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Sergey Brin gives $500,000 to help Wikipedia (venturebeat.com)
545 points by recusancy on Nov 18, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 196 comments

I personally would love to see Wikipedia sell ads. Nothing crazy, just one subtle and tasteful text ad per page, sold by auction. (The ads would be much smaller and more relevant than "a personal appeal from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales".)

The revenue could allow Wikipedia to take on ambitious projects to further its mission statement, similar to the Mozilla Foundation or NPR.

Unlike most publishers, Wikipedia doesn't need to worry about maintaining a firewall between sales and editorial -- so I think it's a natural fit.

As someone who very much values the clarity of content without the insidious distraction of advertisements, I would not like to see Wikipedia sell ads.

I would rather that they either continue to work through donations, or figure out how to sell their content directly.

Ultimately, I think the use of advertising as a proxy mechanism for charging customers is an inefficient historical fall-out of the constraints of magazines, television, and the web. Any use of advertisement to fund modern digital distribution is indicative of one of two things:

- A failure find a less round-about, more efficient, and more profitable mechanism for directly charging consumers for what they consume


- A lack of respect for the customer and an attempt to maximize profit at the expense of their enjoyment of your product. I do not subscribe to Hulu for this reason.

I disagree. Ads can be detrimental, sure, but they're also in many ways complementary to digital, frictionless distribution.

For example, ads encourage sharing. With a paid product, you have to gate access. But then there's a sort of implicit conflict between wanting as many consumers as possible, but wanting to get paid. And especially because it's hard to know the quality of digital media without consuming it, it's hard to know whether it's worth paying for. So there's a ton of friction. That barrier to entry stops virality cold, which limits distribution, and also revenue.

There are ways to do ads well. Google is the obvious example. Highly relevant, not particularly distracting, and take advantage of the intentionality of the searcher.

I think ads are a naturally better revenue stream for digital content. Not to say that they can't or won't be abused.

If the Wikipedia Foundation can cover their costs by donations from users, than I would resist ads forever.

>There are ways to do ads well.

Yes there are, And Wikipedia would have to pay gatekeepers to prevent it becoming a spammy "wack-a-mole" fest. Those gatekeepers become a very costly additional expense. One that you very quickly become dependent on,

Wikipedia has already grown into a great resource from donations. If they can maintain solvency, I don't see any compelling reason why they should change.

> Yes there are, And Wikipedia would have to pay gatekeepers to prevent it becoming a spammy "wack-a-mole" fest. Those gatekeepers become a very costly additional expense. One that you very quickly become dependent on,

Only if they want to sell lots of different ads. If it were "buy the one ad slot on Wikipedia for a day for $150k" (that's supposedly the going rate for Twitter's promoted tweets, IIRC), quality control wouldn't be very hard.

I think this would work well just for the homepage and nothing else.

The main issue I have is an irrelevant ad plastered across every page would be pretty tacky. Having relevant ads on article pages would work better but there are a few problems with that:

a) Each article isn't of equal value in terms of advertising, which would make pricing much more complicated, which would also increase costs involved.

b) Pages (or whole topics) with rented ad space could be subject to spammy tactics to increase the amount of visitors, such as dubious SEO techniques (the Wikipedia domain would make this easy). I haven't thought about this deeply enough but it could be a huge problem since it can't really be controlled.

The ads almost have to be irrelevant, or there'd be accusations of bias. An ad for Google above the Bing article would cause a lot of criticism.

It could be kept tasteful - something akin to how NPR does it, it could be a bit of text up the top right... "Wikipedia is sponsored by [Google Chrome] and readers like you".

Yes there are, And Wikipedia would have to pay gatekeepers to prevent it becoming a spammy "wack-a-mole" fest

Something like The Deck would solve that problem: http://decknetwork.net/

> - A lack of respect for the customer and an attempt to maximize profit at the expense of their enjoyment of your product. I do not subscribe to Hulu for this reason.

As someone who works for a different video streaming site (that also has legal content licenses), your ire may be misplaced. Rather than a lack of respect for the customer there's a very likely possibility that the ads must be shown, even for subscribers, due to licensing agreements.

I get the following services for free: News, eMail, Search, Docs in cloud, Blogging, Video distribution, Maps etc. I will take the ads. Thanks.

Any use of advertisement to fund modern digital distribution is indicative of one of two things:

- A failure find a less round-about, more efficient, and more profitable mechanism for directly charging consumers for what they consume


- A lack of respect for the customer and an attempt to maximize profit at the expense of their enjoyment of your product. I do not subscribe to Hulu for this reason.

I think it's more indicative of a website trying to pay its bills.

A lot of assholes ruin their content with ads, for sure. A simple text ad or one, small ad, like a Deck Network ad for example, would hardly be so damaging.

You're an outlier. Most people don't mind ads.

The fate of MySpace suggests otherwise. The existence of radio stations exuberantly announcing "commercial free this hour!" suggests otherwise. The prevalence of adblock suggests otherwise.

Ads are inherently disruptive, most people DO mind them under many circumstances. And sometimes, even people who wouldn't mind them still have their experience disrupted by their presence. The other day I was trying to read an article, and some programming glitch caused a nearby ad to expand over the article text and I wasn't able to get rid of it without reloading the entire page. It's true there is some threshold of advertising under which people genuinely appreciate and show interest in the content. That threshold is certainly lower than you think.

Most people hate ads, they're merely willing to put up with them in exchange for the content. The question isn't whether someone who minds ads is an "outlier" or not, the question is how many "outliers" are there. My guess: you don't actually know the answer to that.

> The fate of MySpace suggests otherwise. The existence of radio stations exuberantly announcing "commercial free this hour!" suggests otherwise. The prevalence of adblock suggests otherwise.

MySpace failed because a better competitor came along. It had a history of predators, spammers, and viruses, and was hard to use well. (Did you see the pages people made?). Ads were one cause among many, and it's doubtful how much they contributed. For comparison, Facebook has ads, but people aren't flocking in droves to G+, and I haven't heard the lack of ads cited as the reason for any of those that are.

Radio stations certainly have ads, and those that claim "x songs without commercials!" usually put self-advertisements in instead, which they count separately. It's still advertising, just a different sort. Overall the whole process is pretty duplicitous (imho).

AdBlock has minimal market share [1], so the prevalence of AdBlock isn't an argument in your favour.

You may be correct that people hate ads, but the evidence you've given does not support your conclusion.

[1] first hit guesstimates 2%: http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-percentage-of-Internet-user...

> MySpace failed because a better competitor came along. It had a history of predators, spammers, and viruses, and was hard to use well. (Did you see the pages people made?).

A big reason facebook was better is that it wasn't crudded up with horrible advertising. And yes, I saw the pages people made. That alone is not why MySpace failed. People just like to bash gaudy, haphazard pages because it makes them feel superior. But yes, it could have been easier to use.

Modern facebook advertising is a great example of how to manage ads well. It's possible wikipedia could try and follow facebook's advertising principles but I'm not sure how well it would work for them. Facebook has been developing it slowly for years. Wikis that include advertising tend not to be nearly as slick as facebook.

