Wikipedia: On the brink? Or crying wolf?

Florence Devouard, chairwoman of the Wikimedia Foundation, has touched off a tempest with her suggestion in a talk at the Lift07 conference that Wikipedia has funding for only another quarter and "might disappear" if donations don't pick up.

Dire stuff ... if true.

According to this post by media producer Philippe Mottaz, Devouard told the audience: "At this point, Wikipedia has the financial resources to run its servers for about 3 to 4 months. If we do not find additional funding, it is not impossible that Wikipedia might disappear."

Nick Carr picked up the thread and wove it into a post headlined "Wikipedia's cash crunch," at which point Wikimedia spokesperson Sandy Ordonez stepped up with this attempt at backpedaling:

"Ms. Devouard's comment was taken out of context," Ordonez claims, although it's difficult to imagine the context in which "might disappear" could be taken differently. "Wikipedia will not be closing any time soon. Ms. Devouard was simply referring to the ongoing, pressing needs for funds that Wikipedia, like most nonprofit organizations, face. Ms. Devouard was attempting to showcase how, because of our global reach, Wikipedia needs to be much more creative in its fundraising efforts."

On the last score there can be little dispute.

But why the talk about disappearing?

As this blogger suggests, Wikipedia's disappearance is an absurd suggestion for the simple reason that it's worth about a zillion dollars as a marketable asset. Of course, Google Wikipedia would be an entirely different beast.

Hyperbole aside, there can be little doubt that the organization is indeed strapped for cash. Its worldwide operations now require 350 servers and they don't run themselves.

When you think about the impact that Wikipedia has had upon our society - not all of it good, certainly - it's astounding that the organization tasked with keeping it afloat has to resort to bake sales and begging. When last we checked in on Wikipedia's fundraising efforts they were closing in on a $1 million, with the current total about $1.1 million. They say they need $5 million a year to sustain operations.

That math certainly doesn't look good.

And while I personally do not have the $4 million balance on hand at the moment, it is chump change in the grand scheme, a year's salary for a so-so baseball player.

And while I am no expert on charitable fundraising (my mother-in-law is one; I'd call her if it wasn't 5 a.m.) it seems to me as though the problem likely lies with the fundraisers here, not the cause.

But it sure wouldn't hurt for a few of you rich folks to step up.

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