immorally rich. It’s the only way to insure yourself against disaster.


What if I was laid off and lost my benefits right when she was diagnosed

She'd go on Medicaid. Anyway, quit watching so much TV. It's just propaganda.


The consensus in civilized countries is that US healthcare is a disaster. If you want to brush all that off as “propaganda,” fine, that’s your business.

But I don’t watch TV. I do things like read HN. Where I recall an essay on the front page a few years back where a wealthy tech founder cashed out and then tried to buy health insurance for their family.

Despite being wealthy, they reported that basically, it was impossible to get insurance that met their needs. They did not say “no problem, the whole family got medicaid.”

Now tell me: How many people in the US had medical bankruptcies last year? How about the year before? Or the year before that?

I’ll let you tell me, since you believe that I only watch propaganda on television, and you believe you have all the answers. What are these medical bankruptcies, if medicaid solves all problems?

Is all this propaganda spread by smug Canadians to boost immigration? I think not, but if you’re prepared to cite some numbers showing that nobody ever loses their home because of cancer or some other major health problem, I’ll gladly read what you share.


It's not high for a software engineer in California.


And I do not see a good reason to give money to a fundation so it can pay such high wages, because California.


That's your choice, and it's fine.


Executives usually do things that millions of much lower paid people could do just as easily... such as attend meetings, give powerpoint presentations, hobnob with other execs over expensive meals, hire and fire people, and give orders and pep talks to their underlings.

Even if they were paid ten times less (or a hundred times less, for execs making millions per year), there'd be lines of people a mile long willing to take their place, and probably do their job just as well if not even better.

Corporate boards and investors are deluding themselves that they need to pay astronomical rates to get people who can do these jobs.


> I can't imagine the universe some people live in where an income of $375,000 doesn't seem sky high

It won't seem so sky-high once your universe also has $4k per month one-bedroom apartments and $2M single-family homes.


I think it was bad wording. Those salaries are sky-high, but they're about average for those kinds of positions.


Any idea if the Wikipedia people getting those salaries are based in the US?


Wikimedia Foundation is headquartered in SF, so probably safe to assume a lot of executives getting those salaries are based there.


So how about moving it somewhere else? What's so particularly encyclopaedic about San Francisco that it has to be based there?


In a large city, with two kids, this is not an extravagant income. It's certainly a very good income, but a position like that deserves good compensation.


"a position like that deserves good compensation"

Why do they deserve that much compensation exactly?

The people who to my mind deserve high compensation are people who are risking their lives to help people, such as firefighters (who are often sadly volunteers and don't get paid anything), front line nurses and doctors, teachers in inner city schools or third world countries, Peace Corps volunteers, etc.

People whose job it is to hobnob with other high-paid execs over expensive lunches and give orders should be at the bottom of the pay ladder, not at the top.


Maybe it's not that much for a single in parent of two wanting a life that's beyond "just comfortable"?


Since they dont have any Sub Coordinate, it seems those C title are basically doing everything themselves.

Edit: I think that Salaries are for Top Executive only. There are 450 [1] in Wikimedia. In the case 55M isn't that much.

[1] https://wikimediafoundation.org/role/staff-contractors/


None of those salaries are high compared to running a private company in a big American city.


Wikipedia is a non-profit foundation. $374k is a pretty damn good salary for a foundation.


If you want to attract the best talents you also need sufficient benefits.

A sense of purpose alone won't let you lodge in cities with high cost of living.

If anything, I dare say running a non-profit usually requires a lot more skills, especially people skills and passion than a tech job.

I'm not sure how it is in the US but in Europe there is this sense of entitlement when you talk to people that because you work at a non-profit you should work for free. If I give my valuable time to contribute to the world at large, I expect to be able to have decent living conditions.


What do they have to do? Their only job is to keep the servers running. Everything else is a task they invented for themselves to earn more money.


beg to us every year.


"If you want to attract the best talents you also need sufficient benefits."

Oh come on! What talent do they need that a million much lower paid people don't have?


How did we go from $400k to “decent living conditions” here?


> If you want to attract the best talents you also need sufficient benefits.

Same line used in defense of corporate board hiring practices, and as in that case, stated without evidence to support the claim.


Anything above 100K is sky-high, and you need to have drunk a lot of the SF kool-aid to think anything else. That the cost of living in SF is so high that a wage like that doesn't cover basic living costs is not because the wages aren't high enough.


Hold on there, cowboy.

100k was maybe "sky high" 20 years ago. 100k in most large cities is not. When your modest house costs $800k USD, a car costs 30k, auto insurance is $1600 a year, groceries are 10k a year (looking at you, Toronto), just how in the hell is 100k "sky high"?

$80k was a decent salary in a mid-size city 15 years ago.

Just because six figures seems like a lot of money to you doesn't mean it's a lot of money.


It's more than twice the median salary. It is quite high.

Upper class income only seem lackluster compared to the perverse 0.1% incomes and the housing bubble.


You are so right. If you live in rural Iowa that's a lot of money. Guess what? Hundreds of millions of people live in cities where housing, transportation and food costs are prohibitively expensive.

You know how many people live in Iowa?


There isn't a housing bubble when the government does everything possible to prevent the bubble from bursting. The median salary in the USA is a joke for people that are without any relatives supporting them financially for a mortgage, that will never afford a decent home that's actually located somewhere desirable and until in they reach their 40s.


Half of people live with less than that joke by definition, and most don't have the privilege to be supported by wealthy relatives, either.


Exactly it's a giant joke and when homes were affordable 30 years ago. So it's ridiculous when people act like wages are too high while ignoring inflation without the ability to afford a home unless the wages match what's needed.


It's bullshit. Call it what it is. When people say that wages are fine they are being disingenuous or they are willfully ignorant.


That salary is enough to sustain a comfortable middle class life and is not sky high. The problem is the ever-increasing wealth gap that has decimated the middle class since the 70s and that everyone else's salaries are gutter-low.


I live in a "large city" (suburbs in a top 10 metro in the US) and $800k gets you a mansion here still. My 3400 sq ft house is worth ~$350k for a "almost new build" (I had it built in 2015) 6 bed / 4 bath, gigabit fiber, swimming pool / soccer field in the community, great schools, shopping, etc..

I'm also a Principal SWE and my salary is well below $200k, though there are years with bonuses, etc.. that I reach $200k


So you live in in an area that have massive urban sprawl and no bounding area driving up the costs (like say San Francisco or Toronto or London). Good for you and your urban sprawl McMansion existence (nothing wrong with it). But just because you can buy a mansion where you live for 800k doesn't mean that for millions of us 1 million dollars will get us a shitty house in a shitty area.


These people could work from anywhere.. especially today that working remote has become the norm, but even if working remote wasn't an option there's no reason they have to live in an expensive city. They could commute, just like most of the rest of us who can't afford to live in rich cities.

Wikimedia is a global foundation, so they don't have to live in the US even.

They could have easily hired someone from a country with a much lower cost of living.


I have ~17 years experience (maybe more) with outsourcing to cheaper countries to "save money". It's never been effective on anything valuable I have worked on. No money was ever saved. Just took more time from those near near the client.


Brilliant idea: cut those costs 10x by moving the staff to Belarus. What can possibly go wrong?


It's still sky-high to most of the world outside the US


It seems that the wealthiest countries also have higher cost of living (for the same level of life). I guess it kinda makes sense in a way.


Yep. This is why I don't leave tips at US restaurants, because the servers' base $3/hour salary is still "sky high" compared to a comparable job in Sri Lanka.

/s


At a US restaurant it's sort-of relevant that the server is in the US. In contrast, when using a website you get 0 benefit from the people building it being in San Francisco.


Not true at all, most Western Europe 100k$ (80k EUR) is barely above average, you'd still be firmly middle class even on two such incomes, sky high would be at least twice that much.


80k annually works out to 6700 EUR/m

If Wikipedia(1) is semi-accurate, no (ZERO) major European county surpasses this. Not even Switzerland which clocks in at 70k EUR. And that's average, the mean is even lower due to skew by those making top money.

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_European_countries_by_...


Mean and average are the same thing. You might be referring to the median instead.


Yes, thanks.


In Europe that nets you about 50-60% after mandatory pension, health insurance and income tax. You listed net incomes. 6.7 gross will be >4k net

And slap 20-25% VAT on top.

That money is really not that much, a generalist MD would make that for eg.


I specifically linked to gross income, it's 5882 EUR/m in Switzerland according to Wikipedia, or 70.5K EUR annually. Germany is 48k EUR gross, around 30k net.


Sorry it scrolled up for me.

To be considered sky high in my book you need to be actually rich - able to afford luxuries such as own a luxury home, driving a premium car, be able to rent a yacht for a vacation - you need to be making >150k for your income to be noteworthy, otherwise you're just doing well off - higher middle class.

Sorry but there's nothing sky high about earning 80k EUR per year and living in London, Zurich, Oslo, Amsterdam, Munich, etc. you barely stand out, especially if you socialise with other college educated workers, you're probably the norm or below it for career people.


This is absolute bogus. Here's [1] data from 2019. With about 3500 Euros net income (works out to about 75k before tax if you're single) You're in the top 10% _of all households_. With two times that (so two e.g. a household of two people earning 80k) you'd be in the top 1%.

[1]: https://www.iwkoeln.de/fileadmin/user_upload/HTML/2019/einko...

