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"Though ads mean we can make more money, we would rather not"

Jimmy Wales, Co-founder, Wikipedia, talks about ensuring authenticity of content in today's times, and why the non-profit will always be ad-free.

By Sonal Khetarpal        Print Edition: January 15, 2017
Photo: Vivan Mehra

Jimmy Wales, Co-founder, Wikipedia, talks about ensuring authenticity of content in today's times, and why the non-profit will always be ad-free.

Who really are the content creators on Wikipedia, and how do you ensure content neutrality?

Everything you see on Wikipedia is from our community of volunteers, 80,000 in all, who do a small amount of work on one or two topics they are interested in. From these, there are 3,000-5,000 people responsible for organising it all. People who curate content and edit are all volunteers. We don't have any in-house editors, though there are a couple of people in the staff who process the edits someone suggests on phone, or pass them along to the community. It is a very strong community where people keep an eye on each other and enforce rules on each other

The number of fake pages and hoaxes on Wikipedia is increasing. How are you tackling this?

Is it increasing? I will have to look that up. Interestingly, hoaxes on Wikipedia are completely obscure. Even if someone wrote a plausible page - for instance, about a 13th century painter - no one reads it much. However, if there is fake content around a topical issue, say, Hillary Clinton, then it will not be successful at all as Wikipedia volunteers are very sophisticated about this sort of thing. We have a strong resistance to fake content; the community is vigilant and experienced about making judgements on the news source.

Wikipedia is still a not-for-profit organisation. How will having ads affect its content?

If a platform is not advertising driven, it is trusted a lot more by users. People understand that Wikipedia has its flaws, but it is not driven by advertisers, and that's a comfort they have. Also, reading on Wikipedia is not interrupted by advertisements. Yes, there are those fundraising banner ads, but they are minimal, and are run only during some parts of the year. Though ads mean we can make more money, and do a lot of other things, we would rather not. Organisations by nature tend to follow the money; it is very difficult to resist it. At Wikipedia, we are as concerned about the next million readers in Sub-Saharan Africa as we are about the next million readers in California. But if we were advertisement-driven, we would have to take care of readers in the developed markets, and be more interested to monetise that opportunity. Right now, we are interested in about everyone on the planet. We also care about what they are reading more - whether Elizabethan poetry or topics on travel. We are not thinking of areas that will allow for more revenue generating opportunities.

Video and voice are redefining how content is delivered online. But we don't see much change on Wikipedia...

That's not where we see our future. We would like to have videos such as historical footage and video explainers, but it is not an overriding concern. The concern really is providing quality experience. Hence, we refresh the design from time to time, but it will never be dramatic so as to surprise anyone. The nature of Wikipedia is that text and images have to be readable. We don't want anyone to have an experience where they can't find anything. Commercial websites rely on videos because ad rates for videos are quite good. Nothing wrong with that; but Wikipedia is not advertisement-driven, and hence, not really bothered about videos.


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