Mr. Calacanis is at it again, attempting to monetize the world of user-created media. I don’t, like some, think that a recent influx of cash somehow means the automatic death of the read/write web. All new media go through a period of maturation that often includes colonization by profit-seeking organizations and individuals. But in this post Calacanis seems to me to be so completely tone-deaf, so myopic…
To summarize, Wales has vowed (it seems) to keep Wikipedia completely ad-free. Not necessary–not the only way to do a project–but I think its a good stance both ethically and practically. I know that I wouldn’t feel as good about contributing to a site that was generating $100 million in ad revenues. I frankly think that there is a good chance this would poison the well of good intentions and happy thoughts that seems to make Wikipedia work. Whether the non-commercial aspect of Wikipedia is part of that magical concoction of ingredients that makes it work is open to debate, but I think Calacanis’s claim that Wales is somehow irresponsible for not commercializing the site is crass and closedminded. While it seems a childish refrain, if he thinks he can do it better as a commercial site, he should start his own site, and monetize that.
Perhaps what is most striking is Calacanis’s third note:
Note3: In my mind it is unconscionable to not monetize the Wikipedia when a leaderboard would do NOTHING to take away from the project. Let’s do it people! Even if it’s not with AOL, give the inventory to John Battelle or Google to sell–every day that goes by we lose a million bucks that could change the world.
Advertising and other forms of content have always had an uneasy relationship. There is a reason people don’t expect, for example, Vogue to be an unbiased judge of just about anything. Naturally, major newspapers are also driven by advertising, but this has evolved over a long period of time and, frankly, still compromises the integrity of these organizations to a certain degree.
The point behind advertising is to persuade consumers to behave in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise behave. The expense is justified by the profit they can draw from these changes in behaviors. That’s why companies might be willing to buy (the idea that they would be “donating” is disingenuous) ad space on a site that has drawn attention as a credible source of information. The only currency Wikipedia has is its credibility, and frankly this is not as shored up as it might be. Accepting advertising might well produce a significant short-term profit, but it would be at the expense of the goose laying the eggs.
Sure, you can find ways to clearly differentiate between paid and unpaid content, but given that wikis remain a new idea to many visitors, and there are not yet the clear conventions that allow viewers to make judgments, it would be immensely unwise for Wikipedia to squander what credibility it has gained on a quick short-term sellout. Since I have no reason to ascribe alterior motives to Calacanis, I can only believe that he has bought into the myths that undergird the process of “monetization.” Doesn’t he know that successful drug dealers never sample the product?