A Wikipedia Editor Wants Users To Buy Him $6000 Worth Of French Cheese And Cameras

Picture: KissKissBankBank

A Wikipedia editor wants to buy at least 200 of France’s estimated 500 types of cheese so they can be eaten, photographed and catalogued.

Wikimedia France, a group of editors recognized by the Wikimedia Foundation as a chapter, not only want their readers to buy the cheeses, but also the photographic equipment needed to snap them. It’s nearly reached the $6000 it says it needs via crowdfunding site Kisskissbankbank.

(UPDATE: The Wikimedia Foundation has asked to clarify a few points about this story. We’ve noted their concerns and you can read them at the end of the post.)

Obviously, it’s completely Wikimedia Foundation’s business as to how Wikipedia editors raise money, but there’s a rising tide of concern over the foundation’s perceived need to rely on handouts and the way it chooses to spend donations.

In September, the Wikimedia Foundation put out its latest financial statements and revealed a surprisingly healthy bottom line.

Source: Wikimedia Foundation

As you can see, it listed total assets of more than $60 million, up an impressive $12 million from 2013. Nearly $28 million is cash and cash equivalents, up from $22 million a year ago.

Despite this, the online giant – a registered non-profit organization – is currently rolling out its annual banner ads asking for $3 donations:

Except the ads aren’t annual any more – they’re popping up several times a year and starting to annoy users who say they’d almost prefer advertising.

The Wikimedia Foundation says it only runs its contribution campaign on English Wikipedia once a year, in December:

“If users are seeing more than one banner, it may be because they are using more than one language versions of Wikipedia, or they may be seeing test banners. We work to minimize the number of banners seen by any one user, and users who contribute will not be shown the banner again.”

UK publication The Register has a sharpish comment piece about why it’s probably time Wikipedia looked after its own income. Its total liabilities sit at $7m, and hosting costs a tick over $2.5 million, so it’s probably too early to have the knives completely out. But The Register is not the only one sharpening them.

There’s been a long-running campaign to weed out an army of PR “sockpuppets” that spend paid fulltime hours editing entries to benefit their clients. Another campaign aims to address the perceived sexism problem at the site. (85% of editors are male.)

And at the heart of it all is simply the fact that after 13 years online, it has become an environment where newcomers just don’t feel welcome. It’s not quite the collaborative effort as it was in the early days. This quote from TechnologyReview sums it up:

The loose collective running the site today, estimated to be 90 percent male, operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers who might increase participation in Wikipedia and broaden its coverage.

Co-founder Jimmy Wales is never too far away from defending the site or being shown to want to make all the right changes. There’s even a comprehensive Criticism of Wikipedia page, to its credit.

But $28 million in cash reserves, up $8 million on a year ago, is a great base from which to take some direct action to push Wikipedia, perhaps by breaking its own rule and considering an advertising stream, into a space from where it’s not so easy for the pot-shots to keep building.

In the meantime, it might not be a bad idea to have a quiet word to Wiki editors brazenly asking for $6000 in cheese and cameras to not push their luck.

UPDATE: Here’s the Wikimedia Foundation’s clarification on their relationship with Wiki editors:

  • This fundraising campaign on KissKissBankBank is not a Wikimedia Foundation project but rather an effort initiated by the volunteer editors (“Wikimedians”) affiliated with Wikimedia France.
  • Wikimedia France is an independent organization that supports French members of the Wikimedia movement.
  • The Wikimedia Foundation does not create content for the site or set editorial policy for Wikipedia. All content creation and editorial policy is undertaken entirely by volunteers, including articles and photographs about cheese.
  • The Wikimedia Foundation was not involved in or aware of the project prior to its launch. No Wikimedia Foundation staff have been involved in this fundraising effort and no Wikimedia Foundation staff will have access to the funds raised in this project.
  • The WikiCheese project is a completely separate effort from the year-end contribution campaign run by the Wikimedia Foundation. The funds raised from the contribution campaign support the operating expenses of the Wikimedia sites, including servers and technical infrastructure, and global outreach programs.

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