> AdBlock has minimal market share [1], so the prevalence of AdBlock isn't an argument in your favour.

Number of people using adblock does not mean that many people hate ads. It means that's how many of the people who hate ads have the knowledge, means, and will to do something about it.

> Radio stations certainly have ads, and those that claim "x songs without commercials!" usually put self-advertisements in instead, which they count separately. It's still advertising, just a different sort. Overall the whole process is pretty duplicitous (imho).

In my experience, that's just a technicality. Yeah, there's maybe one or two ads in the ad-free hour-- compared to 15 minutes or so of ads normally. So I wouldn't call it duplicitous at all. And regardless, even if it was that wouldn't change the point, since they are appealing to people's desire for ad-free programming. Whether they actually deliver on the promise is incidental.

The closest thing to a guess at ad blocking rate at linked page says "I did some research on this a while back, and discovered that 14% of all visitors to MediaUK.com used ad-blockers". The only 2% figure there is a guess as what portion of all web users use Firefox and AdBlock.

My own measurements put it at <2% (Based on visitors to my website).

What ads do you have though? Are they from the ad networks? I have for example Google blocked across the board, but I do let Deck ads to sip through.

That was a check for google adsense blocking.

> Most people hate ads, they're merely willing to put up with them in exchange for the content.

I agree. Growing up in a country (Denmark) that had two primary television stations, one sponsored without ads (Denmarks Radio - called DR, channel 1) the other with ads (TV2, channel 2) I can tell you that there was quite a difference between how the two were perceived. Both were good stations, but TV2 was more of an "entertainment" channel, while DR had more "60 Minutes" style programming.

Both channels had news and entertainment, but the station without ads I think was generally seen as a bit cleaner and more informative. Despite the fact that TV2 had ads, they made it nice by only showing ads in between programs. So when you settled in with the family for a movie, you knew you weren't going to be interrupted by all kinds of annoying ads.

Then there was TV3, a private Swedish channel, which broadcast throughout Scandinavia but offered subtitled programs (primarily British & American) in the local language. They showed ads during programs as well as in between. You also had to pay to get TV3 in your home.

I guess my point is that, in a smaller country, people are willing to agree communally that they'll pay taxes to support something so they don't have to deal with crap advertising on broadcast television.

Does prevelance of a group of people disliking cars and prefering to walk indicate that cars are largely bad?

Facebook has far more intrusive ads than myspace did.. I'm pretty sure facebook also makes a lot more from ad revenue, so I'm not sure of your point...

"The prevalence of adblock suggests otherwise."

What is it... less than 1% use adblock? hmm

FWIW I've been earning a living from online advertising for 10 years. I've run community websites that run adverts, and fielded feedback from users.

> Facebook has far more intrusive ads than myspace did..

MySpace had surprise obnoxious audio ads, MySpace had "punch the monkey and win" flash ads, MySpace had header banners inserted above all of the content you wanted to see.

Facebook doesn't do any of that. Their redesigns have all allocated slightly more screen real estate to ads, but it's nowhere close to facebook levels of insanity. Facebook ads conform standards and are specifically unobtrusive, except for newsfeed spam, and plenty of tools are provided to manage that.

> What is it... less than 1% use adblock? hmm

1%-2% of people using adblock does not mean 1%-2% of people hate ads. It means that's how many of the people who hate ads have the knowledge, means, and will to do something about it. Given that, 2% is a lot.

I know next to nothing about advertising online, so please don't think I'm being facetious by asking this: what is the actual rate of display ads vs. people that click and buy stuff directly resulting from that ad?

From what I heard it's sub-10% or even 5%. If 5% is considered good, doesn't that say something about advertisements, that is, that 95% of the people _didn't_ follow through, and probably ignored it. This to me screams that there should be a better way to advertise.

5% would mean that for every 20 pages viewed on the Internet, advertising is leading someone to make a purchase. I can't imagine that ever happening no matter how fantastic the ads are. Don't think of it as a percentage hit rate; think about how that number fits into the way we use the Internet and live our lives.

Not really. That's pretty high compared to print advertising, billboards, TV/radio etc.

I only don't mind ads because I block most of them.

Whenever I view the net through a different browser or computer, I'm pretty shocked how much ads are actually there.

And no, I'm afraid they're not actually "sometimes useful", to me. Most of the time I'm on the net I'm not looking to buy something.

Though come to think of it, the few times I am, I don't mind clicking an ad or two. Except when I do, and it appeals to me, I usually run a query through a search engine to find the same page, so I can see what the other 9 top results are.

I mean, how can I know I'm getting a good deal by just clicking one ad, right?

> Except when I do, and it appeals to me, I usually run a query through a search engine to find the same page, so I can see what the other 9 top results are.

As I say, you're an outlier ;)

Then there are two of us, as I don't ever, ever consider ads even if I'm (rarely) on the Internet to buy something. I mean... since when did we start to trust advertisements?

I hate this sort of comment. It's naive.

Loads of Reddit/HN posts are adverts. We all click on adverts all the time, all over the internet. We just don't necessarily realize they're adverts.

Yes, shock horror, adblock only blocks the most obvious advertising.

> I hate this sort of comment. It's naive.

You're just using different semantics for "advertisement." When people talk about advertising they mean something more direct; where an advertiser pays a content-provider to insert arbitrary content. In terms of a user experience, that kind of advertising is more adverse than what you're talking about. The point isn't "shock horror I might get tricked into visiting some site where someone is sellign something", the point is that advertising is distracting, disruptive and negatively impacts the value of the core product.

Dozens of blogs exist primarily for marketing reasons, to get linked from reddit and hacker news and such. That doesn't make them "advertising" in the same sense that a picture of a hot teenage girl hawking a dating site in the corner of my facebook profile is "advertising."

Well, advertisements are not all equal. I understand the need of companies with valuable products for reaching their potential customers. But it can be done in a win-win way. To give you some more details on how I perceive adverts:

- Video/audio advertisements that start playing by themselves = I'll probably add you to my mental black list of people and companies I don't want to do business with (yes, I have one, 'voting by my dollars'. Actually, Groupon is on it, mostly because of annoying ads that were just everywhere I looked.).

- Pop-ups and anything that touches the area with content (all those floating or expanding windows), distracting me in an offensive way = I'll most likely remember you as a company not to do business with you as well. Also, I'll start hating the website soon for allowing this type of advertisements.

- Simple banners and ads of products that in my belief actually introduce some value - like development tools - I don't really mind them; I might click on then to see what's about with this new product, out of pure curiosity.

- AdWords - I don't mind them, they're not intrusive. I might even consider clicking at them if they happen to show something interesting.

Also, I can't even express how annoyed I am about the new batch of YouTube adverts - the ones that play before the movie I requested, often stealing half a minute of my time and making me lose interest in the video itself.

So yes, AdBlock is fine. It blocks most of the crap.

The enduring popularity of DVR and Adblock suggest differently.

Most people do not use Adblock.

Although that might be different if everyone knew about it

Most people click on ads.

Most people buy things based on ads.

I'm inclined to think that this means most people find advertising useful, so I'm skeptical that people would want to block advertising if they could.

