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Wikipedia The Almighty Buck

Study Reveals Wikimedia Foundation Is 'Awash In Money' 202

New submitter Harold Dumbacher writes: Few things seen on Wikipedia aggravate its users more than the annual fundraising banners. Yet millions of people continue to contribute, seeming to think that Wikipedia will "go offline" if they aren't given more donations. Yet as a new Wikipediocracy blog post reveals, the Wikimedia Foundation is rolling in dough — $53 million in net assets as of this year (that's actual hard sitting-around currency, currently put into various investment vehicles). Meanwhile it only costs about $2.5 million to actually keep Wikimedia project servers online and handling user traffic. The rest of the WMF's annual donations go for "staff salaries, travel and miscellaneous." And evidently, many people are growing disgruntled with this ongoing state of affairs, even Wikimedia staff who benefit from it.
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Study Reveals Wikimedia Foundation Is 'Awash In Money'

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  • So? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:36AM (#49663183)
    Seems like it is a successful enterprise.

    I'd suggest that the folks who are outraged by this start their own wiki, run with all volunteers, and pass the hat among themselves so that the servers can be fed.

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:37AM (#49663185)
    a Pyle of money.
  • Investments? (Score:5, Informative)

    by jythie ( 914043 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:37AM (#49663189)
    Wait, so is this liquid cash or invested money? This is a rather important distinction since non-profits often depend heavily on interest from investments as their primary stable source of income. So if this is the later case, it sounds like responsible stewardship, at least that piece of it since I gather the amature nature of administration shows through in other areas.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Read the article. $20 million is spent on salaries (for staff that produce nothing -- they didn't produce the content) and they only were able to obtain 1% gain from investments. Doesn't sound like responsible stewardship.

      • And a dart board. Doesn't someone do that annual thing where a monkey and a dart board beat the average fund manager? Heck, just buy the broadest index fund there is and you can sleep at night.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by rockmuelle ( 575982 )

        $20M on salaries sounds about right for an organization with a complex IT infrastructure and global reach. Not sure what the outrage is here, unless you're expecting the people that keep the site up to work for free.

        If they were developing the content as well, I'd expect their salaries to be in the $30-50M range. $1M probably gives you 6-8 editorial FTEs, so $30-50M would give you the few hundred editors and their support staff necessary to produce the content. The numbers are different for IT staff - 4-5 F

    • Except apparently the "primary stable source of income" is continuously begging and saying "if you don't donate we'll go offline".

      From the sounds of it, they've already reached a stable source of income, but keep begging for more.

      • Re:Investments? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by pla ( 258480 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @09:26AM (#49663497) Journal
        They have annual expenses of roughly $23 million (do you go to work for free every day?), not just the $2.5 they spend to physically keep the lights on. That makes their current position comfortable but still not self-sustaining.

        Realistically, they need 13+ times that much in investments to have a self-sustaining income stream.
        • (do you go to work for free every day?)

          This is probably not the best argument when we're talking about Wikipedia.

    • Re:Investments? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:52AM (#49663257)

      This is a rather important distinction since non-profits often depend heavily on interest from investments as their primary stable source of income. So if this is the later case, it sounds like responsible stewardship

      While it's possible that this is the case, I believe the objection here may be to the way that Wikipedia is advertising its fundraising drives.

      It's one thing to say "Please donate to us so we can have a suitable sustainable endowment to keep this website running forever" and it's a different thing to say "Please donate now, or this site might go down imminently because we can't pay our bills."

      According to an older story [wikipediocracy.com] at Wikipediocracy, the objections seem to be partly that fundraising campaigns are expressed in a dire "We need money now or the lights go off!" kind of tone, when that really isn't the situation.

      The first goal of raising an endowment is certainly a laudable one for any sustainable non-profit. The question is whether they're being honest with their donors about what their situation is and what they are going to do with the money.

      • Look, they're planning for the future. If they said, "Please donate or the lights will go out in 10 years", the numbers of donations would go down drastically.

        They're appealing to as massive an audience as they can to donate small amounts of money, and sure, they're using mass-appeal language to do it. I'd rather see that than have a few billionaires being lobbied to keep Wikipedia going. It makes sense.

        • Fraudulent advertising should be a crime (and is actually on a very short list of things I believe to be criminal).
          • In the list of fraudelent advertising I've seen in just the past year, ranked by how offensive they are, I'm not sure the Wikipedia appeals for money would even make the top 1000.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Wikipedia is like the boy crying wolf

        If they limited fund-raising banners to once a year that would be OK.

        Constantly "spamming" banner ads asking for money is tiresome.

