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Less than 1 percent of Wikipedia’s 450 million monthly visitors donate money to the online encyclopedia, according to a message that’s currently showing up for some users. And that little statistical nugget could help explain why the Wikimedia Foundation, the not-for-profit that runs Wikipedia, could be turning to ever-bigger ads in its quest to increase funding.

As one of the world’s most-visited websites, Wikipedia needs little introduction. But unlike other online giants, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, or eBay, Wikipedia is ad-free and relies on donations to operate — each December it runs a three-week campaign to help drive revenue. Last year, it targeted $20 million in the build-up to Christmas alone.

A typical Wikipedia ad looks a little something like this — a banner across the top of the page with some text and options to make a recurring or one-off donation. This varies, however, and the banner has been known to feature a picture of Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales, or other Wikipedians.

Typical Wiki Ad

Above: Typical Wiki Ad

Settling on the best format for ads is an ongoing challenge for the fundraisers at Wikipedia, who test different layouts throughout the year to see what gets the most engagement. Ads that garner most traction are then prioritized for the December campaign.

However, Wikipedia has been testing increasingly bigger ads — some that take up a full screen. So when you first land on an article page, it’s not immediately clear that you have landed at your intended destination.

Wikipedia Ad

Above: Wikipedia Ad: Getting bigger?


Every year, it seems social networks erupt in collective derision at Wikipedia’s claims to “never run ads” (from third parties), when the organization does, in fact, run ads to raise money for its own ends. And with these campaigns apparently going full-screen, the disdain won’t be going away anytime soon.

But most reasonable people can distinguish between running fundraising campaigns for a short window each year and permanent banner ads from Coke, McDonald’s, Microsoft, or other corporations. Wikipedia’s campaigns are a necessary “evil,” for want of a better word.

Also, if you do donate, Wikipedia should stop showing the campaign on your screen.

“We strive to make sure it’s short as possible and that people who have already contributed are not asked again,” a spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We regularly meet and speak with donors and readers about their impressions of our fundraising efforts, and we take their feedback very seriously.”

So while it’s not yet clear exactly what format Wikipedia’s ads will take moving forward, it’s clear that “big” is on the agenda.

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