Also it's kind of an antisocial thing to do, depriving free websites of income.

As far as I've heard, almost nobody clicks on ads. Just because ads produce enough revenue to support a business, don't assume that that means that a majority ever clicks on them. That's akin to an argument I read a lot on HN when people complain about particular content always getting on the front page (bitcoin, apple-this-or-that); that if it's getting on the front page, a majority must be for it.

According to this article from 2009 reporting about some consultant study that divided people into "heavy clickers, moderate clickers, light clickers and non-clickers" of ads, between 2007 and 2009, the non-clickers grew from "68 to 84% percent of the entire Internet population."


The study also claimed that the more savvy people became about the internet, the less likely they clicked on ads. The population as a whole is becoming more savvy about the internet.

> As far as I've heard, almost nobody clicks on ads.

You need to talk to people outside your circle of friends then.

> The population as a whole is becoming more savvy about the internet.

Is this why googles ad revenue is growing at such an astounding rate?

I don't talk to my friends for evidence, I look at studies.

Google's ad revenue has nothing do with what the majority of anybody does. Google is doing ads well, better than they had been done before, and ads have gradually become more relevant and less seedy; I could see those two things countering the slide of clicks, at least in their case, but maybe in all cases. I don't have a problem with ads, and I would start clicking on them if the odds that it wouldn't be a waste of my time got better.

I do have a problem with bald-assed assertions instead of arguments, defended by insults that assume that you know anything about anyone else's circle of friends but your own.

"Most", or just enough to keep advertising a sustainable business, like spam email? Services like Spotify and Pandora actually make money from people paying them for an ad-free experience. I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who actually likes most advertising, as opposed to simply tolerating it as a means to an end.

If anything it's antisocial for websites to promise me valuable content, only to resell my attention to advertisers.

> Most people click on ads.

Never met one.

> Also it's kind of an antisocial thing to do, depriving free websites of income.

Personally, it saddens me that we have to put up with all this electricity-wasting advertising crap in order to have free websites. It seems that one of the most useful tools of humanity needs to look ugly just in order to stay alive. I'd be very happy if we ever find a better solution.

> better solution

Well, in the times of Louis XIV, there was emulation between kings ane they would host, invite, fund or protect great artists of their times.

Maybe Zuckerberg should compete with Brin an give money or protection to some great open community project, like Diaspora. Er...

Does a computer magazine look ugly because of the adverts for Apple in it? Does a car magazine look ugly because of adverts for cars in it?

Personally, I find advertising useful, and pleasant. I'm certainly not alone.

You're entitled to your opinion, but I believe it's an 'outlier' opinion.

> Does a computer magazine look ugly because of the adverts for Apple in it? Does a car magazine look ugly because of adverts for cars in it?

Hard to say because I stopped buying both kinds long ago exactly because they had more ads than the actual content.

You're helping to prove my point - you're an outlier. Most people still buy magazines.

Actually most people don't.

> Does a computer magazine look ugly because of the adverts for Apple in it? Does a car magazine look ugly because of adverts for cars in it?

Yes. I read the magazine for the content, not for the ads. I don't mind an ad here and there, but the amount of advertising in magazines now is ridiculously high. Sometimes I'm not sure if just less than 50% of the magazine has some content in it.

> Personally, I find advertising useful, and pleasant. I'm certainly not alone.

I respect your opinion. While you're definitely not alone in your stance, I do also think that there are much more ad-haters than you believe. Might be a selection bias on my part, but I've never ever seen a person enjoying web ads.

> Yes. I read the magazine for the content, not for the ads.

The line between the two is very blurred. For example, a review of a new video card, is really just an advert.

The line between the two is very blurred. For example, a review of a new video card, is really just an advert.

This depends on the editorial clarity of the review. A review can be an advertisement -- such is the case where the reviewer simply regurgitates the press release, or the author otherwise abandons objectivity.

A review can also be an objective evaluation, not intended to sway the buyer in one direction or the other, but instead providing a clear, reasoned outline of the facts, and the context necessary to understand them.

The latter content has more value to the consumer. In eschewing any attempt to induce behavior on the part of the reader, it is not an advertisement.

> The line between the two is very blurred. For example, a review of a new video card, is really just an advert.

Fair enough. However, I feel that this type of ad gives me some concrete, useful and verifiable information to base my choice on (like technical parameters, and problems with use relative to other video cards reviewed in this issue), and not just shiny pictures.

This discussion clarified my understanding of ads at least a bit, so next time I'll be more precise in what I mean. There is a subtype of ads, those click-based advertising that clutter websites providing no value whatsoever to the visitor and distracting from enjoying the content. Those I dislike, though I understand that they're somewhat necessary. I value every site which figures out how to stay free without cluttering itself with ads.

You are correct about the usefulness of advertising but I think you are wrong about people's perception of advertising and its influence on them.

Most people will not admit to being influenced by advertising and they'll rarely admit to clicking on them.

Disagree. HN, reddit, and techie internet crowd are usually very anti-advertising.

If you look at the real population though, they love advertising. Kids watch advertising on TV to find out what toys they want to buy. Teenagers look at adverts to see what fashion to wear. etc etc.

I really do think it's a case of not looking outside the bubble. HN and the techie crowd are pretty anti-consumerism, anti-mainstream, anti-advertising. But the general population isn't.

The point I am trying to make is that people's actions and feeling about advertising are very different.

You are absolutely right that people consume advertising and react to it.

I think you are wrong to conclude that this means they love advertising. Perhaps it is just my bubble, but I can't imagine many people saying something like "I love advertising, I wish commercial breaks were longer".

IMO the difference with the techie internet crowd is that we are aware of what is an advert online and we also know that there are ways to avoid it.

Commercial breaks are a special case. They prevent you from consuming the content until they end. Which is obviously not a great user experience (Although people do need to go make a cup of tea or have a toilet break).

Online and print advertising doesn't prevent consumption of content, or stop the user going about his business for 5 minutes.

Still disagree. I'm tech 'savvy', but I don't put myself in the HN crowd. I'm a consumer. I love advertising. I love buying stuff. I'm what I consider to be in the 'mainstream'. I can avoid ads, but I choose not to.

You keep making statements about what "the real population" and "the majority" like or do, but the only study I've seen actually cited in this thread contradicts your assertions.

Do you have any actual numbers to contribute, or just your personal intuition?

I don't think you understand the point of DVR.

Adblock is used by a tiny tiny percentage.

Anecdotally, I tried using adblock, and quickly found it irritating. I was seeing a censored internet. I like my internet uncensored. I like rewarding websites with my visits that don't piss me off, and punishing websites that do piss me off, by not returning.

Having Wikipedia sell ads would lead to insidious conflicts of interest. How do you know that they're not censoring edits to make articles reflect more positively on a company with which they have a commercial relationship?

It is possible to remove edits in a way that makes the diffs inaccessible. Currently, such power is used in a tiny minority of cases (e.g. personally identifying information). If Wikipedia entered into commercial partnerships with advertisers there would be great pressure to use those tools in a non-neutral fashion.