        Is there a breakdown of their ~$25 million on salaries so we can see exactly where ALL the money is going each year?

      • According to an older story [wikipediocracy.com] at Wikipediocracy, the objections seem to be partly that fundraising campaigns are expressed in a dire "We need money now or the lights go off!" kind of tone, when that really isn't the situation.

        The same could be said about Consumer Reports. I continue to be a member, but I do tire of their endless (and not exactly zero-cost) mailings begging for money. Surprisingly, they also are intentionally (IMHO) fuzzy in conflating subscriptions to the magazine with

      • Every single pledge drive I have ever heard includes a little FUD. If you don't sound a little alarmist, nobody would ever donate...
         
        Same relationship that organized religion has with Hell...

    • The report is pretty confused: "...that's actual hard sitting-around currency, currently put into various investment vehicles..."

      Either it's a - liquid cash, or b - sitting in investments.

      My guess is that what they meant to say is that it's a, liquid cash, that's probably been dumped into something like staggered or rolling quarterly cd's or something so it's earning something but isn't locked away and out of reach for an unreasonable amount of time.

      So functionally, liquid cash as those sorts of investment

  • so what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by martiniturbide ( 1203660 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:40AM (#49663201) Homepage Journal
    Even if they are sitting on money and over-expend it, all their content is Creative Commons, anybody can "Fork Wikipedia". The contribution to Wikipedia to the present days is still there and it is huge. It will be desirable that the extra money will be expended to enrich the content and not waste it, but if we compare how politicians use money today, I prefer that it is being waste on a collaborative open project. I really hope that the same thing happens to Archive.org someday, that they will be able to sit on money to improve the "library".
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The concern is that Wikipedia will turn into another United Way. Continually asking for large money goals during fund drives in order to pay exorbitant salaries to the executive staff. All the while, having plenty of money to perform its established goals.
      • Hey, it works for many in the church biz ...
      • Re:so what? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @09:14AM (#49663385)

        That's not a fair characterization of the United Way. They do all of the overhead fundraising stuff so that smaller charities don't have to. Then those smaller charities come out fantastic on those brain-dead "overhead" rankings, because someone else spent the overhead money.

        Similar criticisms leveled at the Red Cross are misguided. The Red Cross is huge and has corresponding overhead, but they have to stockpile massive amounts of stuff and then just sit on it waiting for something to happen. It's never going to be "efficient", but they are the main and first"boots on the ground" at every major disaster, and they are at every residential fire with blankets, clothes, and shelter. Sometimes it is worth paying people who are good at their jobs.

        • by EzInKy ( 115248 )

          It is their executive's compensation that is the problem. When you are being asked to give charity, you expect that those you are giving it to are charitable minded themselves. I quit donating a percentage of my paycheck to the United Way when I found out that their executives were sucking up many times my salary in compensation. If I give, and I am more than willing to do that, you give.

          • How can a huge organization expect to be successful with lower-than-market salaries? It's not reasonable to expect good people to work for a fraction of what they can earn in the for-profit world. You end up with a much shallower talent pool.

            • by EzInKy ( 115248 )

              I don't care if they are successful, only that they give. And I can tell you I am not the only one who quit giving part of my pay because of their CEO's greed. People got so tired of giving to an organization whose president sucked up more than we earned that we all refused to donate anymore. Charity is about giving, not profiting.

              • Charity is about giving, not profiting.

                I'd argue that it is about helping people. If hiring good people lets you do more good, than I don't get caught up in how much the employees make. How many low-overhead charities were able to help in Nepal? I'd be surprised if you could find one that made a meaningful contribution in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

            • How can a huge organization expect to be successful with lower-than-market salaries?

              How can a huge org expect to be paying lower-than-market value for the goods that it needs? Why, by being a non-profit. If we are being asked to basically give them money to do charitable stuff, why is it unreasonable to ask executives of that company to give their time for less than market compensation?

              • Because the best people for a job are not necessarily in the same overlapping Venn diagram as people who like to donate their time to a charity.

      • But I think that there is a difference between a regular company paying exorbitant salaries that has the IP and full control of their product and another "company" that his assets is Creative Commons and that can be "legally stole" (copied) by other one. It is good to put under the scope the executive staff salaries to make some preassure, but we also need to understand that the full wikipedia site can be copied and all their contents can used to create a similar site. I prefer an executives making money th
    • Agreed: in the widest context the question arises, "so what?" I'm not bothered in the least by the ads, and I usually push them a few bucks when I notice one. And if I'm bothered by the ad, I scroll past it -- oh, the pain! Really now, for what wiki has given to the Web, to society, to journalism, to education -- and compared with the depredations of Wall St. and corporate America -- how can this be even vaguely construed as a scandal?
  • And they can't even back torrents of full HTML dumps of the various wiki* sites.

