I smiled when I saw this image posted on YakYak the other day, from some Tumblr blog. The Jimmy Wales appeal for donations to keep Wikipedia going, consisting of a large photo of him looming over every Wiki page, is intrusive and frankly rather ridiculous. I like Wikipedia and I have edited a few pages in my time. I also, when Googling for a subject I don’t know anything about, do tend to go first to the Wikipedia article which invariably shows up in the first page of search results, a testament in itself to the popularity of the online encyclopedia. But donate to it?! Come off it.
It’s not just the lack of money to spare in these cash-strapped times, it’s not just that there are many more causes infinitely more deserving of a donation. It’s not even the fact that the website must ultimately be very cheap to run, using its own open-source Wikimedia software – OK, someone has to pay to host the site, but that’s it, and some benevolent geeks will always ensure the hosting fees are met. I accept a few people are employed full-time and it’s good that they have jobs.
But honestly, I take everything I read on Wikipedia with a vast pinch of salt. It’s a great idea, and a fun project, but it’s really not that important. It’s grown way out of proportion to its authority on anything, and to be completely honest I don’t even know if it’s a good idea to encourage it anymore. If Wikipedia disappeared tomorrow the world would not be the lesser for its loss – you’d still be able to find out about stuff by Googling for it, and that information would be just as potentially inaccurate as anything on Wikipedia. The only advantage of Wikipedia is that it conveniently gathers together all the inaccuracies in one place.
I was going to say then “one easy-to-read place” but that’s far from the case – for a content-based site, God knows why the Wikimedia folk haven’t learnt anything about basic web design over the years. Read any decent newspaper website such as The Guardian and all the articles are presented in a good sized font in a column about half the width of your screen. By comparison, try to read a wiki article which stretches across practically your entire screen, and in a smaller font to boot. (Then again, this is what the excellent free accessibility tool Readability was designed for.)
I also like the image posted above for its reference to the internet meme “Ceiling cat is watching you masturbate”. Masturbate / not donate – see, it even rhymes.