It seems unlikely that the type of people who shepherd Wikipedia pages in their free time would fail to notice and immediately report that type of censorship. The proof would be unnecessary - even the implication that Wikipedia was tampering with the content of its pages would have a huge effect on its reputation.

Still, writing factually correct and positive things about a company or advertiser becomes unnecessarily suspicious.

This isn't an unusual dilemma in publishing - print or online. If for-profit companies can adequately maintain editorial integrity despite pressure from ad partners, I think an ideological non-profit like Wikipedia can manage.

I am not convinced that for-profit companies can.


I dunno, I can imagine how accepting donations could make that an even bigger problem.

Selling ads, they'd get a little money from a lot of people. Angering a company that's paying $50 a month isn't a big deal because it's just $50 and if they pull out Wikipedia can sell the ad to somebody else.

On the other hand, in this case they're getting a lot of money from a single person. They might think twice before posting negative information about somebody who just donated $500k.

Having been an editor for years, believe me when I say that no one will think twice about editing Brin's page to include some negative details, especially if they're well-supported. The Foundation itself has almost no editorial oversight over content on WP. Even Jimbo was basically booted from the BDFL role after a few controversial actions, and now has rescinded most of his privileges.

If there's anything Wikipedians excel at, it's causing a big furious stink whenever there's some indication of content tampering on the part of the Foundation. This is much easier to do when the vast majority of donors don't have a Wikipedia article on them, than when there is a list of 50 or so companies contributing advertising dollars.

The present system works. The banners get annoying, but the content is free from the taint of bought influence.

I agree the temptation is there, a number of people have accused Google of falling into this trap (sellind ads on search results gives them incentive to manipulate their search results).

That being said, a subscription service would be good, and some folks would cry out voiciferously that they can go read the encyclopedia in the library for 'free' why not on the web.

Culturally I think the world is coming to grips with the notion that information has intrinsic value, and that compensating that value achieves the goal of creating additional supplies of information. Interesting process to watch.

But how do you know Google isn't doing the same thing for its advertisers?

How do you know that they're not censoring edits to make articles reflect more positively on a company with which they have a donating relationship?

This is nothing that can't be resolved with properly formulated agreements.

Perhaps the problem with formulating such agreements is that there is no precedent.

The main barrier for this are Wikipedia’s authors and editors. Many would feel that Wikimedia is trying to make money off their work – no matter whether that’s a justified view or not. Wikipedia risks alienating large numbers of their authors and editors if they introduce ads.

The Wikipedia authors and editors I have heard speak about this topic seem to be strongly opposed to any kind of commercialization and ads. Writing for Wikipedia is not always fun and sometimes tedious and annoying work. I don’t think Wikipedia can afford to ignore their authors and editors or risk losing them. It’s not like they have to do any work for Wikipedia and it seems like many are doing it for idealistic reasons.

For that reason alone I don’t think it’s very likely that there will ever be ads on Wikipedia.

Wikimedia would have to try very hard to win over as many authors and editors as possible beforehand and would probably also have to give them a lot of say in how ads are implemented and how Wikimedia is run (I think many would demand absolute transparency from Wikimedia and that they justify any and all spending in detail).

Another way to bring ads to Wikipedia might be some sort of grass roots movement from the community. I, however, don’t see anyone who would be willing to start such a movement and I also don’t see how such a movement could win over large numbers.

Wikipedia’s relatively federal structure would certainly allow for interesting experiments. It would be nice to test ads in some smaller Wiki, maybe the Russian or Spanish Wikipedia. That would be a lot more responsible than just introducing ads everywhere. But political pressures inside Wikipedia would require a political genius when it comes to actually implementing that.

Ads would be a shame I think, but maybe they could have a sponsor. Just in the bottom right corner of the Wikipedia icon, it would say 'sponsored by ____'.

I mean that's not too obtrusive but would surely bring in a lot of money. Football teams get £20m a season to put a name on their shirt so...

Better yet, at least in the US there's a long history of non-commercial media like PBS (public television) and National Public Radio mentioning sponsors in exactly this sort of way, and no one objects, so the resistance should be pretty low.

How do you know that "no one objects"? Perhaps those that object simply don't listen to NPR.

Although it's probably correct that ads wouldn't impact the content/bias of Wikipedia articles, I think a portion (at least) of the success is that it's clear that there isn't any such interference by corporations on the editorial content of the site. The moment you bring ads into the picture at least a portion of the internet will start to wonder about that. There are a lot of cynical (or realistic - depending on your point of view :) people out there who have seen people/sites/whatever chasing money change the direction and feel of a website.

I'd much rather deal with Jimmy Wales' pleas every so often than to wonder if maybe [insert sponsoring entity here] had some role of changing the tone/content/whatever of a given article.

It has already been said why some people, including me, think that ads on Wikipedia would be a (very) bad things so I want tell why again. But something which is obvious to me hasn't been said: I think that Wikipedia should be part of the UNESCO's World Heritage and as such be financed with public fund by the United Nations. Given what Wikipedia is, I really wouldn't mind (actually I would be very happy) if governments had to give the project enough money to do whatever the Wikimedia Foundation needs to do. I would prefer our taxes money helping Wikipedia rather than helping banks and other thiefs.

A more unobtrusive idea I've wanted to suggest to them would be to use amazon/otherStore affiliate links for their book pages http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:BookSources/1453606122

Why wouldn't they need to worry about advertisers having control over content? A big client would still have a lot of leverage.

Wikipedia is not a profit making organization and their commitment to keep the content free and accessible is admirable. Once I start earning I will donate lot more to them. I will be happy to see them not having advertisements.

Being a not-for-profit doesn't mean no adverts. If they went down the advert road, they could pull the ads as soon as their yearly budget is met.

Agree. Even pbs.org (broadcast) which works with donations from individuals and foundations typically does a pre-roll before any show touting the donors. And I've seen things that border on mini ads on certain shows as well for certain donors. They are not just a logo but convey a message with some video. (Sorry I don't couldn't find links to examples).

Additionally, they sell items off their website which have nothing to do with repackaging their content:



Here's a page with an ad for "argosy university" which says "support provided by". The logos for the major funders appear in the bottom right of the same page (this is what is typically done in a pre-roll). I'm pretty sure the reason that Argosy does this is for ad value.


While certainly appearing more tasteful than typical ads there is still ad value that these companies receive for their donations and support.

PBS is a bad example since they're now selling advertising in everything but name. Their "sponsor messages" mention a specific product and a slogan, and they also sell messages targeted to specific shows (such as you'll find news/documentaries on high speed rail sponsored by Siemens). PBS have even started producing 30 second ads they run[1]

1 http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/161440/pbs-pro...

I completely agree. I've long thought that Wikipedia should sell ads or have commercial partnerships.

Another idea is partnering with a search engine. Add "Search for X on Google/Bing" to their search drop-downs and add a tasteful "Search in Google/Bing" on each article plus the search landing page. This wouldn't be very intrusive, many users would find it useful, and it's hugely valuable for the search engines.

It seems like such a missed opportunity. The additional money raised could be used in so many ways: investing in full-time researchers and fact-checkers, having full-time photographers, creating teaching materials, or freeing up copyrighted content. Content, afterall, is their core competency.

