Wikipedia: The Ultimate Crowdsourced Knowledge Tool

“Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia, created and edited by volunteers around the world”

Founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, Wikipedia is one of the most trafficked sites on the world wide web and the, “most popular general reference work” on the internet.  Established to harness the collective knowledge of the world and to create a crowdsourced and openly edited encyclopedia, Wikipedia now hosts over 40 million articles in 299 different languages.  The name is the perfect amalgamation of the organisation’s goal and illustrating how it was to be built.  The second half of the word, ‘pedia’ is taken from ‘encyclopedia’ and the first half of the word, ‘wiki’ is a reference to how the founders planned for the site’s content to become populated.  “A wiki is a website on which users collaboratively modify content and structure directly from the web browser.”  From its inception, Wales and Sanger had set out to build a site that utilised the power of external crowds for value creation.

(Wikipedia’s homepage in 2001).

Wikipedia was initially launched as a for-profit enterprise whose mission was to create a complete encyclopedia from scratch by using the power of all internet users.  From its very first days, Wikipedia set a, “neutral-point-of-view” policy for the website stressing that the site’s focus was to have accurate and up-to-date information, not to act as certain individuals’ moral outlets on the internet.  Asides from this, there were relatively few rules for the site or its users, which helped to encourage article creation and participation, though did not assist in ensuring the quality of the information was accurate.


In 2002, the Spanish Wikipedia became worried about commercial advertising and the lack of control over the entries in Wikipedia and created their own version of the website called, The Enciclopedia Libre.   These moves encouraged the founders to announce that moving forward Wikipedia would not accept commercial advertising on the site and would move to a .org, non-profit model.  External crowds were now helping to shape the very structure and essence of the organisation, as well as its content.

Wikipedia’s management of its articles has followed the Procrastination Principle.  Originally, any person could edit or publish an article at any point with minimal-to-no fact checking done by a moderator or by an Wikipedia employee.  As the popularity of the website increased, it became clear that implementing restrictions around unlimited access to posting with no checks would potentially damage the site as the credibility of the information became more important as an increased number of users wished to start quoting Wikipedia as a trusted source.  The restrictions, whilst not popular across the site, proved to be a good idea as in 2005, Nature published an article that studied 42 science articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica versus in Wikipedia and found that the quality of the information in Wikipedia was almost on par with that of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  The value creation piece of Wikipedia was now undeniable.


Upon its switch to becoming a non-profit entity, the value capture for the organisation had to switch to become one of, “operates on whatever monies it receives from its annual fund drives”.   Wikipedia hosts po-ups on its site and emails any user with a registered email address seeking donations to pay for hosting the site and to keep the site running.  Indeed, Wales once stated that it costs about $42M per year to run Wikipedia.  The website has now started accepted Bitcoin donations as well through a partnership with Coinbase and raised $120,000 in the first week of accepting the currency.  Currently, the perceived value creation from the crowdsourcing for users of Wikipedia is high enough that members of the public have been willing to donate to keep the company afloat.  As the democratisation of information continues it will be interesting to see if the value creation of the website is still esteemed enough for the crowd to not only create it, but to also foot the bill of it.


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Student comments on Wikipedia: The Ultimate Crowdsourced Knowledge Tool

  1. In my mind, Wikipedia is one of the most fascinating cases of crowd sourced information gathering. It has become so commonplace and ubiquitous that the notion of it being both free and accurate exist in the minds of most without any considerations of how the organization foots the bill. Given its ubiquity, I wonder if Wikipedia could reconsider Ads as a form of monetization without sacrificing the accuracy or experience for users.

  2. Thank you for the great post, Eliza! I wonder what really motivates people to write 40 million articles in 299 different articles. Although I use Wikipedia very frequently to search something, I would never spend time on writing articles. Like Weathernews, the fact that billions of people use Wikipedia may motivate people to contribute to the platform, but it seems like there is no interactive function between users and writers. Are they just intellectually curious to write about something they are interested?

  3. Fascinating read! Coming from the tech industry, I know many companies use Wikipedia content as training data for their machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) algorithms, and to build out knowledge graphs for various use cases. Wikipedia is not only a gift to humanity, but also a blessing to the domain of AI and ML.