PS: Data is for Germany.


I'm sure 100k is a lot in rural Alabama as well. How about giving numbers for say Munich[1] ?

> Also from the diagram, 75% of the population are earning less than 10,400 EUR while 25% are earning more than 10,400 EUR.

If 25% of the city is making more money than you you are not rich by any definition.

I have friends living in Munich, friend is a SW engineer, makes 75k, his wife has her own business so I'm not sure how much she makes, they are very much middle class lifestyle and can't afford to live in the wealthy areas.

Sorry to burst your bubble but you're not rich if you make 80k/year, you're just (maybe upper) middle class, even in EU.

[1] http://www.salaryexplorer.com/salary-survey.php?loc=982&loct....


I personally live in Hamburg, one of the most expensive cities in Germany, and I've yet to see a developer salary above 90k. Juniors enter around 40k, seniors get around 60-90k depending on experience. That's not to say that salaries beyond 100k don't exist, but they're extremely rare.

Edit: Also it's completely unclear to me how this point relates to your initial gross misrepresentation of compensation in western Europe.


What's my gross misrepresentation ? I said making 80k is not noteworthy at all (we are discussing CEO/exec compensation here not casheer salaries), you just agreed with me.

OP suggested that 100k$/year not being noteworthy is a uniquely SV/US thing - it is not. Any place worth living in Europe will take that much to live comfortably (note. 100k USD = 80k EUR)


I like how y'all are arguing over what a vague term actually means. "Sky high" isn't actually anything specific and it's rather relative. Reading through the thread, almost everyone has their own definition for 'sky high'.


What? In Germany an income of 80k EUR will put you into the top 10% of all earners, so you will be upper class. Especially on two such incomes.


> In Germany an income of 80k EUR will put you into the top 10% of all earners, so you will be upper class.

Upper middle class maybe. People in the upper class don't need to work.


No, upper class if you go by the definition of the German Economic Institute [0].

[0] https://www.iwkoeln.de/en.html


You just prove my point - top 10% is not sky high ? It's what you would expect for a professional in demand. And unless you have savings that income puts you in upper middle class, you can afford a nice lifestyle, but you won't be buying any luxury cars or high end homes.

Sky high is at least top 1%. Maybe top 5% in high income areas.

In Eastern Europe you begin to approach this at 80k.


At 11 years of engineering experience I am getting `66K` annual salary in Berlin.

But rent is getting crazy here, a 60 sqm apartment will cost you 1300+ utility.


You have no idea what you’re talking about. Average salaries in WE are 25-40k.


For what casheers and janitors ? I'm talking about highly skilled professionals. If your making 80k you're making an average in that group, it's certainly not sky high


A junior engineer (with a Masters) in most of western Europe makes 30-40k€/year before taxes. After 10 years, he'll make 50-70k€/year.


If you have a masters, >3 years of experience and aren't making 50-70k in Wester Europe, you either don't put emphasis on your career, or you need to switch jobs and work on your negotiation skills.


In Germany and Scandinavia maybe. In France, Spain, Italy, etc, this is normal.

For example here [1] you can see some reliable statistics for France, see page 2 (it's in French but the plots are easy to understand). The median salary (annual before taxes) when starting is 35k€, and roughly increases by 1800€/year. So it only reaches 40k€ after 3 years. It reaches 50k€ after 8 years only.

Also all engineers have Masters in continental Europe. You can't be an engineer without one. It's nothing special.

[1] https://www.iesf.fr/offres/doc_inline_src/752/IESF_Synthese_...


Sorry I assumed we're talking about Software Engineering here, I accept your point.

But Italy and Spain aren't really what I would consider Western Europe, they are the less developed parts and I admit I have no experience with France and know nobody who works there.


So... The UK is not part of EU, and you're not counting Italy and Spain, and don't know anybody in France so can't speak for that country... Yet you're arguing for western EU salaries...? I can only sense you having some knowledge of Germany from your comments.


I would consider UK part of the developed Western Europe for sure and salaries in London are low for standard of living in that city. Zurich is even more insanely expensive.


> But Italy and Spain aren't really what I would consider Western Europe

Yeah, well, you're American, right?

You really are living up to it in many ways.


No I'm Croatian, lived across EU, back home remoting now. Italy and Spain are not considered developed western Europe (neither is Portugal for that matter) it's not geographic, for example you often include Scandinavian countries in that bunch even if it's not geographically correct, so is Switzerland, their standard of living (Italy/Spain) is a tier below. Eastern Europe is a tier below that. Maybe it's a Croatian colloquialism since they are all west of us but I heard it used many times in other countries as well.


I’m in the area you consider “Western Europe” and can reaffirm that a €40k salary is the norm. The only people making €80k+ are working for startups or big tech and that’s a tiny slice of the job market. The average director at a successful company here earns €100-120k.


Median income in the UK is just over £30k (about 35k EUR)


We're on hacker news. What is the median for people in UK that that do what we do?


Honestly, not that much higher...i think? I'm a data science person so not dev, but feel like salaries above 65k or so not hugely common?


£44k according to the April 2020 release of the Annual Survey for Hours and Earnings by the Office for National Statistics.

That is the figure for "programmers and software development professionals", anyway.


And London ?


WTF does that have to do with anything? Isn't this whole discussion about how the WMF shouldn't be based in the fricking most overpriced city they can find?


Yeah you're going to get amazing executive candidates in Wales for eg., background in sheep herding and farm management will translate to running Wikipedia quite nicely I think.


> When your modest house costs $800k USD, a car costs 30k, auto insurance is $1600 a year, groceries are 10k a year (looking at you, Toronto)

How did you get these costs? You can get a French Chateau with that much money. https://www.prestigeproperty.co.uk/french-chateau-for-sale-2...


In Toronto (and I mean Toronto proper, not an hour's commute away), a modest house is easily over 1,000,000, and prices are only climbing.


An hour from Toronto houses are close to a million dollars. I am 30 km from the financial district. I live in a modest house in a modest neighbourhood. My house would list for around 900k and there would be a bidding war.

I paid $340k for this house 13 years ago. I thought that was far too expensive but I didn't have a choice.


Which came first, the high cost of living or the sky high tech salaries.

I would guess that they co-evolved in a vicious cycle of inflation. But I know very little of economics.


The high cost of living is the outcome of sky-high productivity in the relevant industry, plus congestion (e.g. lack of new housing) that makes it impossible for the industry to grow in place. That's how local people become a scarce factor and their compensation gets inflated.


Maybe a foundation that begs for donations from everyone in the world (even these who make $3/h) and pretends that they are going to go bankrupt without your donation should not be giving its management FAANG wages.


FWIW Wikimedia salaries linked by bomdo in reply are all topped by entry level from https://www.levels.fyi/?compare=Facebook,Amazon,Google&track...

At entry level you typically manage a two-pizzas sized team in one fairly limited domain. "Have this desk and a bunch of people, figure out how to run a worldwide wiki" would be a typical senior manager/director assignment (a.k.a. middle management).

If we set aside an argument about IT salaries fairness, I think people at Wikimedia deserve some thanks for taking a salary cut to undeniably make a difference on the world.


Who decides of the compensation?


The last person to edit the page, of course! ;)


The list linked by a sibling seems to top out at mid 300s, many FAANG ~2 YoE SWE make around that much.


I was expecting to see semi-outrageous, border line unjustifiable executive salaries after reading this comment and clicking on the direct link below.

I guess there's a chance that executive compensation went up significantly after 2018, but nothing I saw looks out of place for an organization as large as Wikipedia. ~300k for a San Fransisco-based CEO and an average salary of ~120k for all employees employees seems fairly reasonable to me.


What exactly is that CEO doing for that money? What important strategic decisions are there to make at Wikipedia? Why do they have to be San Francisco based?

The annual real median personal income in the US in 2019 was $35,977[0], how can anyone think that $120k isn't a lot? Why should people around the world donate their hard earned money so that some employees in America can have Silicon Valley salaries?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_income_in_the_United_...


This is insane - are you arguing the Wikipedia should hire cheaper developers because they are a non-profit? Why stop there - why shouldn't Wikipedia fully cut corners and hire a body shop in a 3rd world country to build the site that millions of people use.

wikipedia SHOULD be paying competitve salaries so that their best and brightest don't leave to join tire-fire companies like Facebook. I don't know why you think someone working at Wikipedia shouldn't be paid a competitive salary if they work there; if not they will go work for Facebook and the world slowly loses out on an incredible resource while companies like FB get stronger because of misaligned thinking.

You are disparaging a CEO for making 350k/year for one of the highest trafficked sites in the world. For perspective, Zuckerberg's net worth places him at an effective salary of 3B/year (his current net worth divided by his age), nearly 10,000x of the guy you are saying is getting paid too much and potentially driving employees away from.

If your problem is the median personal income you don't solve that by trying to reduce the CEO of wikipedia's salary. Focus on that - it's your kind of attitude (why should a burger flipper get paid $15/hr) that is actually suppressing wages in this country.


> hire a body shop in a 3rd world country

This is a good question. Why shouldn't Wikipedia hire developers from 3rd world countries? It sure shows donation banners there. And there isn't anything magical about US developers and anything special about building sites for millions of people. Expertise is there, often used by US companies, salaries are not.


