[Foundation-l] This is not an Advertisement

Brion Vibber brion at pobox.com
Thu Dec 28 20:42:20 UTC 2006

Hash: SHA1

Teun Spaans wrote:
> On 12/28/06, Dedalus wrote:
>> Tomorrow the Virgin Unite will not longer be present as a sitenotice.
>> Today
>> jeroen and others complained about that sitenotice. In his words the
>> community would have been split. The current fundraiser raises today an
>> additional several 100k US dollar, so that is gain one. Concerning the
>> Dutch
>> Wikipedia, today over 250 persons registered a username. So the Dutch
>> Wikipedia today gains that many new users and maybe loose temporarily (I
>> doubt definitely) one or two well known users.
> For both numbers one can doubt if they are permanent. But the one swho have
> gone are mainly old hands, experienced contributors who have the core values
> of wikipedia at heart.

To be frank, we have to ask ourselves if that's true.

JeroenVP for instance has made clear that he does not care about the
core values of Wikipedia at all (making knowledge available to the
public as free content) but only cares about not ever seeing anything he
perceives as an "advertisement".

That saddens me.

If we'd just sold out to $BIGCO years ago we wouldn't need to run
fundraisers. But of course let's be honest, there would be big stankin'
blinking ad banners on every page all day every day forever if we had
done that, like every other 'web 2.0' site with no business model.

If perfectly normal, everyday non-profit fundraising techniques that
would not lift an eyebrow elsewhere are so offensive to a handful of
people that they would happily throw away everything this project stands
for... I have to ask...

*Should* we actually miss them?

As I said the other day, we have as a community an anger management
problem. People fly off the handle, get into flame wars, hold grudges.

The first step in combatting that is to step back and calm down when we
have a knee-jerk emotional reaction; think about what the other person's
saying and what we're about to say.

In the longer term, we also have to think about what the project is
actually about and how what we do and say actually helps or hinders that.

When we have a reaction to something, is it because we really think it
harms the principles behind the project? Or are we having a selfish

Certainly as an employee of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. I benefit
from its continued solvency. Money coming in means the project I work on
 stays up, I keep my job, I can pay my rent. That's good for me, of
course. ;)

More importantly, it keeps Wikipedia and friends up and online.

As the highest-profile free/open content website out there, I think
that's pretty valuable just in terms of visibility.

It also provides a useful resource for many people, as a first step on
researching or quickly looking up various topics.

It also provides a source of encyclopedia content which can be, and is,
reused and republished.

By running fundraising events to boost donation income, this keeps the
site free of both:
* the control of a single benefactor who could threaten to drop support
* the constant 24/7 barrage of annoying banner ads that makes the
typical web experience a little less pleasant

Good? Probably!

But let's think about those two things again:

* the control of a single benefactor who could threaten to drop support


* the constant 24/7 barrange of annoying banner ads that makes the
typical web experience a little less pleasant

The first one is about *control*; maintaining our independence and our
credibility, and our future. We have multiple donors, no single majority
we have to rely on or have to please.

The second is about *comfort*. We don't want ads because they're *ugly*
and *annoying*. If one of a hundred advertisers gets in a tizzy over
something and pulls out, well... who cares? There'd be thousands to take
their place.

In all honesty, running ads wouldn't do a damn thing to affect our
*neutrality*. Can we really say different, knowing that we can easily
tell any advertiser to fuck off if they wanted to pressure us?

No, they're just annoying.

Really, really annoying.

So if we're going to call a brief fundraising notice an "advertisement",
fine for the sake of argument let's call it that.

It's small.

It doesn't blink.

It has a tiny, tiny 50x24 logo... not a giant 480x80 banner.

It doesn't push any particular product or service.

You can make it go away by clicking a button once.

It'll be gone in a few hours, and things like it will only run a few
times a year.

If it's an advertisement, it's about as minimal as we could possibly get.

And it *still* gave enough traffic to kill Virgin Unite's web server in
under 12 minutes.

That's *killer* ad revenue potential.

We could make *lots* by actually running ads.

But we throw it away.


Because banner ads are annoying. *Damn* annoying. And somehow as a
community the hate of advertisements has grown so ingrained that even
*non-advertisements* that *kinda resemble advertisements* send some
people into such a tizzy that they'll edit-war and threaten to leave
forever and ever.


People get in tizzies, edit-war, and threaten to leave forever and ever
*every day* on Wikipedia.

Why should our fundraising technique be any different from any other topic?

Let's all calm down, pass the kool-aid around, and think to ourselves
what we actually like and don't like about Wikipedia and Wikimedia. What
we want to see the project accomplish. What we think it's really *about*.

Is it about non-commercialism?

Is it about "fuck Microsoft"?

Well... no.

It never was.

Neither is, say, Linux and free/open-source software. But those
communities have a lot of people with the same confusion (and there's
some overlap to be sure).

It's about free/open educational content. It's about making materials
open and available for use by the public, including the creation of
derivative works and redistribution.

That's not non-commercial in the sense of being anti-commercial; it's
just *un-commercial* in that it follows a different path.

In fact it's fully compatible with commercial enterprises, and a healthy
ecosystem with the commercial world is to be encouraged.

Free software involves a lot of companies which distribute, support, and
develop it.

Free content involves companies which distribute, support, and republish
it, and they give back too.

It's fine to think advertisements are ugly and to prefer that we avoid
going to banner ads because we think it's a nicer, purer web without them.

But to go to the extreme of demanding that companies who donate to help
keep free content available should remain anonymous is to adopt an
*anti-commercial* attitude that is, IMHO, damaging.

In my experience with conversations of this type over the last few
years, there is an unfortunate tendency of some people to assume that
free content means that no money should ever change hands, and this
belief is often tied up with such anti-commercial sentiment.

But that's not true. It was never true.





Maybe it's time for the community to "clean house" as it were. Take
stock of your beliefs about free content and what this project is about.

I do expect some people to leave; that's not because they're bad people.
But some people are going to discover, sooner or later, that they've
been chasing something *other* than free content, and that Wikipedia
isn't really the project for them after all.

Other people are going to leave because they're angry even though they
don't actually understand the difference. That's nothing new. People get
in tizzies, edit war, and threaten to leave Wikipedia forever and ever
all the time over every little thing.

That's why we need to stop, to think.

It's better to leave calmly over a reasoned belief, for instance a
belief in anti-commercialism which is incompatible with free content,
than to storm out in a huff -- and probably just wind up coming back to
fight again.

- -- brion vibber (brion @ pobox.com)
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