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:45AM (#49663227) Homepage Journal

    I want to know where every dollar is spent, or I'm donating 0$, like I have done. Seems to be working fine for them.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:49AM (#49663237)

    What % of web searches consist of:
    1) Google for XXX
    2) View overview of XXX pulled from Wikipedia
    3) Click on Google ad

    If only they could figure out a way to capture even a full percentage point of that revenue stream...

  • by GeekWithAKnife ( 2717871 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:49AM (#49663239)

    Look, over there! -A financially successful venture.

    Why do they have millions? that's not right 'they' should take all the money away or wikimedia foundation should give us stuff, because.

    Sure, we didn;t envy them when it was just a concept considered shaky at best. We didn't envy when they were struggling or were on the verge of collapse...

    But look, over there, they have money! -they should have dust, or little else because *anger*, just because.

    A few bucks for a rainy day, or an expansion etc. always easy to count costs for someone else and what they should and shouldn't do with money that is not your own.

    Have a coke and a smile. Say, 'heck few people thought this will ever make money, now it did even though it was not created solely out of greed. Congratulations and well done!'
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The anger comes from the lies Wikipedia posts at the top of articles over and over claiming wikipedia is on the verge of bankruptcy. Some donated simply because they felt pressured (as if they didn't do something, wikipedia would go offline). Some may have had to stretch and put themselves in a less financially good situation (but likely not horrible). Yet, it seems it was rich people's charity all along.

    • Yeah, no one cares they have an endowment. Did you read the summary? The issue is of disclosure.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 )

      We don't give a damn if they have some money. But when they constantly have their ad campaign which says "yarg, donate now or we'll have to close and go dark", and in fact they're sitting on pile of money ... well, then we think we've been had.

      This isn't a few bucks for a rainy day ... this is years worth of operating costs.

      With this in mind, debate is ongoing on the mailing list over the appropriateness of the banners. Wikimedia software developer Ori Livneh writes that "the urgency and alarm of the copy

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:52AM (#49663251)
    I should author a Wikipedia article on this subject.
  • by tommeke100 ( 755660 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:56AM (#49663279)
    Yes, for a non-profit 50 million $ just laying around seems like a lot. The WMF page says there are 230 employees for a revenue of 38 million $ (mostly from donations). You can hardly claim they are being secret about it. Also, paying 230 ppl an avg of 50,000$ a year is already 11 million$ ( so it's not a trivial amount, and if the avg is higher that goes up by a margin as well).
    However, when you look at the presence of WikiPedia on the internet, it's basically first hit on google in every search on every possible subject. It's probably the number one source for people to find information about a subject. They have a HUGE presence. If someone had to put a value on that, it would be worth billions. Look at other internet companies. Google (365 billion $), facebook (200 billion $), etc... Sure, they are not Google or Facebook, but would definitely be valued in the billions. The 50 million $ is just change compared to their net worth.
    • by Megol ( 3135005 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @09:09AM (#49663347)

      Remember that the actual content is produced free of charge by volunteers. Are 230 employees needed for infrastructure maintenance and development?

      • You say the same thing about Youtube, and they have over 700 staff, plus whatever assistance they get from Google.
        • Youtube is a commercial operation and they'll have a lot more lines of business: marketing, sales, legal and what not., who'll almost certainly make up a significant part of the workforce.

        • by Megol ( 3135005 )

          Not really comparably as the infrastructure for video streaming have to be considerably larger in storage/network bandwidth and also distributed geographically to avoid bottlenecks.

          Not to mention that Youtube actually pay for some of its content. ;)

      • Remember that the actual content is produced free of charge by volunteers. Are 230 employees needed for infrastructure maintenance and development?

        Almost certainly. The scale of Wikipedia is pretty huge, and I would imagine they need people top keep track of the changes, because some folks out there have interests in removing anything they see negative (as in politics and business). Then you have all the other employees you need to run a show like that. Just like any other business or non-profit.

      • What scares me is that with so many staff, the inevitable urge is to bloat the "user experience" with ever fancier and annoying "features". As far as I'm concerned the interface was finished quite a few years ago, and I would prefer that they just leave it alone. I can't stand their slideshows when I just want to see a single image, so I have Javascript turned off for the site, enabled only on occasion when I want to sort a table column or something.
    • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @09:43AM (#49663617)

      However, when you look at the presence of WikiPedia on the internet, it's basically first hit on google in every search on every possible subject. It's probably the number one source for people to find information about a subject. They have a HUGE presence.

