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Wikicapitalism is the wiki-philosophy that favors for-profit ownership and operation of wikis. Arguably, such commercialization could result in efficiency gains, including in the fundraising needed to improve the project in ways needed to attract editors. Wikicapitalism is closely tied to wikidynamism, since capitalism makes it possible for people to launch their own enterprises without seeking permission and resources from a central planner.
Wikicapitalist management vs. wikimobocracy and wikirepublicanismEdit
Presently, Wikimedia is run by a Board of Trustees. As Murray Rothbard pointed out:
|“||Trustee governance is, in general, a poor way to run any institution. In the first place, in contrast to profit-making firms, partnerships, or corporations, the trustee-run firm is not fully owned by anyone. The trustees cannot make profits from successful operation of the organization, so there is no incentive to be efficient, or to serve the firm's customers properly. As long as the college or other organization does not suffer excessive deficits it can peg along at a low level of performance. Since the trustees cannot make profits by bettering their service to customers, they tend to be lax in their operations. Furthermore, they are hobbled in financial efficiency by the terms of their charters; for example, the trustees of a college are forbidden from saving their institution by converting part of the campus into a commercial enterprise — say a profit-making parking lot.||”|
Like any other democracy, Wikimedia is subject to the public choice dilemma of rational ignorance, in which, especially as the electorate expands, individual voters' incentives for making an informed decision diminish. The individual Wikipedian knows that his vote for trustee, or his input for or against a particular organization-wide proposal, is unlikely to tip the outcome, so he is unlikely to spend much time thoroughly researching the issues and voting accordingly. Turnout for trusteeship elections is not particularly good; only 2,940 votes were cast in the 2009 board elections. The quality of voters' decisions can, perhaps, be judged by the board's actions (and inactions). The other problem with democracy is that it is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner; that is, the majority (or "rough consensus," as the case may be) of editors can override the minority, to the detriment of the encyclopedia. There is no profit motive to deter voters from putting their own personal agendas ahead of the interests of the encylopedia as a whole.
If Wikimedia were to sell Wikipedia, MediaWiki and its other projects to a private venture, then a new set of incentives would kick in. Investors and the analysts and financial managers they employ have a strong incentive to be well-informed about matters affecting the profitability of a firm, and their decisions to buy or sell a stock affect its share price. Management would need to maximize profitability, or else the share price would fall, potentially causing shareholder rebellion or hostile takeover, and diminishing the value of any executive stock options. The profit motive might increase management's sense of urgency in improving the software and implementing policies that will attract editors and readers.
The possibility of receiving a return on investment might also increase the availability of funds, as it would become possible to sell shares of equity in the firm and to borrow money on the expectation of paying it off with future profits. It would not be necessary to rely on donors. The funds could be used to invest in technology (including software enhancements) needed to improve the project.
Sockpuppetry and meatpuppetryEdit
Wikicapitalism eliminates the sockpuppetry and meatpuppetry problems in wiki elections. There would be no advantage in setting up a fake identity and buying shares with it, or in having one's cousin buy shares. One could accomplish the same result by buying a bunch of shares in one's own name.
A wiki that combines wikicapitalism with top-down wikihierarchism can eliminate the need for users to vote in Requests for Adminship, Requests for Comment, x for Deletion, etc. Those decisions can simply be made by officers appointed by the Chief Executive Officer, who in turn is appointed by the Board of Directors, whose members are in turn chosen by the stockholders. This greatly reduces the incentive for sockpuppetry, since the process of consensus is replaced by a process of making suggestions to officers, who then render the final decision in accordance with what they believe is best for the project. Any complaints about the officer's decision can be resolved by appeal to the next higher level of officers; e.g. a Lieutenant's decision can be resolved by appealing to the Captains, and any Captain can reverse any Lieutenant's decision, and demote that Lieutenant if he continues to make bad decisions. Of course, if the Captain's action of reversal or demotion is challenged, that can be resolved by bringing it to the attention of the Majors, who can reverse his decision and/or demote him. And so on.
Effect of commercialization on volunteersEdit
There are many profit-seeking firms that have been able to sustain volunteer collaboration. A prime example is Wikia, but other examples include Urban Dictionary, Yahoo Groups, Ubuntu, etc. It is not necessary that the organization that coordinates not-for-profit collaboration itself be a not-for-profit. As for the question of the integrity of the encyclopedia, it is worth noting that Encyclopedia Britannica and most other encyclopedias are created by profit-making enterprises.
Advertising need not be obnoxious, and indeed, it might be less obnoxious than some of the donation pitches that have been used. As for the argument that advertising would create a conflict of interest in which Wikipedia would be reluctant to host material criticizing its advertisers, that argument could be raised about any number of magazines, such as PC Magazine, which contain reviews criticizing various products, or popular news magazines that sometimes criticize leadership of various companies. Management, if its profitability depends on its reputation as a source of objective, reliable information, must put that before the desires of its advertisers. Competition is the best safeguard against abuse, because if Wikipedia fails to provide good information, readers will go elsewhere. And because the content is irrevocably copylefted, competition can arise easily via a fork.
Profit-seeking firms have another built-in safeguard, in that disgruntled minority shareholders can dump their stock and take their money elsewhere, and in so doing send signals to the financial markets about problems at the firm; but disgruntled donors and editors to a nonprofit have no such recourse. They can vote against the majority, but that gets old after awhile and eventually they just leave, or else knuckle under and abide by the wishes of the majority.
It should be noted too that there have been many nominally for-profit corporations that existed to provide needed infrastructure for public use. For instance, the turnpike corporations of 19th century America built tens of thousands of highways, seeking only to break even. The shares were bought by farmers, artisans and others seeking to improve their profits by furthering transportation, and the commerce it facilitated, in their region.
The volunteers should not get to vote just because they have contributed labor. Their payoff is that they get to use the wiki to call attention to stuff they care about. E.g., the person who cares about cold fusion writes the cold fusion article, and helps raise public awareness of the facts he wants to bring to their attention. That is his reward; and if he wants an extra reward, in the form of an opportunity to vote in shareholder elections, then he needs to buy shares.
Commercialization could be implemented by, for instance, Wikimedia selling Wikipedia, MediaWiki and its other projects to a private venture (which presumably would be lawful, as long as the proceeds were to be invested charitably). A for-profit venture operating Wikipedia and other projects would likely support itself by advertising.
A for-profit firm would not have the advantage of tax-exempt status. There might also be legal implications with reference to the use of copyrighted works on a "fair use" basis, since nonprofits get more leeway than for-profit entities. Wikicapitalists would argue that the solution is to to change those laws, rather than to adapt the project to them. WMF did not adapt to the Stop Online Piracy Act, but rather fought to prevent it from being passed; similarly, it could be possible to fight to change the laws that discriminate against for-profit entities.