Wikimedia hires developers from all over the world. Although the pay scale is adjusted for cost of living, the lowest salary band is still much higher than the average salary of other companies hiring in, for example, a lower-income area of the Midwest US.


> are you arguing the Wikipedia should hire cheaper developers because they are a non-profit?

> You are disparaging a CEO for making 350k/year for one of the highest trafficked sites in the world

The root of the question is: what determines compensation at companies? FAANG and SV startups are able to offer huge salaries not because they are "the highest trafficked sites in the world". It's because they rake in billions of dollars in revenue, by monetizing their users, and/or because they are VC-funded. If that wasn't the case, their employees' -- and certainly their executives' -- salaries would not be this high.

When your company makes billions of dollars a year, and you can make the case to your board that you can increase or maintain that number, that's when your salary becomes high -- when the tradeoff to shareholder value between paying you a lot of money and the company making a lot of money tips your way. You don't just automatically get a high salary for running (or working in) a large company, if that company does not make this much money.

The WMF is a nonprofit. It does not make any money aside from donations. When running its donation campaigns, it does so from the perspective of keeping internet knowledge alive, rather than saying "we think it's important to keep ourselves in the top 10% worldwide salary bracket". It's absoluetly fair to say that they need to raise a certain amount of money in order to keep the foundation going, and in order to maintain and develop it. But saying that it's "insane" to argue that a nonprofit should not be able to compete against a multi-billion dollar organization salary-wise is... strange?

Most of the world's companies, startups or otherwise, in fact can't afford SV salaries, and so they look elsewhere -- there are many, many great developers, executives, and other folks around the world (and in the US, outside of SV) who work for less than FAANG salaries. This doesn't meant they aren't well-compensated, it just means that maybe they don't live in SV, and that yes, it's possible that FAANG will poach some of them. That's just something you have to live with when you don't make infinite amounts of money, like 99% of the world's companies.

> For perspective, Zuckerberg's net worth places him at an effective salary of 3B/year ...

For perspective, Facebook's revenue was about $85B last year. Using the world's fifth-richest person, who heads a fortune 150 company that is the F in the only five-lettered FAANG acronym that's frequently used as the barometer for high salaries, "for perspective", is also strange. The only perspective that Zuckerberg's salary offers is "what does the top 0.1% of the top 0.1% make?"

> it's your kind of attitude (why should a burger flipper get paid $15/hr) that is actually suppressing wages in this country

It's disingenuous at best to connect a nonprofit's executive staff making large salaries with raising the minimum wage. In fact, that's precisely the discrepancy that is making folks talk about the salaries at WMF: the foundation is soliciting donations from the folks making $15/h in order to pay its CEO $300k+ a year.


>The root of the question is: what determines compensation at companies?

So let's say I start a company selling cars. I decide to sell my cars for $1. It's a terrible business model, and I don't make much money. So according to you, because my company makes no money, I should be allowed to pay my staff way under market. This doesn't make sense to me, despite being obviously illegal.

The amount of money you paid for labor is decided by a market. Just because I have a horrible business model of giving away cars for free does not entitle to me to underpay for labor. And conversely, if I am a good engineer working for Wikipedia, and FB offers me a much better paying job, I will probably jump ship to FB. Employee retention is a problem for any company.

Now I'm not saying Wikipedia is completely justified in paying the exact same pay grade as FAANG, but it's ridiculous to me that there are so many tears about an executive member of Wikipedia making the same amount of money as a middle manager at Facebook. We are not even comparing directors, we are comparing rank & file to the CEO of another company and people still have a problem with it.

>It's disingenuous at best to connect a nonprofit's executive staff making large salaries with raising the minimum wage

I don't see how the argument is different. I don't think engineers working at Wikipedia should make 300k because they work at Wikipedia. I don't think cashiers working at McDonalds should make $15/hr because they work at McDonalds. You are removing the value of their work simply based on where you think their social status should be,


It has little to do with social status, and everything to do with your implicit assumption that SV salaries are the tech world's equivalent of minimum wage. In reality, SV salaries are the highest in the tech world, not the lowest. Not paying SV salaries is not equivalent to "paying your stuff under market", because SV is not the market -- it's the highest-paying corner of the market.

The better analogy here is GoldBurger, which is a very successful burger chain that sells gold-plated $200 burgers and pays its employees $100/hr. Would it then be reasonable for my local mom-and-pop burger joint, where the most expensive burger costs $5, to compete with GoldBurger on salary? Would the cashiers making only $20/hr at my local joint be paid "way under market" just because GoldBurger exists?

The fact that GoldBurger exists and can create very well-paying jobs for its cashiers doesn't mean that suddenly the entire base of the market rises up to match it. It just means that, all else being equal, it's entirely possible that potential employees will go with GoldBurger rather than my local joint, if given the choice, and the local joint will have to hire other folks. If every burger joint was like GoldBurger, my local joint would be in trouble. But that doesn't tend to be the case, and it isn't the case in the tech world, either.


I think it's absolutely great that Wikipedia is able to pay competitive salaries in a good location. It's probably one of the reasons why they can run such an amazing site. I consider my donations well spent.


The average software developer salary in Germany is €50 000 per year, just to take one western country as an example. I doubt Wikipedia would be much worse with European developers. American IT salaries are not the norm, and they're a bit insane. When your budget consists of donations, I think it's disrespectful to spend it on frivolous things like San Francisco salaries.

The average programmer salary in Sweden is $50 000. Why should I donate to people who earn more than twice my salary?


If you pay average salary you get average work (or below).

Good programmers in Germany do not work for €50.000. I'm based in Iceland and do contract work for German companies, and I assure you none of the people I work with are even close to €50.000. Perhaps because they're not average but good.

Here in Iceland €50.000 might possibly get you a recent graduate. Myself, I wouldn't hire a programmer at that low pay though, graduate or not. A couple of my friends (good programmers, not "average") who have moved to Sweden and Denmark get similar salaries to what they got up here in Iceland.

Higher salary gets you talented people.


You can pay 100kEUR to a European and get a top 10% developer, or you can pay 100kEUR in the US and get a mediocre one.


In Europe healthcare doesn't eat your salary like in the US.


So why should Wikipedia supporters donate to wildly overpriced American healthcare?


> Why should I donate to people who earn more than twice my salary?

If one look for reasons not to donate, they can always be found by thousands.

I find it beautiful that there is such a site as Wikipedia, that is free and open, and I am happy to contribute a tiny bit to it.


If you go back to the start of this discussion, this is not about not being happy for paying to support Wikipedia. I’d be happy to do that too.

It’s the fact that they are begging for donations while hoarding $300M in cash, and only 5% of your donation goes towards Wikipedia itself. The rest is on the hands of a foundation for them to use at will.


You are not donating to a person. Also, how much does a company CEO make in Sweden typically? Also, how is it relevant? Should every company move to Thailand because it is cheaper there?


That comparison was aimed at the average salary of ~120k for all employees. And maybe there's a middle ground between moving everyone to Thailand and having a non profit operating on donated money based in the most expensive area in the world?


If an existing talent-pool is located there, why exactly should they move? Is a small inefficiency a failing of a non-profit? No company is a perfectly efficient profit-making machine (even though for-profits like to drop morals for profit), why are we feeling tricked by a non-profit wasting some negligible percentage of donations, especially that 100% efficiency is frankly impossible?


What talent pool? Wikipedia is not running any cutting edge tech that requires CS or research talent.

We are feeling tricked because it’s about 5% efficient right now.


"A small inefficiency"?!?

They're paying two to three times as much as they would have to pay anywhere else. That's not a "small" inefficiency, it's a pretty huge one.


I don't know if it's accurate, but several sites have it at 1,908K krona, which is about 230K USD. Add in the sector - I would imagine that tech CEOs earn more, even in Sweden - and cost of living, and 300K USD doesn't really seem that over the top.


Seems like it’s Eurpoean incomes that are insanely low, why not get outraged about that?

Your attitude creates a race to the bottom.


We get by just fine. Education, health care, vacation, parental leave, child care, a house and two cars. What else do you need?

It's not about a race to the bottom, it's the vast differences in pay in the same society. If the median real salary is $35 000, why should a 25 year old web developer make 3X that? Some software engineers act like what they do is so much more important and difficult than what everyone else do, it's a bit disturbing. Of course, people in finance are even worse.


Your POV is one way of looking at it.

Another one is that the companies that we work for make insane profits despite the sky high compensation.

In isolation, without major legislation that depresses those profits too, it at least makes more sense to share the spoils with the shareholders and the employees than with the shareholders alone.

I didn’t think it would happen at the time, but compensation saw a significant jump in the years after the compensation cartel (Apple, Google, Intuit etc.) was broken up.


>Another one is that the companies that we work for make insane profits despite the sky high compensation.

I guess that's at the core of the discussion. Wikipedia isn't seen by many as yet another tech company there to make insane profits.


Well... maybe. But maybe, it is that much more important? Most jobs just add value locally and incrementally.

Software and finance are high-leverage jobs where improvements are instantaneously rolled out to large sections of humanity all at once and the potential change isn't incremental, it's epoch-defining.


As a SWE in the EU who is eyeing the software industry in the US with considerable envy, I would not say we get by just fine, at all.

I don't see how you could afford all the things you mentioned on an average SWE salary in Europe. I have a very much above average SWE salary, and don't seem to be in any danger of getting a house and two cars anytime soon. I rent and don't have any cars, actually.