      Yes -- all the more reason to NOT keep encouraging them. I know most people use Wikipedia on a frequent basis, but if you start poking around the Wikipediocracy posts (not just the one listed in TFS), you start to see a LOT of serious issues there.

      Wikipedia is NOT a reliable source of information. Let me repeat that: Wikipedia is NOT a reliable source of information. [wikipediocracy.com]

      (Or, if you prefer a more mainstream media discussion, look here [washingtonpost.com] for something recent.)

      We should be lamenting your fact that such a screwed up resource has become so dominant as a source of information for so many.

      I love the idea of Wikipedia. I was an active contributor back in the early years. But it's never "grown up." It's like a piece of open-source software stuck forever in alpha because active contributors are dwindling, new contributors get mired in a bureaucratic nightmare of argumentation over meaningless "policies" rather than content, and the actual source has remained so open to "Wild-West-style" editing that past hard work is continuously degraded by people deliberately introducing "new bugs into the code."

      Meanwhile, they're asking people to donate money -- not to the actual contributors or authors, or even to the admins who police the content to keep the vandalism at bay. But instead to some weird set of people who are only tangentially related to all the supposed "high-value" content that isn't produced or directly managed by them.

      Really? If this were a software project, you'd want to contribute to a software project like that? (Well, in all honesty, it IS a software project, not an information source that you're contributing to... but that's another whole discussion....)

      And what about honesty in their fundraising? Wikipedia doesn't want people talking about the bureaucratic crap going on behind the scenes or about the rampant vandalism that threatens the apparent value that you point out people place on the site... and they also can't be honest to readers and potential donors that they have plenty of money to keep the servers running ad-free -- they're just choosing to spend it on other things??

      Anyone who actually reformed this mess into something even moderately more stable and reliable would definitely make it worth billions, as in your estimation. But it's not there, and until it is reformed significantly, it has a high probability of getting worse and more problematic over time.

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        Wikipedia is very strong on a very narrow set of articles: non-controversial scientific basic, and episode lists for TV programs (and book lists for authors, etc) Stuff where all the facts are easy to explain, and there's no argument anywhere about them. I find it very valuable for that narrow use!

        I'd love to see more work spent in explaining less accessible math/science entries (from particle physics to group theory - the articles are a mess past the most introductory stuff). It's sad that people get su

    • by pz ( 113803 )

      Also, paying 230 ppl an avg of 50,000$ a year is already 11 million ...

      And don't forget that the total cost to the employer for each employee (or FTE) is approximately double the employee's salary when you roll in the costs of benefits and the infrastructure to support that employee. (Meaning $50K to the employee, $50K for everything else.) Add that to your estimate of $11M for salary, and you're sucking up nearly two thirds of the published revenue.

    • You can hardly claim they are being secret about it.

      No, it's not being kept secret per se - but it is kept in a dusty filing cabinet in a basement. They don't exactly publicize it, and what publicity they do undertake (the fund raising banners) gives a very different impression.

      However, when you look at the presence of WikiPedia on the internet, it's basically first hit on google in every search on every possible subject.

      If anyone but Wikipedia was as efficient at spamming Google - they'd change

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Safe return on $53 million at the moment is around $1 million per year. I'm not sure what their staffing costs are, but if the servers cost $2.5 million per year, it makes sense that they'd continue to fundraise.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:58AM (#49663287)

    Sorry, but every time I've ever contributed to Wikipedia, my articles are either marked as not meeting Notability criteria, or my edits are reverted by some 14 year old, so he/she can re-implement the same edits in their own wording.

    Since I've had so many terrible experiences with Wikipedia, I refuse to donate my time or money.

    • by sd4f ( 1891894 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @09:08AM (#49663341)
      I've had that problem from my first and only attempt to "contribute" to wikipedia. The idea is a good one, but it's seriously flawed in its application when some mug can moderate information when they haven't the slightest clue of the topic. I once tried to add information on an Australian manufactured car, and unfortunately some person from the USA took exception to certain comments, I was new, so didn't follow procedure, but when I provided books as my sources, rather than web pages, they still wouldn't back down. I couldn't be bothered arguing so just let the reverts happen and just washed my hands of ever trying to contribute to wikipedia ever again.
      • Well, it's dramatically less popular, but you could put content on Everything2. There, your "writeups" tend to remain until really truly superseded by another, and you're in control of them until they're deleted. I put my content both there and on my own website, which has tolerable pagerank on its own. Not great, but pretty good for a low-traffic blog.

      • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @09:59AM (#49663739)

        I couldn't be bothered arguing so just let the reverts happen and just washed my hands of ever trying to contribute to wikipedia ever again.

