Sponsorship messages on Wikipedia

Earlier I wrote that there might be a large conflagration over a new change in Wikipedia’s direction. Today, that has finally happened.

An hour ago our first sponsorship message went live on all Wikimedia Foundation projects. We had one previous matching donations message, but that was an anonymous donor (who ended up giving $286,800), and so it didn’t really ruffle any feathers. This current matching donor, however, is Virgin Unite, the charity arm of Virgin United, Richard Branson’s company. As a thanks for matching all donations from today, we have given them a short sponsorship message on the sitenotice, as well as displaying their logo. Note that the sitenotice is displayed across all Wikimedia Foundation sites, which includes all language versions of Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikimedia Commons, etc.

Anyway, we’re now seeing an explosion of disagreement over this because lots of people think this amounts to Wikipedia displaying advertisements, which is something we said we’d never do and could possibly represent the downfall of the free content ideals of Wikipedia. I don’t personally hold these views. I’m more of a pragmatist. Wikimedia Foundation needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to keep their servers running, and matching donors, even with sponsorship messages, is a good idea. It only lasts for one day. It’s not like we’re putting permanent banner ads on the site.

Tomorrow’s matching donor is going to be Dell. Duuude, you’re getting a donation.

Also, Kelly Martin has written in her blog that our link in the sponsorship message brought down the entire Virgin Unite website. It looks like we were almost too successful in delivering them traffic.

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