Healthcare is free, for the bare essentials. I pay a crazy amount per year for (private) healthcare, because the standard, mandatory insurance covers just about nothing of what I actually need. Consider that every month, I pay into the government healthcare system a lump sum which is approximately equivalent to the median salary in my country. This doesn't buy me any benefits - I get the same minimal coverage as everyone else. Socialism at its finest.

I'd be OK with it if the money actually went towards worthy causes. That is not the case, however - I am pretty sure most of the healthcare budget goes towards funding an antiquated, insanely oversized bureaucratic system. There's a whole social class of bureaucrats on the government payroll, who do pretty much nothing at all - you won't find them in the office after 3PM - who collect a meager but secure salary for their utter lack of effort and general uselessness.

More and more, I am jaded by the illusion of a "fairer" society in the EU, which often ends up being just a case of "everyone is guaranteed to get the same low-quality treatment".


A race to the bottom is the natural order of things in a market economy. Society at large benefits from it because the prices of goods and services go down, and less of your money goes towards subsidizing somebody's inflated lifestyle.


Very true. But in this case, SWEs and financiers achieve lower unit cost not through lower salaries, but scaling their value-add to more people


If the employees/CEO live in San Francisco I don't think paying them European salaries will be fair right? They wouldn't be able to afford rent with ~50k range salary. I think your argument makes sense if Wikipedia had been founded/has their HQ in Germany and was paying San Francisco salaries with their donations.


What's to say an online encyclopaedia has to be run from San Francisco?


> It's probably one of the reasons why they can run such an amazing site.

The reason Wikipedia is amazing is the user generated content and community moderation/admin.


Operating a network at the scale of Wikimedia's is no small task. AFAIK, The largest part of the budget goes to maintaining the servers and network (and paying the people who maintain them).

It's also worth noting that many of Wikimedia's staff are remote. I think more of the engineers are based in Europe than in the US and salaries are scaled somewhat based on the cost of living in each employees city/region. Wikimedia salary is almost certainly lower than the big tech companies but still pretty good for a non-profit and the benefits provided are very good if not quite up to the google level of luxury.

Disclosure: I work for the Wikimedia Foundation as a software engineer, however, I don't really know much about the financial details.

Disclaimer: This is just my personal opinion / observation and not representative of my employer.


> AFAIK, The largest part of the budget goes to maintaining the servers and network

It’s like you walked into this discussion without reading any of it. That is precisely the issue - less than 10% of the budget goes towards operating Wikipedia, and they’re still begging for money.


I did read a substantial portion of the discussion before posting. I just don't believe that it's true that less than 10% goes to operating Wikipedia.

Paying for legal staff who defend lawsuits and advocate for legal reforms that matter is part of "operating Wikipedia."

Paying SREs to be on-call for incident response, plus routine upgrades of servers and racking new hardware is all part of "operating Wikipedia."

Absolutely essential parts of operating Wikipedia certainly account for a lot more than 10% of the budget. Sure there is a lot of overhead and I'm sure some expenditures are non-essential. I just can't agree with your assessment. The overhead and excesses are quite certainly nowhere near 90%.


> What exactly is that CEO doing for that money?

Well, managing a company with over a hundred million a year in revenue, for one.


You mean running a non-profit donation machine that funnels $100M to a war chest. Sure as hell takes a lot of work.


When you beg for money I'm not sure you can call that revenue


Ah, ouroboros. :)


"What exactly is that CEO doing for that money"

What is CEO of Twitter doing that CEO of Wikipedia isn't? Why dont we have a discussion of their salaries?

Both are working a job. Enployees are not donating, donors are


The CEO of Twitter has the task of maximising profit for shareholders; he needs to constantly be on the lookout for new opportunities to exploit. Apparently Twitter made a profit for the first time last year.

The CEO of Wikimedia needs to hire and manage maybe 50 people, of whom about 5 need executive pay. I have no idea why Wikimedia needs 500 staff, if they could build the site with a team of 20 or so.

It looks like a gravy train, and it quacks like a gravy train.


How is he doing in finding opportunities, has he found one yet? Whats the most revolutuonary thing they've done in the past five years, increased the character limit?

You cannot possibly be serious, assigning twitter CEO some super demanding nebulous task of 'looking for new opportunities' but somehow downgrading Wikipedia one to that of a middle-manager.

Both websites have a massive audience, both have new intiatives and the ones by wikipedia are actually productive. Both have to deal with attempts at censorship, inappropriate content, and both have to find a place in the rapidly shifting techbology landscape.

This judgement 'if it's charity work then it's easy' comes across as dishonest and presumptios.


I ditn't mean that he deserves his pay; I meant that's what he's paid for. He's paid to make money for shareholders.

The Wikimedia execs are obviously not being paid to boost the bottom line; it's fat enough already. Wikipedia has never failed to cover it's costs. It doesn't need whizz-kids; it needs a few competent managers to make sure things don't completely fall apart.

All the pointless side-projects just mean there's too much money washing around. Those side-projects could end up torpedoeing the main deal. Wikimedia makes enough in a year to set-up an endowment that would guarantee Wikipedia forever. Provided they prune the management tree - not so much because of salary costs, but because all those execs need projects, to prove they're not overpaid.

It's nothing to do with "charity work". It's about maintaining mature code, taking care of the editor community (they're not much cop at that), and buying server racks. You don't need scores of leet execs for that - you just need a handful of competent and responsible administrators.


"All the pointless side-projects just mean there's too much money washing around."

It is your personal judgement, and I violently disagree: if they stagnate, they will either wither and die. FAANGs of this world will eat them, for example by taking snippets from wikipedia and giving nothing back.

It is charity work to spread knowledge, and it has never been as important as it is in the knowledge economy of the 21st century. Do you seriously think that there is nothing to improve, the pinnacle of creation is text format with links? You cannot imagine a more interactive alternative to learn?

Now it's possible that both of us are wrong, and the truth of the matter is something else entirely.

However they are not a public service, and they run their charity in accordance with their vision. If they want to document every dead language and give each poor kid a laptop, people like myself support them, and you don't have to.

Your cost-cutting/management bloat critique comes across as a standardised copy paste of critique you might encounter on "department of highways" or similar public service. It appears to be based off prejudice and assumptions. Not only don't you have that level on knowledge, no-one without a crystal ball could know for sure.


So they should continue the great tactic of outsourcing work to poorer countries and call it a day? How is it good for anyone on Earth? It is a scummy thing whether done by non-profit or for profit company.


They probably need to pay a good salary to be able to hire folks who would otherwise join a FAANG.


Just because the richest most powerful people have convinced you that 120k is a lot of money doesn't mean that it is. Especially in a city.


So don't run Wikipedia from the most expensive place to live on the planet.

Wikimedia doesn't need to recruit top engineering talent; it's now a maintenance project, and it's open-source. Wikipedia content is created by volunteers, and significant editorial decisions are made by admins, who are usually volunteers. These volunteers mainly manage themselves. Most editors have never communicated with a staffer.

This "Tides Trust" is not a proper destination for donor's money. No donor thinks their money will be spent on some random project dreamed up by Tides Trust.

And it seems pretty irregular to me to treat a donation to the Tides Trust as "expenditure". The correct name for that money is "profit".


I was prepared to defend even $1m. $300k is an absolute bargain for a CEO running a $120m organization. There are 25 year olds getting paid that much to fix Jenkins pipelines


So it's good because they're not corrupt? Or why should the company value be related to the compensation you receive?

Like, this claim of "if everyone donated $2..." (or whatever this year's amount is) means they need more than a hundred thousand donations to pay this guy. And then the site is still at zero, getting nothing, that only pays one person at a "non profit".

I'm all for fair compensation but if you dedicate yourself to running a non-profit, getting rich on people's donations (98% of whose money you took earning less than you) is a weird kind of definition of fair.

If people want to get rich, maybe they should go and fix Jenkins pipelines for some adtech company where everyone's clear on what the goal is.


Why do they have to be based in SF? that's wasting the donations' cash.


Exactly. I don't mind a high salary by an average city standard but a high salary by SF standards is unjustifiable. Move to Atlanta or Dallas or Boise, idc


Boise ain’t cheap anymore - our COL may not be Bay Area crazy yet, but they many locals are rapidly being priced out of the area with stagnating wages and 2 bedroom apartments costing $1200/mo and rising fast. Add on our dysfunctional political mess and it’s not worth it anymore unless you’re wealthy and have a “got mine, fuck you” attitude.


The salary aspect is not the worst of it, but the majority of cash that goes to non-Wikipedia funding. For some reason justifying the fairness of a $400k salary gets people more excited than discussing where the other $97 million are going.


> The sky high executive compensation

After looking, I realized that I made more than them at my previous job just being an engineer.


Everyone is focusing on salaries (my mistake to list it first), but really that’s a minor expense and I have no qualms with people being paid market rates in a non-profit.

90%+ of the cash goes to fund the other foundations’ programmes, that’s the core of the issue.


Interesting to see the cultural expectations across business types. Most of the successful management are so grossly overcompensated they cannot humanly imagine the magnitude yet this criticism of a different entity type captures what is an arguably reasonable critical perspective toward compensation. The social contract has become distinctly warped in the States.


