Wikipedia, founded in 2001, is a free-content online encyclopedia written and maintained by a community of volunteers. It’s the largest and most-read reference work in history and is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, an American nonprofit organization.
How do I know this? I use Wikipedia. And maybe Elon Musk could have taken a few seconds to look that up before he made a troll-ish (surprise) offer over the weekend to buy the nonprofit for $1 billion if he was also allowed to change the name to “Dickipedia,” which is funny if you’re 12, maybe.
Wikipedia’s sin, according to the X/Twitter owner, is that it asks for donations. “It certainly isn’t needed to operate Wikipedia. You can literally fit a copy of the entire text on your phone!” he tweeted. “So, what’s the money for? Inquiring minds want to know … “
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And. hilariously, readers of the former Twitter site used the social media’s Community Notes features to provide context for its clueless owner. “Wikipedia handles over 25B page views per month and over 44M page edits a month, requiring substantial operating costs,” readers noted, while adding that the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation is audited by a third party in a report that is available to the public.
There are some valid criticisms of how Wikipedia is spending its budget, though the nonprofit does a pretty thorough breakdown of its spending here (and admittedly, the majority of the budget is not for simple maintenance). But solutions outside of these donation asks would certainly make the site worse — do you really want another site with ads?
This argument seems to come up every year, so we’ll quote Wired contributor Emily Dreyfuss from 2014 when she was defending giving $6 a month to Wikipedia. “Why not pay to maintain the greatest trove of human knowledge in the history of our species?” she wrote, noting that she already pays Hulu $7.99 a month “even though it forces me to watch ads between my favorite shows.”
And here’s the kicker. “My annoyance [at the ask for payment] was a symptom of my dependence on Wikipedia,” she wrote. “I rely on it utterly. I take it completely for granted.” And it’s true, even nearly a decade later. AI programs like ChatGPT, which utilizes Wikipedia, seem to offer less accurate answers. Wikipedia, meanwhile, uses human editors and undergoes constant revision and, most importantly, cites its sources. While as a journalist I’d never rely on Wikipedia as a primary source (except for this article), it does provide an overview and a pathway to understanding everything I need to know on a given day, from types of wine grapes to the cultural impact of Grand Theft Auto III, which came out on this day in 2001. Thanks, Wikipedia! You’ve got my $3 today.
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