Wikimedia could be the Google of content if only it had the leadership and ambition.

I think there would be a fairly strong uproar if they started making money off people's donated time and energy. The dynamic would change considerably.

Wikimedia is a not-for-profit. As long as they use the income to achieve their goals, I don't see why it's a problem. People don't seem to have any objection to commercialisation of open source software.

The great things they could do with extra income are endless.

To be honest; the Foundation doesn't spend money particularly efficiently. And I don't think that now is a good time for them to end up with potentially limitless amounts of cash.

I know it has been 10 years; but for various reasons the Foundation still isn't 100% there on the organisational level. Particularly on things like communications.

The also spend a lot more than they probably should (for example; the budget for next year is something like $25 Million). That's not a criticism; things are still at the "investment" stage - where the Foundation/community are figuring out what to spend, where to spend it and how to do outreach.

So I don't think having ads, and a flood of money, would work well at this stage (or, rather, work effectively).

However; the biggest hurdle to ads on Wikipedia has nothing to do with perception or economics - it is simply that the community consistently rejects the idea. And the community has pretty strong autonomy :)

That's exactly how some of the most popular open source projects work-Firefox for example. A large portion of the income that funds and supports development and sharing of the browser comes from a partnership with Google that puts it as the default search engine. The developers are volunteering their time just like Wikipedia editors.

Mozilla developers are not volunteers. Mozilla Corporation is a for-profit company.

One aspect of ads you're ignoring is how they spread the cost of using a product: whereas charging a fee impacts all users equally, ads will generally impact users relative to their income / spending habits. It strikes me that for Wikipedia, that is more compatible with their objectives than a set per-user fee.

I'm haven't thought of many reasons to like ads over they years, but this is one.

This makes total sense. After all the personal appeal is an ad. Much better to have non-intrusive ads that people might even find useful in some cases.

Wikipedia could sold ads on articles like "antivirus software", or "ocr software", or "photocameras". Hell, I even WANT to see ads on pages like this.


If they start selling ads, google is gonna buy them!

Seriously, if wikipedia just put adsense ads, they would make $500K in a few minutes probably.

Way better than that huge begging sign on every page.

I wonder how many times he saw Jimmy Wales' face at the top of an article.

It is an effective face... to wit:

>It was an excellent year for the Wikimedia Foundation from a financial perspective. The 2010-11 plan called for us to increase revenue 28% from 2009-10, to $20.4 million, and to increase spending 124% from 2009-10, to $20.4 million. In fact, we significantly over-achieved from a revenue perspective, and we also under spent, resulting in a larger reserve than planned. We closed the year with a reserve of $12 million, up from $7 million the prior year. This over-achievement is primarily due to the success of the 2010 WMF fundraiser. In 2010-11, the Wikimedia Foundation refocused from a mixed revenue model to a strong primary focus on the annual campaign: this resulted in our shortest and most successful campaign to date, raising $15 million (up 72% from 2009's $8.7 million) in 50 days (25% fewer than 2009's 67 days). If you include the $6.5 million received by 12 chapters which acted as payment processors in 2010, the total raised by the movement in the 2010 campaign was $21.5 million.[1]


Indeed. I think he looks kind of like Larry Ellison but I'm not great at recognizing faces and I haven't put them side-by-side yet.

Serious question: is Sergey Brin Google's version of Steve Wozniak? He certainly seems to be chasing the less-commercial, more-interesting ideas.

No. Beyond technical stuff and Apple, Wozniak is a simple man with a good heart but still a rather simple man who apparently doesn't appreciate money all that much. Beyond math, science and Google, Brin is an idealist with grand ideas about the world. Expect much more from him in the future since he does indeed have a lot of money, understands money's potential very well and is careful about investing in anything now knowing that later he'll be even more mature and will make much wiser investments.

Sounds like a description of Gates.

I am not so sure about that. MS has had significant contributions in research that is not directly relevant to Microsoft's current revenue streams - but I haven't heard if Gates was directly involved in any of them. Brin, on the other hand, appears to be spearheading that stream of research and development.

Brin and Page have compared themselves to gates and have mentioned they'd like to follow his example as far as philanthropy goes.

Except Brin is not paying for his past sins. Microsoft became a giant by doing a lot of very reprehensible things.

Why should one of Google's founders have to pay for anything Microsoft has done?

Serious question: what ideas is Woz chasing that is more interesting than what Apple has done in his absence?


In this case Brin might just be a convenient way to subsidize Wikipedia. Google depends on Wikipedia to provide good results for a large percentage of their searches.

As one of the unfortunate who has had to attempt to hack at mediawiki... I hope some of that cash goes towards improving their code base. It's gotta be costing them in maintenance (to say nothing of the ability to add new features).

Mediawiki is indeed a very poor substitute for a VCS, and things could probably be improved. For example, there once was a project to store Wikipedia articles using git as a backend: <https://github.com/scy/levitation>.

A decent portion of the latest budget is going into hiring technical staff; and from what I have observed of that "department" things are improving rapidly :)

The hundreds of millions of visitors from Google isn't enough? : )

Just joking, that's a nice donation. My wife was totally freaked out this week though...she had never seen the donation banner before.

What made her freak out? Just the existence of the banner, or that she didn't realize Wikipedia needs funding from the public? How did she respond afterwards?

I think a little of both.

1. She had no clue who this guy was suddenly staring at her 2. Didn't know Wikipedia needs $

She was probably creeped out by Jimmy's mug staring her down, eerily grinning at her. "Hi there. I'm watching you."

Because of the positioning it also looks like article titles are captions to the image... which has led to "much amusement" in certain circles.

Yes. Yes it has.


Note: Though I would normally not post these kinds of links, it's somewhat relevant to the topic at hand.

Funny how you can't post a link to The Oatmeal without a note like that. :)

Sergey's wife, Anne Wojcicki, is mentioned.

This is interesting because Anne's mother, Esther Wojcicki, is on the board of Creative Commons [1], which is what Wikipedia uses.


1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esther_Wojcicki

It is a very popular license. Content on Wikipedia used to be GFDL-only, but the CC is obviously better suited. I doubt this connection has anything to do with the donation.

I think Wikipedia should get into printing & selling beautiful books from some of their content.

Maybe that will be my weekend project!

They do have a partnership with a print-on-demand company that donates 10% of the revenues, but it just concatenates articles you choose into a book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PediaPress

There is also a user-driven project to organize Wikipedia articles into books, although they currently just use the articles verbatim as chapters, which doesn't address things like redundancy between articles that makes sense when they're articles, but should ideally be removed if they were going to be printed as book chapters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Wikipedia...

Here's an example one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book:Compiler_construction

I think it's a great idea. PediaPress is great but (like Wikipedia itself) a little utilitarian.

I have thought it would be a great revenue source for the WMF. Make little books based on certain articles like the List of Common Misconceptions. Sell them as impulse purchases near checkout counters in bookstores. Step 3, profit.

The fundraising team at the WMF isn't really into it, they don't want the hassle of making & distributing physical objects that may not even sell. But it would be a cool project for the right team -- maybe if you want to build your resume as a book designer.


