Their 20+ million volunteer-created articles attract more than 477 million people per month making them the fifth most popular ring of sites on the web, and they do it all with your help. The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), umbrella group for Wikipedia, Wiktionary, etc, recently ended its 2011 fund-raising campaign with great success. Thanks to (in)famous banner ads placed on Wikimedia sites, the nonprofit gathered $20 million from more than one million followers! Those are compelling numbers made even more impressive by the growth they represent from years past. Since 2008, donor numbers have increased ten fold! Total donations have risen greatly as well, from $4.5M to $20M. Crowd-sourcing really works for the Wikimedia Foundation – and they plan on leveraging it to even greater heights. By 2015 the company wants to be serving 1 billion people a month, with 50 million articles, and increasing regular contributors to 200,000. Can the Wikimedia Foundation continues its phenomenal growth? Only if the crowd continues to grow along with it.
This introductory video to the inner workings and history of Wikipedia is now a year old, but it still provides a great amount of information in less than four minutes. Well worth a view, and it’s narrated by none other than Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales:
January 15th 2012 marks the 11th anniversary of Wikipedia, and the birth of one of the world’s most popular and perhaps important experiments in crowd-sourcing. Not only are the Wikimedia sites created overwhelmingly through the work of volunteers, they are largely managed by volunteers as well (about 100,000 around the world). The actual Wikimedia Foundation company only employs about 78 people (by last count) and that is absolutely ridiculous for a group that provides a service to 477+ million people each month. If not for the work of hundreds of thousands of online writers and editors, this business model would be completely unsustainable.
Yet it’s doing more than subsisting, it’s thriving. Wikimedia Foundation’s annual fund drive raised $4.5 million in 2008, $8.7 million in 2009, $15 million in 2010, and now $20 million in 2011. The drive is also getting faster (dropping from 67 days to 50 from 2009-2010), and broader, as seen in the increased number of donors. Besides Wikipedia, there are ten sister projects: Wiktionary, Wikibooks, Wikimedia Commons (aka Wikicommons), Wikispecies, Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikiversity, Wikinews, MediaWiki, Wikimedia Incubator, and Wikimedia Metawiki. Each has its own dedicated user base and corps of volunteers. WMF has sites in almost every country and in 282 different languages.
The 2011-2012 Foundation Plan calls for expanding the sites further every year. The 2011-2012 budget is actually $28.3 million, with missing funds to be met by grants from institutions like the Sloan Foundation. (This drive and grant combination is the norm, and it seemingly works well.) Wikimedia has increased its hires, bringing the company from 50 to 78 in the past fiscal year and aiming to further increase staff by as many as 35 more hires. Wikimedia Foundation has plenty of money to spend as well, they run a high level of reserves ($13 million or so), and they continue to exceed their expectations in revenue. (Revenue was up 50% or so in 2010). To balance that boon, spending is going to increase by 24% in 2012 to invest in better harnessing the crowd:
In 2011-12, the majority of spending goes towards growing, strengthening and increasing the diversity of the editing community, as well as investments in key geographic areas, mobile development and innovation.
—2011-2012 Plan Overview, Wikimedia Foundation
Reading through WMF’s annual plan one gets a sense of an organization very concerned with the future of the internet. Their analysis of risks mentions the falling growth (though not falling numbers) in traffic that has been experienced by other major websites – no one is growing as fast as the internet as a whole is growing. They also worry about diversifying editors demographically (there have been large concerns raised about the dearth of female editors, for instance), and the hurdles that come with an exploding international presence. Yet they also are planning steadily for the future – renovating their mobile platform, expanding in India and Brazil, and further developing Wikimedia Labs (a proving grounds for MediaWiki software).
In short, the Wikimedia Foundation is a grounded and realistic organization that relies on seemingly surreal levels of public interest. That alone is an indication of the current state of the internet. The crowd is becoming something like the wind, tides, or sun. A seemingly vast and renewable resource that humanity is just starting to harness well, and may take decades to leverage properly. The fact that this resource is made up of humanity only makes it more intriguing.
WMF is undoubtedly a success story: popular enough to attract 477+ million visitors a month, inspiring enough to garner $20M in donations, interesting enough to collect more than a hundred thousand volunteers and even more content providers. That success speaks not just to the Wikimedia Fondation team, but to the crowd as well. If this nonprofit can continue to ride that wave, and ride it well, there’s no limit to where they can go from here.
If you’d like to donate to Wikimedia Foundation, please visit this landing page.