Wikipedia: The Internet’s Anti-Google

Think of all the websites that get the most unique visits in a given day. Many of those websites like Google, Amazon, and Facebook have made a billions of dollars over the years and made their founders super rich. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are both worth about $20 billion, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is worth about $25 billion, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is worth about $13 billion. There is however an exception to that trend worth noting. Wikipedia is the 7th most trafficked website in the world, employs less than 10 full time employees, and founder Jimmy Wales is not a billionaire several times over.

Wikipedia is a free internet encyclopedia available to anyone with an internet connection that doesn’t have any advertising. It’s content is created and edited by roughly 80,000 volunteers that anyone can join so long as they make a free account. Though the quality of the writing has been called into question due to its editing policy, Wikipedia remains an invaluable repository of easily accessible general information (though I wouldn’t recommend using it as a source for serious research). It is estimated that the site would be worth about $5 billion if it were to have advertising but the site’s volunteer base would likely revolt at that prospect. Voluntary donations fund the site’s operating costs and the system largely works. In many ways it shares the same mission statement as Google “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” but not make any money off of it.

As for Wales himself, he only makes about a million dollars per year for his efforts and he’s okay with that. Though he is no longer involved in the site’s day to day operations he still remains the final arbiter of the site’s many disputes over content earning him the informal title of Wikipedia’s “Benevolent Dictator for Life.” I find a decision like this to pass up on billions of dollars to avoid editorial conflicts of interest and retain an interface that its readers enjoy to be incredibly admirable and increasingly rare in our society. For that reason and for creating one of my favorite websites ever I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Jimmy Wales.

How much money would you give up to be a Benevolent Dictator for Life?

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