Calacanis responds, but still doesn’t get it

October 31, 2006

When Jason Calacanis posted his suggestion for AOL-based advertising on Wikipedia, apparently he didn’t see what was coming. 600-diggs, a hoard of incoming links and a wave of revulsion later, and he’s replied to his critics — but still doesn’t “get it”.

Calacanis doesn’t start well, choosing to open his post with a couple of paragraphs that whine about the state of the world, and such:

Wow… that Wikipedia post that I wrote in five minutes before running out to dinner sure did get a huge response. Funny how that happens in blogging isn’t it? You can spend two days on a post and it goes by without one comment or link, and you do a throw away post and it gets 100 comments, 600+ diggs, and dozens of inboundlinks.

But we can move past that. Why doesn’t he really understand?

Well, this new reply takes a slightly different stance from his original one, now proposing that Wikipedia add a leaderboard to their site – which users can manually hide, if they so wish. This, he claims, is a much better solution:

I think giving users the option of ads or no-ads in an upfront way means USERS get to choose–not the pro-advertising or anti-advertising camps. If users get to chose who are we to make the decision for them?

No, Jason, it isn’t. Why not?

Well, the first problem we see is that an encyclopedia that prides itself on being free, totally open-source and community driven stands to lose a massive chunk of credibility simply by associating itself with advertising of any kind at all. It’s unreasonable to expect Calacanis to reply to my own rebuttal specifically, but every point I made there stands: Wikipedia would lose its credibility, anger the community, and open itself up to unresolvable conflicts of interest. Advertising, by its nature, is incompatible with Wikipedia.

Let me introduce the Wikimedia Foundation’s current income stream: fundraising and voluntary donations from the community. The results of this effort are amazing, with the Foundation receiving nearly four hundred thousand dollars from the fundraising drive in Q4 2005 alone, simply from donations. That’s quite enough income to let Wikipedia keep running along smoothly.

Shall we compare the two models? On Calacanis’ side, we have the suggestion that Wikipedia introduce advertising as a way of increasing its income at the cost of credibility, when Calacanis has yet to even demonstrate a need for more money. On the other, we have a comfortable situation in which Wikipedia makes enough money to continue running smoothly, without compromising its integrity or angering the community.

Summing up
Really, this whole debate is meaningless. Calacanis doesn’t seem to realise that the Wikipedia community as a whole needs to stand strongly behind an advertising model for it to ever be implemented. If he’d like to see such a thing, I have a few questions it might help for him to answer:

  1. Why do we need advertising — or rather, why do we need more income?
  2. Why would it not result in the kind of backlash I wrote about earlier?

Advertising at Wikipedia certainly isn’t going to happen in the near future, if ever. But on the plus side, Jason shouldn’t be complaining about the hatred he’s received for suggesting such a thing: with the number of ads on his blog, the profit from so much extra traffic should make it all worth it.

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