I just took a look and laughed-- you think $200-300k for an exec is _high_ ???


People seem to want these foundations to not only spend the absolute bare minimum but also don't like them paying their staff properly or even at all. So many times I've read people grumbling about expenses, only when you work out it out per employee it's completely reasonable for a small business let alone one of the largest brands in the world.


It's about aligned incentives. I worked for a not-for-profit which needed 10 people, but had funds and grew to 100. From there on, it did less with more. The CEO had his headcount and first-class airfares. Beneficiaries turned into cash cows. Etc.

I trust the founders. I don't trust new leadership. That's not specific to Wikimedia.


That's also not specific to non-profits.


I must admit I like the idea of the WMF having a grand vision for the future and raising money for it (and I'm a bit puzzled by the people who want restrict it to where it was 10 years ago). It's their foundation to run, they have big plans, and it you don't like it you can ignore it.

If people feel that they were somehow tricked into their donation, they have instructions on how to request a refund.

It's an interesting thought experiment to consider if Wikipedia didn't exist what would change in the way we learn about and discuss things, especially in these days of fake news etc. Britannica is 75$ per year.


> It's their foundation to run, they have big plans, and it you don't like it you can ignore it.

(Some of) the execs are manipulating people to donate, many of the donors wouldn't have donated, had they known that there was enough money already for Wikipedia.

> If people feel that they were somehow tricked into their donation

Problem is, they are unaware about having been tricked.

They generally don't know about this discussion at HN.


How is it tricked?


The annual donation drive messages dishonestly imply a level of urgency that has never existed. At no point in Wikipedia's history has the project been threatened due to a lack of funds.


> I must admit I like the idea of the WMF having a grand vision for the future and raising money for it

They're not raising money on their vision for the future though. Their fundraising ads imply that if you don't donate then Wikipedia.org will go offline


This is a strawman. People want Wikimedia to do what they think Wikimedia does, which is maintain Wikipedia. That means they think it should take $xmillion per year where x is a number much, much less than 100. If they included in their donation banner that most of your donation goes to shit that you don't care about at all they wouldn't be able to fund whatever their pet projects are.


100% agree with this. It's such a BS narrative. It's like the world wants not for profits to not be able to support staff or to pay them the bare minimum so that at some point the staff go leave for the private sector and rob the organization of its talent/knowledge base. FWIW I don't work for a NFP but both the public sector and NFP world are not well funded enough.

Instead of complaining when a top shelf global organization get paid a reasonable wage in California for the scope of their work maybe focus on how we can redistribute incomes more appropriately.

Also - I am obviously against wasted resources or overly bloated organization or corruption but nothing in this report seems to point anything of that nature. /end mini-rant


People just want them to act responsible. Wikipedia is not a FAANG nor a Profit-Company, so they should not act like one.


> People seem to want these foundations to not only spend the absolute bare minimum but also don't like them paying their staff properly or even at all.

Not at all would have my vote. I would donate for that.


Did you read their article? They mention how money they funnel into the fund is counted as "expenses", as is stuff like hiring 40 people just for fundraising. I have no doubt they could keep the website up and maintained on something of the order of $10m/year.


Because all Wikipedia needs to do is to keep the website up, yes... This sounds pretty much similar with the argument on which the education system gets constantly defunded.


Funding Wikipedia's side projects--like wiktionary--doesn't seem particularly valuable; Wikipedia doesn't spend much money actually improving Wikipedia, and what effort they have put in was spent on things like the "visual editor" project that both their own surveys and studies showed wouldn't actually improve editing.


Wiktionary indirectly supports translation work that benefits Wikipedia, and provides a place to work on non-encyclopedic content that should not be in Wikipedia itself.


> provides a place to work on non-encyclopedic content that should not be in Wikipedia itself

I don't think I agree with you at all here, given that I grew up wanting the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Wikipedia refuses to offer it... seemingly in no small part because the founder of it makes money off of Wikia.

But, I believe regardless: if someone goes to an encyclopedia and is told "this encyclopedia needs your help: it is going to run out of money unless you donate to it", and you take that money to do something that isn't to improve that encyclopedia, that is absolutely unethical, no matter how useful it might be on its own.

> Wiktionary indirectly supports translation work that benefits Wikipedia

This alone might be somewhat fair (though I find it hard to believe, honestly); but, I still challenge whether someone who comes to the website and is shown the current banner would believe their money isn't being flitted away on things that don't benefit the resource they were using, even if it might be "more ethical" to provide better translations.


The Wikia part is a very important point.

At some point in the last 10 years Wikipedia managed to purge as much content as it could about fiction because this was Wikia's turf. There was just an order from above and overzealous mods willing to do the work, even when the content wasn't readily available.

Now the content is in a website that's closed, slow as hell, littered with ads, tracking and autoplaying video.

Maybe Wikia should be the one footing the whole bill for Wikipedia, instead of Wikipedia spending 12% of donation money on fundraisers.


They purged content about fiction because it was pointless cruft, often had no independent references, and was generally indistinguishable from undue promotion/advertising of said fiction. The increased focus on stuff that's neutral and properly verifiable seems to have been good for Wikipedia itself.


Does it "indirectly pay" translators? Or are they in fact volunteers?


Wiktionary is an incredibly useful resource


Well, get this: I agree! As someone who studies linguistics, I find Wiktionary really useful... and yet, it frankly isn't what any of the people who are donating to Wikipedia think their money is being used on, given the banner on their site. It is unethical to ask for money to run Wikipedia and then spend that money on other projects, no matter how useful they might be. If you want to do that, the banner should say "we are so glad you are getting value out of Wikipedia! don't worry: Wikipedia is safe; but... we have so many other ideas for how to improve the world, and would love you forever if you helped us achieve those dreams by donating money to our parent foundation, Wikimedia, to spend on others initiatives!". Of course, I bet almost no one would donate then.


I cannot tell what the banner shows in your region, but what I see right now in front of me says "Your donation allows billions of people to access important information on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia platforms every day.".


That should arguably be only "other Wikimedia platforms"; no mention of Wikipedia at all, since that is more than covered already. So mentioning WP even before the others seems way different from what the GP said.


I haven't seen those surveys, (and I'm not much of a Wikipedia editor) but anecdotally, the visual editor seems to me like an obvious and long overdue direction forward.


Not at all, all parts of education should be fully funded. Either pay everyone working on a project or have volunteers do it. Anything in between I wont contribute nor donate to.


I agree with you, however:

> Please don't comment on whether someone read an article. "Did you even read the article? It mentions that" can be shortened to "The article mentions that."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


> I have no doubt they could keep the website up and maintained on something of the order of $10m/year.

What exactly are you basing this on?


Here's their budget for 2020

https://meta.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_Mediu...

They budgeted $5M for "data centre expenses". We cannot know for sure how much it would really cost if WMF only focused on running their website. But $10M doesn't sound implausible to me.


If WMF would only run the website, the content would only be advertisment and propaganda.


Are you sure? There are about 1100 unpaid administrators.


Which is a thankless job.


Sure, but what does that gave to do with anything?


That if you are going to pay a sub set in a mostly volunteer project it [imho] should be the most shitty tasks. Improved moderation would dramatically improve the wiki as people are quick to leave if the mod is unable to do the work required.


How much does WMF spend to prevent the content being "only be advertisment and propaganda"?


But WNF does not emoloy any moderators so I am sure Wikipedia would do fine.


That's what some people want. They're horrified there's a free platform providing useful content, where they can't profit off people's work.


Your comment would make sense if moderating wikipedia cost that extra $102,000,000 we’re talking about. But it doesn’t.

Wikimedia has one project I’m slightly interested in, and spends most of their money on other projects that I’m completely uninterested in, and would personally consider to be largely a useless waste of time. They aggressively fundraise with a message that implies their single product that everybody cares about is financially imperilled. In reality, if they’d been run responsibly, the one valuable thing they produce could have already been financially secured for decades into the future.

I really just don’t care about what they spend most of their money on, I think they’re deceitful in the way that they fundraise, and all I hope is when all of their side projects eventually fail, that their core product survives in some form.


What are the “other projects” you are referring to?


Everything on this list that isn’t Wikipedia, along with essentially all of the research they fund.

https://meta.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/Complete_list_of_Wikimedia...

You don’t have to put it in air quotes like you’re making some sort of point. Calling everything they fund a “project” is the language Wikimedia use in their budgets and governance documentation.

If you were actually having trouble thinking of a single project they operate other than Wikipedia, then perhaps you might also have some questions about what they do with 90% of their revenue.


You are reading way too far into what I wrote. I was only asking a question. The “air quotes” were quotes. Because I was quoting you, and that’s when you’re supposed to use them. Like above.

Thank you for the link. I was unaware.


Using quotation marks in that fashion is widely understood that is has its own wikipedia page (though they have a different name in print).

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scare_quotes

But don’t worry. I’m sure you really were just “quoting [me]”.


I would be very surprised if their spend was just $10M/year on their tech infra. That's very low. I expect it would be much higher.

PS: I work for cloud computing company and have insight on how much costs increase with scale.

edit: fixed typos.


Wikipedia is hosted on ordinary rackmount servers at a handful of colocation facilities: https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_servers

It does not significantly use cloud services, and as you can see by the picture of their racks, they use standard 1 RU pizzaboxes. Their workload is highly scalable horizontally, and doesn't even need much in the way of expensive "enterprise" hardware such a SAN arrays: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/ca/Wi...

