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Corner Office

CEO of Wikimedia on making a site useful for billions

Kai Ryssdal Jan 31, 2013
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So you’re at your computer. Try Googling something. How about…”Ben Bernanke.” Almost certainly, the first thing that you type for almost anything is a Wikipedia entry. Information written mostly by about 15,000 active users — not a huge group, when you think about it.

Sue Gardner is the executive director of the WikiMedia Foundation, of which Wikipedia is a part.

Turns out, there’s not much different between the business models of WikiMedia and public radio. Both have to ask for money to help support their content. And that model’s working really well for WikiMedia — Gardner says in their latest campaign, they made $2.7 million a day. That’s up from $430,000 a day the year before.

But financing aside, Gardner says Wikipedia has a lot of room for growth. Though the website has entries in 286 languages, the entries that get the most edits are in English by people in developed countries.

She also says the huge disparity between the number of male editors and female editors — nine out of 10 editors are men — is also troubling.

“It stems from the origins of the project,” Gardner says. “So when people were first interacting online in 2001, the folks who were interacting online tended to skew heavily heavily male.” She says WikiMedia works actively now to recruit female editors.

When will you see an ad on Wikipedia? Never, says Gardner. She then hedges a bit — “if it were a choice between putting ads on Wikipedia or shutting down Wikipedia, we would then very reluctantly consider putting ads on Wikipedia.”

And of course, you’re probably wondering what Gardner thinks about criticism of the site’s accuracy. “Everybody’s saying, be skeptical of Wikipedia. That is true. They should also be skeptical of everything. We should all be critical consumers of the media.”

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