Have you seen http://pediapress.com/? It seems to do exactly that, although you need to compile the book yourself.

Yeh, something similar except beautiful, not just printing the content. Beautiful cover, font, design, maybe even vintage looking. It might not be "scalable" tho but I think people would dig it and willing to pay $100 for something like that. I would buy a vintage looking book about cars.

Yeah, I'd be interested in well-edited individual books, by someone knowledgeable in the subject who took care with both the physical presentation, and ideally some editing of the content, at least to make the articles flow coherently and not have too much redundancy between chapters (and make sure total crap sections didn't slip in).

In some ways that's the whole point of it being open-content, that you can reuse/repackage it in various ways, but there hasn't been a lot of creative third-party reuse yet.

I think part of the problem is that WP is still mostly incomplete (which is a horrifying thought :D).

By which I mean; if you pick a topic to turn into a book your likely to have articles of a wide range of quality (from featured status, the top, to stub, the bare minimum).

Couple that with potentially disparate styles of writing and it can become difficult to stitch several articles into a book form.

Not that people don't do it; the volunteer email support service regularly gets people complaining about the $50 "text book" they bought of Amazon simply being Wikipedia articles.

It's always been in the back of my mind to try and do something like it though; perhaps an "obscure topics" book with some of the more interesting articles put into it.

Like an encyclopedia? Unless it's the book from the diamond age I'm not sure I'm comfortable anymore showing my kids printed encyclopedias.

Unlike NPR (et al), Wikipedia could actually ask for donations and then not show the appeals for donations to people who have donated (e.g. by providing simple logins). Similarly, Wikipedia could show ads or not depending on whether someone paid a small fee. I wouldn't mind either.

I would prefer this. I'd gladly pay for a pro account.

It probably went down like this:

Sergey: "hey Jimmy, how much do I have to pay you NOT to see your creepy face on every wikipedia article?"

Jimmy: "Well...."

Jimmy: "Just click on the little cross to close the ad."

Seriously, why are so many people complaining about this?

In all seriousness, I would very much like to see Wikipedia be properly funded in a way that doesn't make bumming money from users necessary. The problem is finding a model that is sustainable in the long run and which doesn't compromise Wikipedia's independence and objectivity.

What makes me a bit uncomfortable is that these ads associate Wikipedia very strongly with a single person.

(I'm sure there are people who think Wikipedia is neither independent nor objective; I have no informed opinion on that. But for argument's sake, let's assume that it is and that this is what the contributors strive for)

"What makes me a bit uncomfortable is that these ads associate Wikipedia very strongly with a single person."

A personal appeal seems reasonable to me. People are accustomed to getting content for free and not asking questions, and sometimes need to be reminded that it takes people and work to keep the quality content coming.

So which people to use? They can't show pictures of individual contributors, because they won't be the ones receiving the donations. Jimmy Wales is the primary person responsible for stewarding your donation for the greater good[1], so showing his picture makes sense to me.

[1]: For instance, if there were some hypothetical financial scandal, he's the one that everyone would be mad at.

I certainly see your point, though for me, personally, what I perceive to be the mission of Wikipedia, is much more important than any individual. I don't need to see a face to understand that Wikipedia is important -- I need only look at my browser history or the number of times Wikipedia is quoted as a source. What I need to know is how much Wikipedia needs (on an ongoing basis) and for what. And I need it to be presented plainly.

I have donated to Wikipedia in the past -- even before Wikipedia was a household name (which isn't something I say to seem like some hipster schmuck, but to illustrate that I believe enough in what Wikipedia does to donate my money at a time when it was uncertain if they would even survive -- let alone be successful).

Whenever I see Jimmy Wales' face in the current ads my gut reaction is that I'm not going to contribute to his blatant self-promotion.

I don't know Mr Wales and I have no opinion on him as a person, but I can't help but recoil every time I see his face on Wikipedia. It just doesn't bring out the philanthropist in me. Sorry. I'm probably a bad person. Or something.

> I'm not going to contribute to his blatant self-promotion.

If Wales was really fond of self-promotion, he could have done a lot more. He probably wouldn't have set up a foundation with an elected board of trustees which runs the foundation in his stead.

I find it more likely that this is just the Wikimedia Foundation trying to give a humane face to Wikipedia in order to get more donations. It might be a misguided move, but I don't think Wales is excessively pushing for it.

I don't allow cookies. That way of removing the ad does not work for me.

You can enable cookies to get the viewing experience that you prefer.

Or, you can download the content freely and see it any way you prefer.

Those seem like a couple reasonable options, to me.

just use adblock

Some small areas of Wikipedia are so toxic that no-one would want to have anything to do with them.

Some areas are probably not suitable for advertising. Would an ad on "Holocaust" or "Lynchings" really be acceptable?

And so the problem then would be the megabytes of meta "discussion" about why some page should or shouldn't have ads.

One time I applied for a software engineer position at Wikipedia. The first phone interview was with a non technical director of people or whatnot, and after a drawn out conversation of "tell me a time when..." she informed me there would 2 others to speak with.

Feels like a nonprofit.

I believe, a joint venture should be formed between Redhat, Canonical, IBM, Microsoft, Google, Mozilla and Facebook to fund wikipedia and this kinds of open source and very much needed projects with some of their yearly revenues. I named those companies because much or they are making money over free and open source projects. And this kind of venture is a way of showing good will. This could make wikipedia to survive, build more kinds of projects that could lead to more innovation and this new created innovation and brain would turn into profits for this companies. A long shot maybe, but this organisations contributors would not be harmed.

No love for Knol? I guess Sergey would like to forget that that venture ever existed.

Why deny the existence of Knol? Google has tons of failed projects. Like many others, I don't see Knol as a competitor; and I don't think it was even supposed to be.

I wrote about this in my little article a few days ago. Wikipedia needs to raise money for the next 20 years, not for one year at a time. And then amaze their visitors with more interactive and engaging stuff when they take the money matters off their minds. http://www.adnanymous.com/2011/11/why-jimmy-wales-wikipedia-...

Hi, I work at the WMF. I'll address your points here.

> Why can’t we have Stypi recording all changes made to Wikipedia articles?

Because Stypi didn't exist until a few months ago?

Ok, more seriously: I and my colleagues have talked to everybody else that ever did collaborative editing tools. We know the Wave guys, the Etherpad guys, and others, over the past year. I myself did a little analysis of Stypi a little while ago to try to learn some things from them.

We are working on this problem. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the results shortly. The new editing "surface" is making progress by leaps and bounds lately.

See http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Future and others.

There are reasons why we can't just grab anything off the shelf like Etherpad, Wave, Etherpad-lite, or Stypi. MediaWiki already has a huge infrastructure of tools behind it and the entire community model is organized around chronologically ordered single-user discrete taggable edits of a very specialized format. Wikipedia wouldn't work well without all the bots and scripts that our community has written, and then we'd have to rewrite all of them too.

Etherpad has plain text with bold and italic. Stypi has even less, as far as I know. It is possible to use these editors to create a collaborative way to edit wikitext (I did an experiment this summer to do just that). But that doesn't get us any closer to a GUI editor, which most people think is a sine qua non.