If you buy beige box rackmount hardware with basic compute and CPU, it's pretty easy to spend less than $250K per rack, and the hardware can be kept for 5+ years. That's about 50K per rack per year. Double that for opex, and assume twenty racks distributed across a a handful of sites for capacity and availability. That's just $2M per annum.

Keep in mind they're a high-profile charity, so they get discounts and tax breaks.

(I'm not saying that's all there is to Wikipedia! There's software development, management, finance, etc... I'm just saying that the infrastructure alone is probably less than you think.)

PS: English Wikipedia gets about 250M page views per day, which is only about 3,000 per second. If they used an efficient language instead of PHP, that's well within the capability of a single modern server! There have been comments along these lines made in other forums, and the response was that it would cost more to rewrite the software than the maintain the hardware required for PHP. I don't remember the numbers, but I vaguely remember tens of millions for a rewrite, a high risk of breaking issues, and a significantly lower hardware cost.


> It does not significantly use cloud services

They do host their own private "cloud", mostly used for research and project development.

> English Wikipedia gets about 250M page views per day, which is only about 3,000 per second. If they used an efficient language instead of PHP, that's well within the capability of a single modern server!

Nitpicking, page views from outside users are not supposed to hit PHP at all - those requests should be served by their caching layer. But yes, you're correct that they're relying on quite a bit of legacy tech from their early days, not just PHP but MariaDB as well even though many enterprises would now rely on Postgres wrt. these use cases. I suppose that they could rewrite the stuff piecemeal, and recent developments in PHP itself would make it easier. (Some things have been rewritten already, notably the wikitext parser. That's clearly one thing where you would want to avoid breakage at all costs, but they did get it done.)


> But yes, you're correct that they're relying on quite a bit of legacy tech from their early days, not just PHP but MariaDB as well even though many enterprises would now rely on Postgres wrt.

Postgres is great and all, but there’s really nothing wrong with relying on MariaDB or MySQL for what Wikipedia is doing.


> Some things have been rewritten already, notably the wikitext parser

The new parser is being rewritten in php in order to be integrated with the rest of the php code.


My information might be ten years out of date, but the vast majority of page views never hit PHP. If you are viewing a even slightly popular article and aren't logged in, your request is served by a Varnish cache.


> English Wikipedia gets about 250M page views per day, which is only about 3,000 per second. If they used an efficient language instead of PHP, that's well within the capability of a single modern server!

This type of comment betrays a complete lack of knowledge about how large scale internet systems operate (which is something I've worked on for the last 10+ years) and comes across as incredibly naive. I can immediately point out huge flaws in your thinking:

* You're assuming that traffic is constant through the day (that you can divide daily traffic rate to get a sense of daily peak; or, in other words, you provision for mean usage, not peak)

* You're ignoring the problems of unpredictable hotspots (single articles suddenly becoming orders of magnitude more popular than the median in relatively unpredictable and spikey ways; think World Cup final or major earthquake)

* You're not reserving any safety margins for unexpected traffic growth, so you'd likely run into cascading failures

* You're assuming that the entirety of Wikipedia can be held in ram. Including all the history and such. Or, if not, that a single server has enough drives that spindle capacity won't be a problem.

* You're not even considering networking/bandwidth costs. How many network cards would your server need?

* You're ignoring any problems with replication/redundancy (e.g., no backups?) so your site would be a nightmare in reliability terms. Of course, once you do that, you'll need to reason about consistency problems.

I think your logical fallacy is that you're thinking that because your can't understand something (that running Wikipedia could cost so much), it must mean that the thing you can't understand isn't true. Instead, I'd suggest that you'd get further by focusing on discovering the limits of your understanding and genuinely asking yourself: "How could it be that it costs so much? What may I be missing?"


Oh don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I would host a site like Wikipedia on a single server, I'm saying that it's more than possible.

Also, don't assume I'm speaking from a position of ignorance here, I know more than a little about how Wikipedia works. I've perused the source, played with the database dumps, etc...

I find comments like yours amusing, because I hear similar things in the industry all the time! People like you are not wrong, it's just that correct knowledge is very rapidly outdated in this industry. It's shocking what exponential growth really means! As a random example, I once had an engineer going on and on about their "powerful" email server that cost them six figures. I pointed out that it was slower than the Blackberry phone it was synchronising the email to. (No, really!)

You really underestimate the spec of a modern, 2021 era server!

You really are.

You can buy, right now, for "normal" money, a server with two 64-core AMD EPYC CPUs. That's 128 cores that are the fastest individually of pretty much any server CPU. This platform provides 256 hardware threads. Right there, you're looking at something like 12 requests per second per thread. As long as you can serve them in under 85 milliseconds each on average, that's plenty!

I've written a Wikipedia clone for an in-house CMS. The content generation was so fast that for laughs I compiled it to javascript and had it run per keystroke for a live preview in the browser. This worked fine for content up to about 64 KB. This was in 2008, by the way. Things have moved on in terms of performance. Try this with Rust and some judicious use of high-performance AVX-enhanced parsers, and you could generate a typical Wikipedia page in under 10 ms, no sweat. Then there's output caching to get it even lower...

That server can have something like 4 TB of memory in it. The entire Wikipedia database is just 5.6 TB uncompressed.

Yes, you really can fit most of Wikipedia in memory!

Bandwidth? Mellanox makes 200 Gbps Ethernet cards. They're dual port, so that's 400 Gbps. That's enough to handle the bandwidth of a decent sized regional telecommunications company through a single box. I should know, I've seen the network diagram of mine, and they have only 100 Gbps inter-city links!

Spindles!? Are you kidding me? There are gaming PCs being built right now with 2 TB NVMe drives in them that can individually put out 7 GB/s and 1M IOPS! Who the hell puts servers on spinning rust in this day and age? That lone, single NVMe drive is putting out 56 Gbps by itself. Throw in a smidge of caching, and it could saturate those aforementioned 2x200 Gbps ports.

So no, I would not put the entirety of Wikipedia on just one server, that would be silly.

I would put it on two.

Okay, maybe three, for redundancy. Just in case.


> Oh don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I would host a site like Wikipedia on a single server, I'm saying that it's more than possible.

This is incorrect. Many of the numbers you throw out ignore that in order to serve its content a server must do some work, which requires both CPU time and memory. Assuming you were able to eliminate hard drives and fit everything into RAM, you still have the problem that to serve requests and do that work you need RAM.

>That server can have something like 4 TB of memory in it. The entire Wikipedia database is just 5.6 TB uncompressed. >Yes, you really can fit most of Wikipedia in memory!

This is incorrect. According to Wikimedia[2], the entire uncompressed size of Wikipedia is 19TB as of 2019, and the site has grown since.

Talking specifically about hard drives:

> Spindles!? Are you kidding me? There are gaming PCs being built right now with 2 TB NVMe drives in them that can individually put out 7 GB/s and 1M IOPS! Who the hell puts servers on spinning rust in this day and age? That lone, single NVMe drive is putting out 56 Gbps by itself. Throw in a smidge of caching, and it could saturate those aforementioned 2x200 Gbps ports.

Firstly, gaming PCs are almost always ahead of the curve when it comes to performance on everything.

Secondly, to your question about who puts servers on spinning rust -- Pretty much everyone. Backblaze even releases HDD reliability ratings[1] based on what they observe in terms of the spinning platter drives.

Also, your 2TB NVMe drive is going to cap out at around a quarter of what the large-spindle raid controller can, and you can have a few of those in each system if you want. Sure, a PCIe 4.0 NVMe drive is going to get you 7.88GB/s in your motherboard slot but a PCIe 4.0 raid controller can have four times that bandwidth available to it.

But for argument's sake let's say you decided to swap out your raid controller for a PCIe 4.0 card that does NVMe and has onboard raid (these don't exist for purchase yet that I can find at my usual suppliers but I imagine they're coming). Now you have a size problem. The largest current best available SSDs are Sabrent's 8TB PCIe 3.0 drives. This will cut the performance considerably but is probably the sweet spot for size & speed. You need 4 of them just to host current Wikipedia, limiting any growth, and certainly without factoring in any other parts of the system that may take away from the operation.

For comparison's sake to the 2TB NVMe drive in your example, my old homelab can hit 5 GB/s on five spindles that I bought in ~ 2011-12 and they're all old and cheap, not enterprise-grade gear.

> So no, I would not put the entirety of Wikipedia on just one server, that would be silly.

> I would put it on two.

> Okay, maybe three, for redundancy. Just in case.

Then you have issues of bandwidth by having so few connections, as well as the poor user experience of trying to visit a site that exists and is served in only three places (hopefully around the globe). It's also bad for reliability because if any one site loses its connection suddenly your 200GB/s traffic is pushed onto the other servers. If you want a sense for how reliability engineering works you should look at how Netflix does testing and why they've managed to withstand regional AWS outages despite being hosted on AWS[3].

Wikimedia lays out their system set up pretty well on their own page[4].

Could you technically host wikipedia on your own systems? Sure, lots of people do, go visit Reddit's r/datahoarders and I'm sure you can find more than a few who have their own local copies. Could you actually replace production wikipedia on the Internet with the setup you describe? No, you cannot.

