Wikipedia offers a potential platform for highly effective context-dependent ads. Specific products could be advertised from relevant Wikipedia pages without disruption to the vast majority of users. Using advertising opens several major ethical questions, but also offers the opportunity to fight actively against ethical abuses and encourage greater efficiency and honesty in society as a whole.
It is proposed that Wikipedia should open itself to sponsorships run on specific pages in order to offset costs. But instead of offering an open-access conduit for every scammer and fraudulent product, Wikipedia should set very high standards for a company to have the privilege to sponsor our site, and very strict guidelines about how these ads are placed. After all, it'll be hell to get people to allow any ads at all. But beyond this, there is a strong factor of "eliteness" that governs marketing and controls the success of such ventures. For example, w:The Million Dollar Homepage managed to persuade people to purchase pixels in a .gif file because the consumers didn't want to lose a spot in competing even for something worthless. As quoted in a recent movie, the proud announcement that someone "made the Facebook" helped to pump up an otherwise undistinguished site into a major enterprise. While less hopeful sites might assume that if they're going to take ads they should just run anything that is offered, Wikipedia should promote the idea that if all the ads come only from the best companies and products, then an ad in Wikipedia is far more valuable than an ad somewhere else. Of course, to do that you have to be able to identify the best products, but Wikipedia happens to be sitting on the greatest resource of enlightened editors to fairly make such judgments that the world has ever known!
Thus, Wikimedia might announce that Wikipedia is accepting applications to sponsor ads from a particular industry - say, automobiles. Before the announcement, guidelines are laid down: safety ratings and features, emissions, gas mileage, price. We need not be ashamed of excluding some class of cars, like luxury vehicles, in favor of advertising only those cars cheap enough to be available to the general public. Then the manufacturers are contacted in some standardized way, encouraged to participate. The fee for the successful ad should be stated up front, either be by page impression or a flat rate. As a rule, the only articles opened to such ads should be about a general class of product (e.g. w:Automobile) expected to win enough entries. (The ad might optionally run on an article about the specific brand of car also, but no one should get around this main gate The editors of the page should be invited to look over the entries of all the companies applying, and choose a winner. Only this ad runs in this elite place for the next year (well, unless you decide eventually to rotate a few because there are so many entries).
No single industry should be allowed to take on so much importance by itself that Wikipedia feels pressure that they'll pull their sponsorship. We should always keep things so tight that we feel like if an advertiser walks over something we put in the article, we can have someone else tomorrow.
Certain industries with an unsavory reputation can be excluded from consideration. For example, we wouldn't run a Make.Money.Fast chain letter, so how could we advertise AIG or Citibank in good conscience? Best to rule out the bankers entirely and focus on tangible goods.
Other enterprises of a non-profit nature could be given ads of this type without actually having to pay, but otherwise going through the same process.
Running ads in this way gives the common people a rare chance to talk back to corporate power. It lets people say, give us a product we can be proud to buy, and we'll be proud to recommend it. If in the process Wikimedia gets money, so much the better!
Are people willing to do the needed comparisons and argue for the quality of one product over another? Most of us have to buy a car now and then, and need to decide what's a good one to get, but so far that sort of chit-chat has been ruled off limits for the project. Can this be changed without creating great chaos?
- The last time there was serious discussion of advertising on Wikipedia the Spanish project split and a large proportion of the editors left to form a rival pedia. If this got beyond the discussion stage and became a possible project, how would we avoid such a split happening again?
- How do you decide which products to accept ads from whilst still being neutral between them and others?
The way in which the ads are served is up to us. We should restrict this to a small, simple banner image with room for basic facts. The ad images should be stored at Wikipedia with no web-bugs or other funny business. The number of impressions for a page are already tracked at third-party sites - the advertiser should not have access to the information of which IP address read the page. Thus the cost is no different than adding an image to an ordinary article.
It should be ensured that sponsorship to defray costs does not compromise tax-exempt status of continuing donations. It is to be expected that the program would remain small and have little effect on overall foundation funding until it is shown not to cause problems.
Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal talk:Selective sponsorship.
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