Given the resources we have devoted to this -- basically some of the time of four or five engineers since March or so -- progress has actually been pretty good. Anyway, that's a slice of life at the WMF. Just so you know, in my corner of the world at least, we really are trying to make things awesome and it isn't costing the world a whole lot.

> Why can’t we create more engaging Wikipedia articles using > something like Popcorn.js for videos?

Again it comes down to the wikitext format. We do not have the liberty of banging out a new JS library and content model and then slowly adding features.

Because the Foundation is adamant about never deploying any technology that's not 100% open source, we missed the whole wave of Flash-based video. Only in the past few years has it become possible to seriously do open source video in the browser. Michael Dale from Kaltura has written some great HTML5 video libraries for MediaWiki; watch for them on Wikipedia in the near future. In the meantime we're also upgrading our APIs and storage infrastructure to support uploading longer format videos and so on.

This brings us into parity with maybe Youtube circa 2007 or so, with some more advanced editing and annotating tools due to the wiki-nature of everything we do. But better late than never.

That is a very nice thing he did. Thank you Sergey Brin.

Wealthy people giving money to Wikipedia is a great idea; I wish more would do it.

"Sergey Brin gives $500,000 to help Wikipedia"

Anything to keep Jimmy Wales off of my screen is good.

wikipedia only needs "help" because it spends so much money.

I'm not sure how that's relevant. Every other organization operates the same way.

Look at their budget. They spend shedloads. On things they don't need.

If wikipedia wanted to survive, it'd trim back it's massive spending.

For example? I guess they could save a lot by cutting out hosting.

Last time I looked, only a tiny % of their expenses were on hosting. The vast majority was on research,salaries, business crap, idk what else.

Take a look.

And he wants to make sure everyone knows about it.

The desire for recognition is a major driver of philanthropy. Let's not attack the reason for Wikipedia getting half a million dollars.



Well that is very nice of him.

I think true donation should be anonymous, otherwise it becomes a promotion.

As long as you realize that it would severely reduce the amount of money donated to non-profits.

Good for Wikipedia.

Wikipedia should consider experimenting with different business models to generate money. Mozilla makes most of it's money from Google. By placing Google.com as their start page, they split the revenue generated from ad clicks - it's around 80% of their revenue (I looked at their financial statements long ago but can't remember specifics).

$500k to Sergey Brin is pocket change.

Basically he paid to stop seeing Jimmy's dessicated, mildly derpish face page after page after page...

[EDIT: could those downvoting this please reply and tell me why? I wouldn't have thought this would be controversial, but I'm looking at this post sitting at -4 just minutes after posting and am genuinely confused as to what the issue is.]

Hrm. Obviously this is a good thing, but...

Wikipedia tells me that Brin's net worth is $16.7B. Very roughly, my "net worth" (in the sense of assets required to duplicate my income) is $2M. So that's the equivalent of my dropping $59 on them.

Obviously all gifts are good (as long as you, like me, value wikipedia). And this is a big one. But it hardly qualifies as earth-shaking philanthropy. It's the gift amount Brin would be expected to give, I'd say. Obviously there's a lot of apples and oranges here; both of the numbers above represent "tied down" assets and not disposable cash, etc...

But shouldn't the extremely wealthy be held to higher standards about what they're expected to do with their charity? Why must it be news when someone like Brin does the equivalent of clicking on "Donate via PayPal".

I guess one good thing came of this though: lest I feel like a hypocrite, I went to Wikipedia and clicked on "Donate $100". So that makes me a better person than Brin, I guess?

Okay. I'll try and explain why you're being downvoted.

Every time someone wealthy donates a whole lot of money to a philanthropic cause, people like you pop up in the comment section. "Oh it doesn't matter, it's only X% of his net worth, that's the same as me only donating Y". Seriously, you followed this template almost to the letter.

First, charity isn't a competition over who can sacrifice the most. At the end of the day, that $500,000 helps Wikipedia five thousand times more than your $100. More, probably, because his donation raises the profile and will convince others to donate. Second, people aren't "expected" to give anything, regardless of how much money they have.

I think the thing that annoys me the most is how obvious it is you came in here with preconceived anti-rich notions and then did mental gymnastics to convince yourself that you're "a better person" than this incredibly generous man. If you want to spread that kind of negativity around, go back to Slashdot.

I'm sure someone can articulate this better than I can, but seriously. These sorts of posts just piss me off.

Second, people aren't "expected" to give anything, regardless of how much money they have.

That's actually something philosophers of ethics (not to mention theologians and regular people) disagree on considerably; there is a pretty big range of positions on charity as a choice and/or obligation that are widely held and defended. The "never an ethical obligation" view is one, but probably isn't the majority one, though it's more popular now than it was in previous eras. But an HN thread about Sergey Brin probably isn't a good place to settle that debate...

> If you want to spread that kind of negativity around, go back to Slashdot.

I'm sorry to nitpick, but while we're discussing appropriateness and lack thereof, can you avoid saying things like that? There is no constructive purpose that that mention could possibly serve.

  First, charity isn't a competition over who can sacrifice the most. 
  At the end of the day, that $500,000 helps Wikipedia 
  five thousand times more than your $100. More, probably,  
  because his donation raises the profile and will convince  
  others to donate. Second, people aren't "expected" to give 
  anything, regardless of how much money they have.
But rich people are expected to give something to society, the same way powerful people are expected to use their power for good, and smart people are expected to contribute scientific breakthroughs and engineering feats, not build throwing sheep apps. The concept of noblesse oblige is the definition of this expectation. Perhaps you meant that they aren't required to give anything. No one is required to do anything except obey the law. Perhaps people shouldn't expect the wealthy to give, but that doesn't change the fact that they do.

Furthermore, it could easily be argued that Sergey Brin benefits far more from Wikipedia's existence (perhaps 5,000 times more) than ajross, and this donation is him showing his appreciation for that benefit.

However, I do agree with you on his self-righteousness, that is uncalled for. It is quite irksome to see someone criticize anyone for volunteering a large amount of their hard earned money.

>Charity isn't a competition

Ask a Christian that. A rich man giving a lot doesn't mean anything if it isn't a sacrifice. Just like doing good things for the humanly recognition isn't the way to give. So says Matthew).

Just sayin'.

That story was about persons' personal relationship with God as determined not by absolute value of material terms, but as a sacrifice from pure heart relative to one's abilities. Just ask that any Christian who actually understands what he reads.

Point to the part where I'm wrong.

Religion is true

The reason you're being downvoted is because you're disagreeing with an opinion that isn't held.

They aren't getting press for this donation to say "holy shit he's a wonderful man", they're doing it to encourage others to donate. As the quote in the article says, "This grant is an important endorsement of the Wikimedia Foundation and its work, and I hope it will send a signal".

To people who know who he is, it's a personal endorsement, to people who don't, then a $500k donation looks huge and acts as an endorsement in itself.

Additionally, it acts as a human interests piece to remind people that they too should donate - i.e. this story gives sites like VB the chance to write about it.

You're being downvoted because hacker news seems to have been taken over by refugees from reddit, and bizdev "hustlers" and "idea guys" who don't understand what used to be the culture here.

