User:Qq/Voting power is not allocated by donations
|This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.|
In recent village pump and Miscellany for Deletion, some editors have made statements to the effect of, "I donated to Wikimedia last year, and I don't want my money going toward x." This has been used to justify banning, for instance, social networking and other community-building content on userpages.
Of course, Wikipedia was never designed as or intended to be a share-based corporation in which voting power or influence are allocated by money invested. The Wikimedia bylaws state that the board of trustees shall be appointed or elected from the Community. In practice, this means each person has an equal vote as long as they "have been a contributor to at least one Wikimedia project for three months prior to June 1, 2007 (that is, by March 1, 2007), as indicated by the date of the user's first edit, and must have completed at least 400 edits with the same account by June 1, 2007." Elections for other positions such as bureaucrats and admins, and decisions on policy enactment and application (e.g. in articles for deletion) are similarly made a rough consensus of the community of editors. Donations are not taken into account.
But aside from the technical structure of governance, donors do not exercise de facto power either, as they cannot force a policy change by threatening to withhold funds. Wikimedia's expenses in 2006 were $791,000. This is a tiny fraction of the amount given to charitable causes each year by the major foundations; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alone gave $2.8 billion. Any one of the hundreds of major foundations could, by itself, replace the donations provided by Wikimedia's contributors, in the unlikely event that it had to. But suppose (despite the usual incentives for giving, such as tax writeoffs and positive press) no philanthropist or foundation wanted to shoulder that burden. Wikipedia is still the eighth most popular website in the world in number of hits per day. If we had to, we could more than pay for our operations with advertising revenue – possibly unobtrusive text-only ads targeted by context, if we were to take a page from Google. Many governmental and nonprofit entities, such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, are partially supported by advertising. (See Wikipedia:Advertisements.)
George F. Will once said in reference to campaign finance reform, "Money embodies time spent working; money is congealed labor." His point was that volunteering time and money to a political campaign are basically equivalent, since money is obtained through work and can be converted back into work. Campaigns regularly hire paid staff to replace volunteers to do gruntwork such as petitioning. Similarly, we could theoretically purchase content from other websites and pay staff to write articles. But money literally can't buy an encyclopedia quite like Wikipedia. In any situation where paid staff are involved, a hierarchical structure of supervisors is created to monitor their work. Inevitably, the content becomes biased by the leadership's handpicking of the participants in the work and by the direction it gives to staff as to what to write and how to write it. As the leadership is held accountable for making sure its staff work on projects that will be deemed by outsiders (such as donors) to be worthy of the money invested on labor, the subjects covered, and the detail in which they are covered, are influenced by popular norms of what is and is not important. As a result, no encyclopedia compiled by paid staff has achieved the same delightfully quirky breadth of subject matter as Wikipedia; you would be hard-pressed to find as detailed a coverage of crushing by elephant or religious debates over the Harry Potter series in the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Indeed, our choice of topics and ensuing deletion debates will likely be a source of entertainment for generations to come.
On Wikipedia, the content is shaped by self-appointed editors in a process open to participation by anyone with access to an internet connection. As users can contribute anonymously, no one need fear reprisals for spending all day writing about the history of autofellatio or the list of CSI: Miami episodes if that is their area of special knowledge or interest. There is no boss to look over their shoulder and say, "Wouldn't it have been a better value for our donors if you had worked on the Alexander Hamilton article?" The business press has noted that in some endeavors, the contributions of unpaid volunteers are of higher quality than those provided for pay. The Fast Company article, Only the Pronoid Survive, notes that blood donations fell off, and infected donations became more common, when blood banks began offering money for donations. The most productive market for blood donations, it appears, is a gift market based on altruism for its own sake. Similarly, the experiment of Wikipedia provides evidence that volunteer efforts are the most effective means of building an encyclopedia. In our world, there are millions who are willing to invest their labor for free, for the payoff of the intellectual stimulation of writing about subjects that interest them and collaborating on those projects with others; for the good-natured sense of community that has been fostered here; for the satisfaction that comes from contributing to a lasting and living work with the potential to be read by millions and continue being improved by successive editors long after our own deaths. This economy of nonmonetary payoffs in which everyone is free to edit whatever they want, with no restrictions, is a pure application of laissez faire to a microeconomic system.
It should, in fact, be reassuring to our many past and present benefactors that the integrity of our encyclopedia is likely to continue uncompromised by financial pressures into the foreseeable future; as in the unlikely event that our refusal to yield to pressure on some contentious issue were to perturb a substantial portion of some future unreasonable donor base, the success of our project has guaranteed ample possible replacement sources of funds. We can, then, address issues such as userpage content on their merits rather than bowing to the wishes of those who presume to have more say because they clicked the PayPal "Pay Now" button and someone else didn't. It remains to be seen how replaceable our editors are. We do know that Wikipedia's growth has slowed, and we know that many editors have left the project in dissatisfaction over various policies. We also know that many of our editors are also contributors. And we know that the content generated by those editors draws readers, who could comprise a future revenue base. And we know that many editors and contributors start out as readers. It follows, then, that it may be counterproductive to adopt policies that reduce our editor base, in hopes of appeasing a few donors. If there will be a net gain of productive editors by, say, loosening user page restrictions, then it could be a net benefit to the project.
The Wikimedia statement of purpose says, "The mission of the Wikimedia Foundation is to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally. In collaboration with a network of chapters, the Foundation provides the essential infrastructure and an organizational framework for the support and development of multilingual wiki projects and other endeavors which serve this mission." This broadly-worded statement provides plenty of latitude for community building activities that help "engage people" to be involved in our project. Fair notice was given a long time ago that we might direct some resources at activities whose impact on encyclopedia-building is indirect.