I also suspect you haven't costed out the server setup you describe, as it seems incongruous to say that they spend too much while advocating replacing their entire server stack with cutting edge hardware (and will they need to do so annually in order to keep up?).

[1]: https://www.backblaze.com/blog/backblaze-hard-drive-stats-fo...

[2]: https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Data_dumps/Dumps_sizes_and_g...

[3]: https://netflixtechblog.com/lessons-netflix-learned-from-the...

[4]: https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_servers


Obviously I'm not being serious about hosting Wikipedia on just 3 servers. That would be a nightmare for maintenance and availability management. My point is that you could physically host their content on just one server, and nothing you have said counters that.

Who cares if Blackblaze -- a backup company -- uses hard drives? Of course they do! They're not hosting Wikipedia though. My point was by using current-generation COTS hardware, it is entirely possible to host a huge website on a single box. It is. It really is. This is not about what other people generally do. This is about what is possible!

You keep getting bogged down by the practicalities of real-world site management. For the sake of argument, if I were to engineer a serious solution for this problem, I would be looking at hardware more like what Cloudflare uses for their edge cache boxes. They did the legwork to find the sweet spot for price/performance. This is typically a single-socket server with a 48-core AMD EPYC processor and 100 Gbps Ethernet. This CPU model is much cheaper than the 64-core flagship, but has the same amount of cache. (They're made from the same 8-core chiplets, but with 2 cores fused of due to defects.)

In these servers I would use PCI-e quad port NVMe adapters, as you said. The capacity requirements aren't as high as you think either, because the content can be sharded. The 5.6 TB number is for english Wikipedia, not all of Wikipedia + Wikimedia as a whole! So those 4x 8 TB cards are more than sufficient. Heck, even 4x 2 TB is enough for a while. The trick here is to apply some sort of lightweight compression on the text. That 5.6 TB compresses down to just 100 GB! In practice, you could easily get better than 3:1 ratios even with a very fast compressor set to "light" compression.

Then I would distribute these servers around the globe, with about 3 per location. One for english, with the other two for all the other languages. Each server would have a local, read-only replica of the language-specific databases with asynchronous streaming from the master copy.

I'd distribute this to about 5 regional locations, and nominate one server per language as the "write master" where updates occur. So for each language you'd have 1x read/write and 4x read-only. These would be at different locations, so for example German wikipedia would have the read/write replica in Germany. English would be at some US east-coast location. Etc...

Then you'd need some boxes for nonproduction test, dev, etc...

All of the remote edge servers would be load balanced using a DNS-based method, with no local load balancers. The servers' 100 Gbps ports would be directly connected to the peering routers, the same way Cloudflare and the like does it. This would add up to 1.5 TBps of traffic that you really could physically serve (5 x 3 x 100 Gbps).

Overall, the entire platform could be handled by something like 20-25 servers. That's it.

Now, I tell a small lie: Wikipedia hosts only the text! WikiMedia has the pictures, which don't compress well and requie much more disk space. This is best served with technology similar to AWS S3, which can be replicated with open source software and some boxes packed with hard drives. But again, you're probably overestimating the capacity required, and underestimating how much you can pack into a server these days.

Just to reiterate: the above is predicated upon having an efficient codebase, and Wikipedia isn't currently efficient enough to make this possible. It would take a rewrite of the code to achieve this, and that would cost more than their current hardware, so it doesn't make financial sense. Most web sites are in a similar situation, which is perhaps why your perspective is skewed: Your expectations of software performance capability might be off by a few orders of magnitude!


Come on.. you are being ridiculous. Also, how is your 500ms ping?


Which part is ridiculous to you?


Thanks for the insight.


> If they used an efficient language instead of PHP, that's well within the capability of a single modern server!

Hm, since Wikipedia dumps are public, has anybody tried? Moving wikipedia itself might be a large endeavor, but seeing some submissions on HN I think a very dedicated dev or two could possibly manage a rewrite to have a proof of concept.


Mediawiki markup language is not efficiently parse-able and extremely complex with lots of bolted-on features, which is why it took ages for the visual editor to be implemented as a prototype and to iron out the bugs.

For any attempt at porting over MW, you will need to re-implement the whole parse/include stuff... and that is a lot of work, even for a proper team.


So just steal the parser part


Why do you think that MediaWiki is not optimized to handle thousands request per second just because it is written in PHP?

MediaWiki repository size is about 1.4 GB and according to phploc it has closer to a million lines of PHP code. Sounds like fools errand to rewrite it.


I looked into the topic in some detail year ago, because I copied Wikipedia's approach for an in-house CMS editor. I looked through the code, did loads of performance experiments, read through related forums posts, etc...

The wiki staff themselves admitted that the current parser is inefficient, partly because of PHP, partly because the underlying grammar was not designed to be efficient, and partly because the parser itself was built up over time and wasn't easy to optimise.

My approach was to write the parser and a matching "markdown inspired" format at the same time, optimised for speed. Just a handful of small tweaks to the syntax were all that was required to largely eliminate backtracking and achieve a nearly linear parsing time in most cases. If I remember correctly, I had it down to about 1-5ms for a typical 64 KB page, and then HTML generation was another 5-10ms depending on various factors.

What a lot of people are missing here is that Wikis are not at all like typical "ERP" applications. The latter sometimes requires dozens of API calls and thousands of database queries to generate just one kilobyte of output HTML. Wiki is very linear, with a single 1-100KB blob of text as input, a matching 1-100KB blob of HTML as output. It all boils down to the parsing and HTML generation efficiency, nothing else matters!


You don't need to parse the grammar for every request and as they admitted it was an old implementation. What I understand they have a new one now.

You can parse grammar on save and make an optimized compiled format where static content is already resolved. Next step is to substitute semi-static content (like author name) to a runtime format, this last format can handle dynamic data substitution like current date & time, but probably going to be rare that any substitution is needed for the runtime format (how much truly dynamic data does a wiki have?), most of the time just print it with readfile or similar. Only difficult part here is cache invalidation for the runtime format (I know, it is one of the three difficult things you can do in programming).

3000 request/second in PHP is not hard, especially if you plan for it.


It's not at all hard! A typical Wikipedia page has the "chrome", which changes based on your logon, and then content, which generally does not. Cache invalidation is trivial, because there's only one atomic "blob" to track instead of the output of some complex query.

This is why it amuses me that people seem to think that Wikipedia "requires" tens of millions of dollars of infrastructure to host. It doesn't require it. It's just that some things are better/easier with more kit, such as maintenance.


Ok but if they fired all their fundraisers how are they going to get $10m a year?


Stop spending the other $90 million a year.


Banner with Jimbo's face like in the old days.


How much comes in via the banner on the site?


Because 10 years earlier WMF's expenses were $10M/year, and it's pretty debatable if they're delivering 10x more today than they were back then.


The thing that gets me is the Archive.org only has approximately $20 million USD of revenue and they run a system that is much more data intensive. The wayback machine alone is a data crunching monster and it is done for a small fraction of WMF.


I wish archive.org fundraised like WMF. Archive.org is super slow when it doesn't plain timeout with some message about server load.


I really don’t think that would be needed. I’ve never had a timeout on archive.org and the rise in costs probably wouldn’t be worth the value add.


Archive.org has a tons more work to do (they have many side projects beyond Wayback...) and definitely could scale to a Wikipedia size organization, if they had the fundraisers.

Otoh https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Archive#Ceramic%20a...


Archive.org is a lot less people intensive than what WMF does. Even the book scanning work they support is mostly done by third parties, and they largely focus on hosting the resulting content. Wikipedia can't work like that, no matter how much some people wish it could.


You don't say it explicitly, but this comment is toeing close to the sentiments of people who believe that WMF is responsible for the generating the content that appears on Wikipedia (instead of the legions of unpaid volunteer editors—the wiki part of the thing).

Even for a well-informed person who understands that's not how Wikipedia works, your comment does no favors for the people who are already walking around with the idea in their head that it does, nor does it help the people who have to correct this (too frequently) mistaken belief. And after ruling out that that's what you meant, it's not clear what your comments did mean.


As opposed to Wikipedia where the content is written by third parties, and Wikimedia largely focuses (or should focus) on hosting the resulting content?


How often is archived pages edited? It is a very different problem hosting static and dynamic data.


An "archive" is a repository of material that can't be edited. Editing archives is a kind of fraud.


That’s my point. You can easily cache static data, it’s easier to scale, etc. Wikipedia is semi-static at most.


Every time I see the Wikipedia/WMF donation banner again, I donate to the Internet Archive. Maybe I should give the WMF some change because they remind me to do that periodically.


They had ~30 million in expenses in the 2011-2012 financial year: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/foundation/0/09/FINAL...

Whether or not its 10x better service, I don't know, but they are definitely doing more now then back then. There's been lots of software development since 2011 (Some good, some not so much). Even just site speed and stability has improved significantly since 2011.


> but they are definitely doing more now then back then

And it's probably questionable if all side ventures are needed or if they could/should have sticked to the core project and developt it with little money.

As mentioned further down: Do you really need 40 fundraiser positions?


Like many other such projects the project has been hijacked and used as a cash cow for things those people really want to do. See Firefox (though it is getting better there with them realizing that no investing in your cash cow is a bad idea).


If the fundraising positions are unambiguously bringing enough money to justify their stay, definitely. I have no idea, though.