  4. Great read, Eliza! Last week I was reading about YouTube incorporating extracts from Wikipedia on those videos that promote conspiracy theories. Apparently, YT hadn’t even bothered telling the Wikipedia team about this new feature before making the announcement to the general public. I wonder if companies that are leveraging the full potential of Wikipedia do actually have a responsibility to donate/improve the platform – i.e. YT will save resources by leveraging Wikipedia articles, yet they won’t be paying a penny to do so. Should Wikipedia come up with some freemium model where individual users have free ad-less experience (to avoid compromising the integrity of the place) yet corporations need to pay to use their data base (for features, ML training, etc.)? It could be a very lucrative approach and improve the sustainability of their finances.

  5. Thanks, Eliza. In a weird way, I think Wikipedia has actually become too important in society. With the rise of “fake news” and misinformation, I think having a crowdsourced encyclopedia as people’s many information source could create problems for society as a whole. I, for one, have seen errors all over Wikipedia (not that other information sources don’t have errors), albeit on relatively unimportant subjects. I also have concerns about the ability of foreign actors to penetrate Wikipedia and poison people’s knowledge base.

  6. great post eliza. It is easy to take Wikipedia for granted, but this article was a fun way to step back and really think about all that Wikipedia has accomplished. They were among the first to successfully leverage crowds at a time when the internet was still new and uncertain. Now that Wikipedia is so established I am wondering if they can utilize its strong user base and value proposition to launch any sort of B2B opportunities or other adjacencies to capture additional value and reduce the need for user donations.

  7. Great post Eliza! The value of having a crowd-sourced encyclopedia is undeniable but I wonder how their non-profit entity status and being over-funded affects their drive to innovate. I would think that the use of machine-learning technologies could help the platform scale and cross-check articles at a much lower cost than $42 million per year. I wonder if they are already doing this.

  8. I loved this blog. As Wikipedia depends on its volunteer editors and writers to lend apply their time, effort and expertise for nothing in the way of financial rewards, I think switching to the non-profit model was the right choice for the site. It helps to nest incentives in a more natural manner. If I’m volunteering my time to build out the site and its articles, I want the full amount of any value produced to go toward the public good.

  9. Great post! I personally love Wikipedia and it is fascinating how it continues to be one of the first website you open when researching any concepts. It is also interesting, how it manages to control the quality of its content. As for its longevity, I do worry that their current system (counting on donations) is not sustainable and can take energy away from improving the website towards fundraising. To that extend, I wonder if Wikipedia shouldn’t reconsider other revenue options such as adds or even some form or premium subscription, e.g. make only 10 articles per month available for free (similarly to what Harvard Business Review does).

  10. Great post! However, I’m still very much concerned about Wikipedia’s value capture model – yes they have a huge user base but I still don’t think they could maximize their value captured by just relying on donation. Maybe Wikipedia should think about generating sub-channels under it, leveraging the existing user base and provide a professional Q&A platform?

  11. Thanks for the post! I think we all have a space in our hearts for Wikipedia. I thought your point on Wikipedia having to take a more active role curating content interesting. The initial plan to allow unrestricted editing may have encouraged early participation levels, but you can see a scenario where it leads to negative network effects – if quality decreases as quantity increases. Opting to place more controls was the right move.

  12. Thank you for the post! Wikipedia as a core source of information bolstered by crowd sourced content and reviews. It’s a significant shift from the now days of Encarta and Encyclopedia Brittanica as business models. I agree that they may need to take a more active role in guiding and encouraging the community’s engagement and contribution levels beyond the calls to action. Given how important it is as an initial source of information it will be interesting to see how their engagement model changes over time.

  13. Thanks for your post Liza. Wikipedia is definitely a very interesting concept — that so many people are willing to fact check and contribute information onto a website for free is an incredible indication of the power of crowdsourcing. I do worry about the future of Wikipedia, though, in a world where people are increasingly trying to monetize content. Furthermore, I wonder how much incentive people have to manage the misinformation or inaccuracies of an article that seems to provide enough information to make it “believable”.

  14. Thanks for the post! When we start talking about crowdsourcing, I thought of wikipedia immediately. With how prevalent it has been accessed and cited, I wonder if it should consider shifting to a more sustainable business model. Leveraging its traction to generate revenue through advertising or post/edit rights.

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