In today's Finshots, we talk about how Wikipedia is planning to finally make money off of its content


The Story

Wikipedia is over 20 years old. The English version of the website now has more than six million articles and an army of contributors continue to document the sum total of all human knowledge on this free to access encyclopedia. However, despite the company's massive influence, they still operate as a not for profit entity primarily relying on donations. And donations are always a sticky subject. For instance, in 2019 Google donated $2 million to the Wikimedia Foundation (the company that runs Wikipedia). And while you might be inclined to think, this is by definition an altruistic endeavour, it isn’t always the case. As an article in the Wired notes 

“Supporting Wikipedia is also a shrewd business decision that will likely benefit Google for years to come. Like other tech companies, including Amazon, Apple, and Facebook, Google already uses Wikipedia content in a number of its own products. When you search Google for “Paris,” a “knowledge panel” of information about the city will appear, some of which is sourced from Wikipedia.”

So it makes sense for the likes of Google to keep supporting the company. But this doesn’t mean there is an obligation for them to pay. In fact, a couple of years ago, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told people they’d start using content from Wikipedia to fight misinformation. The only problem — She made this announcement without having intimated their knowledge partner about this matter. It was embarrassing, to say the least, considering Wikipedia had to go out in public to clarify — “We are always happy to see people, companies and organizations recognize Wikipedia’s value as a repository of free knowledge. In this case, neither Wikipedia nor the Wikimedia Foundation are part of a formal partnership with YouTube. We were not given advance notice of this announcement.”


And it’s not just big corporates that use this information for free. You can too. Wikipedia generally grants free access to its content. As the company puts it —" Copied Wikipedia content will therefore remain free under an appropriate license and can continue to be used by anyone subject to certain restrictions, most of which aim to ensure that freedom. This principle is known as copyleft in contrast to typical copyright licenses."

Meaning if you use their content, you’ll have to attribute the source and offer people access to your derivative work free of cost. But there is a problem. If you’re using it for a pet project, you can probably source whatever you need from Wikipedia manually. But what if it’s a more ambitious project? What if you want access to many things all at once? In that case, Wikipedia will offer you access to a "data dump" and a “fire hose” of all the changes in real-time. And while you may need big teams to parse through this dump and figure out how to clean and present this data, even this is free to use.

Which begets the final question — “If nobody is mandated to pay and everything is free to use, how can Wikipedia survive on benevolence alone?”

Well, truth be told, it is a problem. Although Wikipedia has raised a lot of money and it has millions in reserves, you can never say for sure when the funding tap might close. It’s always an uncertain enterprise. And if you’ve been following the news of late, you know the kind of backlash the company received when it tried to raise money from the Indian public. So here you have a company that doesn’t have a steady stream of revenue and is desperately trying to solve the problem by building reserves through donations.

But what if it didn't have to be this way? What if Wikipedia could get corporates to pay money for certain services rendered?

Until now it had been taboo for the company to even broach this topic, but now things seem to be changing. The Wikimedia Foundation is creating a new paid service for companies that use their data. We still don’t know the details but it’s likely the company will provide services that include cleaning and formatting the data so corporates no longer have to do it themselves. As they noted —

“Wikimedia Enterprise’s focus is on businesses that reuse our content, typically at a large scale — e.g., integrated into knowledge graphs, search, voice assistants, maps, news reporting, community tools, third-party applications, and full-corpus research studies. Augmenting Wikimedia’s many datasets to put structure behind our unstructured content will allow all our content reusers to meet their individual requirements while also setting us up to build new tools and services in the future, available to everyone"

Does that mean we will have to pay Wikipedia to access their data dump? No, but if you want to do it in a seamless fashion that suits your requirements, maybe you’ll have to access the company’s new service.

So the only question now is this — “How will the editors take this news? And how will the donors respond?”

Do you think they’ll be happy Wikipedia will finally have some semblance of certain or will they be miffed about this corporate play?

We don’t know. You tell us.

Until then…

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