It seems they currently (2019-2020) are responsible for 12% of the expenses [1], but I can't find any information as to which percentage of the donations they're responsible for. I wonder if there's a more transparent report for that.

Looking at their donor numbers [2], it suggests that most of the fundraising is still coming from the long tail, from regular people donating online. They only seem to have 17 "major benefactors" and even if we multiply the smallest amount for that tier (50k) by 10x, that still only accounts for 7% of the donations.

According to their 2019 data, the average donation seems to be $15, which suggests Jimbo banner is way more important than the fundraisers.

Of course my assumption might be completely incorrect.

[1] https://wikimediafoundation.org/about/annualreport/2020-annu...

[2] https://wikimediafoundation.org/about/annualreport/2020-annu...


The side ventures aren't the thing they are doing now that they weren't back then (Other then wikidata which started in 2012, all the other side projects are really old). Things they are doing now is stuff like having a website that stays up and is speedy. Software improvements for english wikipedia

EN Wikipedia has always been where the lion share of attention was focused on (With wikidata and commons coming in second. The other projects get very little love).


One should expect that with improvements in software and hosting, the cost-value-ratio improves. Does not seem to be the case here, which is strange.


More users, links, more languages more articles etc.


Yes, something like factor 5 more. Doesn't explain why, with evolving technology, costs have risen by factor 10.

Well, side ventures which burn money would explain factor 10, but yeah...


In June 2011 they had 11 million articles across all Wikipedias. As of now they have 55 million articles across all Wikipedias. [0]. I'd say this is pretty good even without considering any increases to viewership or size of existing pages.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Size_comparisons


There is no big differences for the database in these numbers. Wikipedia doesn't save lives here. They can have different shards for read only data and doesn't need to process millions of different signals every second. And worth to mention that site growth is predictable.


There is no big differences for the database in these numbers.

On big thing that changes as a site grows, and as it reaches more places internationally, is that it attracts more attacks. Stopping that costs lot.


10 years ago would've been 2011 or so. I'd say it's very much in the ballpark wrt. global impact, considering everything that Wikimedia does and the way the projects have grown. Of course, much of it has to be credited to growth in Internet and Web access since then.


I think it's fair to say that server costs and global reach of Wikipedia is up, and factor in some ambitious goals the current expenditure is not too unreasonable.

Money is a funny thing, in Denmark about $320 million is spent on Covid testing a month. So from January to July that would be the equivalent of Wikipedia funding for 20 years.


> I think it's fair to say that server costs and global reach of Wikipedia is up, and factor in some ambitious goals the current expenditure is not too unreasonable.

I'd definitely want an analysis on the server costs. Compared to ten years ago you can get vastly better servers per dollar and about ten times the bandwidth per dollar.


I find it sad that this is a debate given how much of a public good it is. $10m is absolutely nothing in the scheme of things.


I don't think anybody is begrudging them $10M/year, or even $100M/year for that matter. My concern is that the way their expenses keep spiralling upwards is a) not sustainable and b) introducing serious scope creep into their original mission.

Here's the OG version by Jimmy Wales: "The sum of all human knowledge available to every person in the world."

Here's what it currently looks like: "Empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally." https://wikimediafoundation.org/about/mission/

Which one is more inspiring on all counts?


There's always the danger of "doing a Mozilla" - focusing on useless senior management pet projects until the point that they're unable to actually fund the thing that they're getting paid for.

The management probably don't see themselves as caretakers of incredibly valuable resource that needs to be preserved. Which is probably what 90% of the rest of humanity want them to be.


Actually phrased like that, the second is more interesting.

The first version is about centralizing all informations so it can be consumed. It's the traditional view of knowledge dissemination, scaled to the whole world instantaneously. The second version is about giving people the tool to produce knowledge so it can be shared with the whole world. Just like the printing press spread authoring power from a select few people who bothered to write everything, to anyone with enough money to buy a machine, Wikipedia is giving the power to share knowledge from those who had the right curriculum to anyone with a bit of motivation.

This is the revolution that Internet and the Web promised (not just allow everyone to watch and listen, but give everyone a voice), and I'm glad Wikipedia is doing it. If it takes more money to fulfill that mission then it's totally worth it.


I see it the other way around, "available to every person in the world." is the epitome of something distributed, more so than distributing something "effectively", which implies making compromises. So albeit unrealistic the first one would be more inspiring to me.


The 2nd one just tells me that they are actively engaging in the collection part now.


The first is empty, pseudo-aspirational, typical early 2000s SV, bordering on caricature hogwash.

The 2nd is mature, focused, grounded in reality and is actually what wikimedia does. So yeah #2 100%. But then again I'm not 12.


I think an organization can change its goal (in the same direction as the original one).


It's also debatable if managing to stay basically at the same point given developments in the rest of the internet for the past ten years isn't far better than people have a right to expect.


[flagged]


19/20 expenses were $112M. Per the 09/10 annual report below, 10 years earlier expenses were $10.27M. What exactly am I pulling out of my ass?

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/AR_web_a...


Man, I'm excited to see them answer this one.


09-10 - $10M 10-11 - $18M 11-12 - $29M

I guess now we have to fight over what 10 years ago means.


2019/2020 is the latest released annual report, so I'm not sure how you'd compare against unreleased figures.


You started to compare the (past approximated) site hosting cost to the running of an inflated (from 10 to 500) organization, where the former is part (apparently diminishing part) of the latter. It was also a rhetoric to start talking about other expenses and the present time.

Please do not bring disingenuous arguments in 'exposing' suspected disingenuity, it is counterproductive.


I have some supporting arguments I have not seen in responses before:

1/ Ŕunnign a website requires constant change just to stay still. Technologies change, usage changes and user needs change. There is need for experimenting, dealing with drama, and getting funded.

2/ WMF cost per user is very reasonable for the amount of usage. If WMF would run as a subscriber based service, it would cost just $0.5 per month/per user (rough estimate). Total expenses:$112M, 330,000 active users editing site. >800 million monthly unique devices (en-wiki alone).


> paxys 4 hours ago [–]

> But keeping Wikipedia online is a task that the WMF could comfortably manage on $10 million a year This part is disingenuous and bordering on malicious. The linked email (https://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikimedia-l/2013-March...)

He has editorialized the word "comfortably" and he should have discussed how the estimate might have changed since 2013, but overall I don't see why you think it's a disingenuous relating of the original email. I don't see any relevant nuance in the email that would significantly change my view of the estimate. However, I haven't gone through the preceding emails at all


Note this part:

> 43% Direct support to communities

> The Wikimedia projects exist thanks to volunteer communities around the world that create and maintain them. We strengthen these communities through grants, programs, events, trainings, partnerships, tools to augment contributor capacity, and support for the legal defense of editors.

My wife's friend just came to stay with us. He worked for the Wikimedia foundation for a long time and we were just talking about this. From what he said, after engineering expenses, legal expenses are the highest category. What he said happens is, say, the government of India finds editors with IP addresses in India, contributing to a page with a map not showing Kashmir as a part of India, and either arrests or sues those people, and Wikimedia Foundation tries to do all they can to provide legal defense for these people.

Ironically, this guy's biggest complaint and the reason he left Wikimedia is they don't pay enough for engineering. They're still fighting a propaganda war with all of the world's governments to provide accurate information, and that is a labor-intensive war being waged by true believers and volunteers. For instance, they block all IP blocks allocated to US legislative offices from editing any pages because of how consistently Congressional staffers were vandalizing pages and posting misinformation, but surely these people have learned of the existence of VPNs and working remotely. They clearly need better automated detection and moderation system, but to develop and deploy such systems, now they're competing with Facebook and Google for labor, but paying 1/3 of what Facebook and Google pay.

Apparently, people think the answer is they should just move to Vietnam or wherever labor rates are lowest.

Look, I don't doubt overseas developers are just as talented as anyone else, but history has inertia. There's a reason Silicon Valley firms are located in a place with university professors and professional mentors who invented much of the modern OS and Internet. I also don't doubt athletic talent is evenly spread around the world, but nonetheless South America and Europe dominate football, the US dominates baseball and basketball, Kenya dominates distance running. If you want to put together the best basketball team you possibly can, you go to Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago. You don't look around the world for the cheapest labor rates and go there.

This kind of nonsense is exactly why I left the nonprofit world so long ago. The public all believe labor should subsist at the bare minimum living wage of the cheapest possible place to live, and no money whatsoever should be spent on fundraising.

Just understand when you take this position, if the nonprofit is involved in anything that governments and for-profits might also be interested, say, influencing how and what information gets disseminated to the entire world and for what purpose, the non-profit trying to minimize cost at all cost is going to lose to the governments and for-profits every single time.


> Apparently, people think the answer is they should just move to Vietnam or wherever labor rates are lowest.

This is disingenuous, moving to pretty much any European city would be enough. Asking people to donate to an organization that pays people 10x of what you make while pretending that they are in dire need of money is just gross.


Wikipedia doesn't need an engineering team that is "the best basketball team in the world". They don't need to invent Wikimedia; it's already been invented. WM is a maintenance job.

There are thousands of editors who deal with vandalism. WM doesn't need to develop new vandalism-detection software.


"Hosting wikipedia accounts for roughly 2% of their total expenses" https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26056276


And wikipedia also stopped listing where it spends money and how much.


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