About the time that these people started showing up, we lost the ability to see upvote and downvote counts, which made it difficult for new users to understand the "rules". They copied the customs that they used at places like reddit and digg (upvote what confirms your biases, downvote what doesn't).

What you're saying, while disagreeable, is an interesting and well stated point. You're not spamming, you're not flaming, you're contributing to the discussion, and you absolutely shouldn't be downvoted for it, certainly not to the extent that you are.


(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

shouldn't the extremely wealthy be held to higher standards about what they're expected to do with their charity?

Well, no, nobody should be held to any "standards" about what they do with their charity. It's his money, he earned it, and if he chooses to give it to charity or build a giant gold statue of himself it's his business. If there's anything he's obliged to pay out to others, it's already been taken care of, many times over, in the millions or billions of dollars in taxes which he has already paid, so as far as I'm concerned, let him do what he likes.

Now, of course, if he chooses to give any money at all to charity then that's very kind of him. And I'm sure he already has, and will continue to do so over the course of his life. But there's many good uses for philanthropic dollars, and while Sergey Brin could give fifty million bucks to wikipedia if he felt like it, I don't think it'd be a good use of money.

You selectively snipped that quote. The next sentence begins with "Why must it be news...".

I'm not talking about holding Brin himself up for more Wikipedia funds. I'm saying that throwing a party about a gift that is (literally) the equivalent of pocket change is a bad idea. It leads people to believe that gifts like this are an example of how philanthropy should work.

And it's not, it's a big lie. It's part of a public relations push to squeeze more money out of people (like me) with far less relative giving ability. And I find that distasteful.

"could those downvoting this please reply and tell me why?"

You're looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Well for one, it probably isn't healthy for too much of Wikipedia's funding to come from one party. $500,000 is probably about right for the maximum. There are questions of neutrality here.

Frick, I semi-stole your username. Gotta find myself another I guess.

Sergey's net worth is in large part held as stock (in Google). His liquid is probably <$1B.

That probably doesn't matter that much. I don't see why he can't just donate his GOOG shares instead of cash.

Or take out a loan against them. Or put them up as collateral for a loan taken by Wikipedia. Assets are assets. If they're really worth something they're never really "tied down" completely.

donating cash has tax benefits

donating stock directly also has its own problems.

Gates and Buffet both donated stock to the Gates Foundation, which manages it with a separate arm.

Stocks that are publicly traded on exchanges are considered to be liquid too (because he can sell them at any given date).

Not that it matters, at all. It's a gift, an endorsement.

Right. And my liquid fraction of that $2M number is far less still. My "assets" are held up in my employment and dolled out every two weeks in a paycheck. So by that analysis he should be donating even more, no?

No. As an officer of a public company, he sells his shares on timetable as required by insider trading regulation.

You can cash out your entire net worth within a month to year max. Sergey, practically, can never realise his entire net worth, or anything close to it.

Actually if I'm reading his post correctly, his $2 million net worth is imaginary, and is based on an estimate of how much money it would take in order to passively generate the $60K per annum-ish which he currently works for. Kindof an odd way of putting things.

This is a digression, but you are completely misunderstanding my point. I can't "cash out" my "$2M" because I don't have it. I have a job that provides the income I'd get from about $2M in conservatively invested assets. That is much less liquid than Brin's shares (he can borrow against them, for example, where I've already tapped that avenue with my mortgage).

I agree with you. Generosity is not appropriately measured in absolute terms, it has to do with what one sacrificed to be generous. It's nice that he donated, but it's no more a sign of his good character than if a typical person gave a few dollars.

There was a debate I used to have with a coworker. He claimed that the "goodness" of an act is determined solely by the intent of the actor.

That sounds nice on the surface. But imagine two people, each of whom, say, built a hospital for children:

One guy is greedy, and built the hospital only because he knows that parents will pay just about anything to heal their children. He used the best architects and materials to create a world-class facility to help attract the best doctors, because then he'd be able to charge top dollar.

The other guy has a heart of gold, and is just desperate to have something to serve those poor unfortunate kids. So begs for funding, and cuts every corner, to create a facility.

Flash forward a year, and we see:

#1 - Parents picketing outside, calling the owner of the hotel an evil 1% because it costs so much to treat kids there (because it costs so much to run the facility, and the greedy owner wants his share too).

#2 - A pile of rubble, with weeping parents because of the dozens of people killed -- including the child patients -- when the building, with all the cut corners, collapsed.

In these two stories, who is the bad guy?

My friend claims that #1 is evil, and #2 is a hero, entirely based on the intent of each. How can that be, when #1 is successfully making kids better, and #2 has caused their deaths? Do we want to have more of #2, and fewer of #1?

Interesting philosophical questions :). I think the goodness of the act is determined (partly? mostly?) by the intent at the time of its inception.

In poker, you don't judge a decision as good or bad based on if you eventually win the hand. It's based on the information you had at the time. If you go all in with a 2-7 offsuit (worst hand) and get lucky and win, it was still a bad decision -- you shouldn't have done it, even though it turned out ok.

Flip it on its head. Two hunters are in the woods and shoot recklessly into a bush. Hunter A happens to hit a person hiding there. Hunter B happens to hit a tree. Why does the random presence of a stranger make one act less bad than the other?

Two assassins shoot their victims. Victim A dies. Victim B clings to life, struggling greatly and manages to survive.

Why does one get "murder" and the other "attempted murder?". Why does the victim's painful struggle to live make the original act less bad?

It's a bit like that. The #2 case was done out of caring, and it was bad luck that it collapsed. Clearly, if he had known the building would collapse he wouldn't have built it that way.

For #1... well, if the cost of the building collapsing was less than the money saved, he'd do it. I think intent matters because we can't really control outcomes.

Of course those with resources, skills, etc., can make a very big impact... highly leveraged based on the extra skill or wealth. And there is a sense in which this is the only relevant metric for philanthropy.

However, since most people like to infer that philanthropy is an indication of a person's good character, I think the sacrifice metric is also relevant.

In my ideal world, philanthropy would be viewed as one of many behaviors that might be fun and self-actualizing for a person (selfish) and this sort of selfishness would not be viewed as a bad thing. The problem (and the reason I felt it necessary to comment) is b/c many people are all to ready to praise a rich person for a donation that represents no true investment of self, akin to me giving a homeless guy the half sandwich I couldn't finish at a restaurant and had boxed.

Piling praise on a billionaire for donating $500K is reminiscent of the days when serfs knelt before the land owners in hopes of a crumb or a coin. This is not intended as a criticism of Sergey at all, btw.

The #1 is the one who runs the society and has politicians in his pockets so they make sure that no universal healthcare is implemented and the people are forced to choose between the only alternatives you listed - i.e. scared by #2 the people are forced to go to #1 which produces more money for #1 for more political power. Repeat from the start.

>So that's the equivalent of my dropping $59 on them.

i'd be happy to upvote you as soon as you drop this $59 on them.

Keep reading. I know it's light gray and difficult to see. :)

yes, i see now. As a frequent reader of Wikipedia i'd like to express my gratitude to you for the donation.

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