        You're lucky you figured this out so quickly. I spent significant amounts of my time back in 2004 to 2006 or so contributing a LOT to Wikipedia before I discovered how broken it was. Then I quit and got out. I'm glad I did because in the years since it's become clear that Wikipedia has no intentions of improving their structure compared to what it was a decade ago.

        A year or two ago I went back to some of the articles I authored or contributed significantly to, and while some of them were bigger and better, others had little to no trace of my original contributions, some have been actively "pruned" because of "notability" concerns, only to have new sections created again that were inferior to what was there before, and a couple in fact now propagated misinformation and inaccuracies that I spent so much time getting rid of.

        I understand the nature of the web. I don't expect my words and contributions to be "carved into stone tablets" for all time. But I would hope that when I've helped to make something better, it would be part of a chain of events toward continuous improvement. Unfortunately, Wikipedia has no sufficient mechanism to work toward that goal and actually a lot of mechanisms that work against that goal. So, unless you're willing to not only argue against the bureaucracy to make your initial edits but also to police them in perpetuity, there's no point in donating your time to Wikipedia.

        • by sd4f ( 1891894 )

          The problems are complex, because no doubt, some people really are quite proud of their contributions, and any editing or wholesale discarding of their work will no doubt be offensive to them. Having read some discussion pages, I could see that some people get really protective of their 'baby'. That means it would be better to be more diplomatic and if someone has made an entry, it would possibly be better to edit or adding to their work rather than rewriting it. But with that said, it's basically sacrifici

    • I have had somewhat better luck during the last couple of years. It seems that the snipers are not that much on watch anymore.
  • 53 million? (Score:5, Informative)

    by asv108 ( 141455 ) <alex AT phataudio DOT org> on Monday May 11, 2015 @09:10AM (#49663351) Homepage Journal
    Sorry but 53 million in assets for foundation with that level of operating costs that is rising every year is hardly awash in money. Harvard has a 36 billion dollar endowment, that's an example of an organization awash in money.
    • by leonbev ( 111395 )

      Yeah... 53 million dollars doesn't seem like a huge cash reserve for a company with 220 employees, They could easily burn through that 3 years, or even less if they started expanding with new projects.

      Personally, I'd like a new page editor screen doesn't look like a source code editor from the 1990's. Ya know, just in case they're looking for ideas on how to spend that money.

    • Huh? How is a quarter century of direct operating costs on hand (at current costs) not awash in money? Costs aren't raising that fast.

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @09:42AM (#49663611) Homepage

    Before getting alarmed about numbers with no context, take a look at Charity Navigator [charitynavigator.org]. Compare The Wikimedia foundation [charitynavigator.org] with your favorite charity and see how they look.

    Charity navigator rates the Wikimedia foundation as 4/4 stars. The system they use is quite fascinating: the site is generates the numbers mathematically from non-profit tax filings. What the site doesn't tell you is if the charity is actually doing good work. If a charity's goal is to feed babies to demons, and they do it efficiently, they will get good marks.

  • "Yet millions of people continue to contribute, seeming to think that Wikipedia will "go offline" if they aren't given more donations."

    Says who?

    "Yet as a new Wikipediocracy"

    Oh. So then the first quoted sentence should actually read:

    "We imagine that bunch of people we invented so we could complain about the Wikipedia, which is the entire reason for the existence of our site, might think that donating is a good idea, which it is. We didn't conduct any sort of study or analysis, because that would take time aw

  • If everything's so well paid for, why do they keep crying poor with those beggar messages at the top of the screen all the time?

  • There is a type of biochemical pathway in plants used when CO2 is very high. The alarmists have edited it to say it's for arid conditions I suppose to imply plants are adapting to a math error or something. Between lots of this and the medical business edits it loses objectivity and reliability weekly.

    Point is there are species of algae that have this property.

    Wikipedia has become a slow moving parody of itself to paraphrase Peter Honeyman.

  • The English Wikipedia should have user preferences to select UK / US spellings. It would be trivial compared to the bloated user preferences and formatting flourishes that it has now. It can't call itself scholarly when it's full of spelling errors.

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      The English Wikipedia should have user preferences to select UK / US spellings.

      Why? I never heard of people having trouble with the alternative* spellings. So long as each article is internally consistent, who cares which it uses?

      It would be trivial compared

      Hardly! Then you will have to support Australian and Canadian spelling. And determine it by context - we program a computer, but read a TV programme.
      Then there are the subtle grammar differences, and vocabulary. Would need to manually edit each page, then maintain the two in parallel.
      Its one of those ideas that sounds OK - until you actually think about it

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