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Wikipedia truly deserves your donations

By Christoph Meyer     12/2/10 6:00pm

Every year around this time, a banner appears on Wikipedia's page, usually reading something along the lines of "A message from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales." Over the past four or five years, I have clicked on it, read Wales' appeals to donate to Wikipedia and then proceeded to look up my information without giving it a second thought. I can imagine others have done the same and I hope that this year, we will change our ways and not simply ignore Jimmy's request. Being asked for money from fundraisers can often be uncomfortable and sometimes even downright annoying. It often feels like you're being accosted or that people are relying on guilt in order for you to support their cause. In Wikipedia's case, however, guilt or pity are not the feelings that entice me to donate.

Wikipedia's approach in earning funds is not overtly invasive or aggressive. Unlike Facebook and Google's creepily triggered advertisements, Wikipedia relies on a yearly fundraising campaign to sustain its non-profit business. Even so, the campaign only relies on a fairly unobtrusive sign on the top of the page, where wiki-browsers have the choice whether or not to click. Just from its approach to obtain money, Wikipedia has already surpassed many traditional causes that rely on the generosity of others to sustain themselves.

Of course, Wikipedia does not deserve funding only for its approach in obtaining donations. As Rice students, we should know exactly how important Wikipedia is. How many research papers have been started by briefly browsing the website? How many random facts have we learned from searching? How many times has Wikipedia given us invaluable information at the click of a button?

In its almost 10 years of existence and its current 16 million articles, Wikipedia has made information widespread, free and often instantly available. Of course, Wikipedia is not fail-proof or a credited source for academic papers. Wikipedia's beauty, the availability for anyone to edit the content, is perhaps also its biggest flaw. However, in spite of these shortcomings, Wikipedia is one of the most influential tools in our time for the spread of information.

It's pretty difficult to imagine your career up to this point without Wikipedia, isn't it? Sure, there used to be Microsoft Encarta, but Wikipedia has revolutionized the concept of an encyclopedia. While it may not have perfected it yet, it has engraved itself into our Internet culture, becoming an indispensable source of instant information. I am in no way affiliated to Wikipedia (even though I wish I were), but I believe this is a cause worth supporting. According to Alexa, Wikipedia is the seventh most visited website in the world. However, unlike the other top six (Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, Windows Live and Baidu), it is not a for-profit venture. Wikipedia relies on users to contribute both by writing articles and by donating funds.

The next time you wonder what the capital of Mozambique is, or which Pope reigned for the shortest amount of time or what the half-lives of plutonium's isotopes are, remember that Wikipedia will probably offer you the answer. While it may do so for free, it does need a few to break away from the herd and offer up a small donation. Hopefully you will be one of them.

Christoph Meyer is a Hanszen College junior.

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