Gove-Pedia – The Donation Economy’s Dead End

Many years ago at the Gothenburg book show, I was on stage with a representative from Wikipedia (technically the Wikimedia Foundation, which owns Wikipedia). Oh, and before I write anything else, let me first say that I like Wikipedia. I use it. Lots of link to it on Netopia. Anyway, I asked the Wikipedia-lady what she thought about the legacy encyclopediae – don’t they bring some value that Wikipedia does not? Would it not be great with pluralism? (If you follow Netopia, you know this is the kind of questions I like to ask.)

“They must become much better”, she replied. The outdated business models of the print encyclopediae can’t compete with the free, crowd-sourced online alternative. The hierarchy model with academics scrutinizing entries in their fields of expertise has no place in the digital world. That is how I understood her. I wanted to say something like “wouldn’t it be better with both crowd-sourced and expert edited encyclopediae?” but I didn’t. My mind was busy unpacking her statement: it makes an assumption that the legacy encyclopediae could survive if only the tried a little harder. (And perhaps she was right, at least the classic Britannica lives on with subscriptions but many others are gone.)

Wikipedia continually asks users to make donations. It doesn’t say it uses some of those donations to pick fights in intellectual property law, on things like a monkey selfie and artist’s copyright. Of course it is fair for the Wikimedia foundation to bring whatever court cases it wants, but an organization committed to spreading unbiased knowledge could do better in being transparent about how it uses donations.

Did the donation economy win in the long run? Celebrating Wikipedia’s 20th birthday earlier this year, Jonas F Ludvigsson – famous Swedish doctor – called for government intervention to secure Wikipedia’s long term survival. Funny, can it not just “become much better”?

It is a tad ironic that Wikipedia repeats the familiar patterns of disruption->monopoly, anti-establishment rhetoric and tax money bail-out. Similar to basic income, after all of the economy has been disrupted, let the government pay.

Happy belated birthday Wikipedia. Netopia wishes you many more years of crowd-sourced wisdom and promises to continue to link to your entries. Netopia also wishes you some competition. Pluralism wins in the long run.