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A Personal Appeal From an Average Wikipedia User

Been on Wikipedia lately? Then you’ve noticed the personal appeals from Jimmy Wales, asking for donations to keep Wikipedia going. According to Information Is Beautiful, this ad campaign featuring a photo of Jimmy and it out-fundraised the other ads almost eighty-fold.

What does this tell us? By using an image of Jimmy Wales, a person who’s intimately involved in the entire operation, you’re making Wikipedia personal to someone. Someone who is looking at you and saying, “You use Wikipedia. All we’re asking is that you spare a dime.”

Wikipedia took it a step further: Now they’re featuring personal appeals from actual Wiki editors; the two I’ve seen are Joan Gomà and Karthika.

I’m pretty sure this campaign strategy is working for them.

How can they take this even further?

Well, inexplicably, when you click on the ads, you go to the personal message itself, but hello! No picture of Karthika or Joan. What’s the point of that? When I read a personal message, I like seeing the “avatar” or profile pic next to it. I know I’m not the only one.

Again, how to take it even further?

First, a story. Once upon a time, the RIAA tried to prosecute illegal downloaders. (Trust me on this, it’s going somewhere.) The RIAA went after people who only downloaded very modest amounts of pirated music. Why? Because it hit a nerve with the downloading community. Most piraters console themselves by admitting that they don’t download a whole lot of music, not like other people who download gigs and gigs of music. But if you go after the average pirater or even the mild pirater, you scare the rest of the community and get them to think twice.

Okay, now take that lesson and turn it around in a positive light: if you’re Wikipedia and you want to hit a personal nerve with every person who comes to the site, then you have to appeal to the average Wikipedia user who reads a lot, but seldom contributes.

Remember the 90-10-1 rule of thumb? 90% of people online are consumers or spectators (i.e. they “consume” information). 10% will interact with it in some way as editors, curators, commenters, etc.   1% or less will actually create content, like blogs and YouTube videos.

Let’s apply that rule to Wikipedia; the actual percentages may vary, but we can safely assume that most visitors are there to read an article, click around, learn what they need to know and move on.  10% will edit a portion of an existing article, and 1% (probably less) will create a new article.

What does that tell us?

That Wikipedia’s next “Personal Message” shouldn’t come from someone who edits Wikipedia; it should come from someone who reads it and seldom contributes.   The average Wikipedia user will see that even other casual users are contributing to Wikipedia, not just geeky Wiki editors. That will hit the right nerve, and hopefully cause its users to emulate the casual user who has chosen to donate.

My ideal front page Personal Message from Shilpa Nicodemus would read like this:

I’ve never written an article on Wikipedia. I edited an article once. But I read articles on Wikipedia almost every day. That’s why I donated $20.


P.S. Can you imagine how much better that message would be if it had a super-cute, heavily photoshopped image of me next to it? Yeah, I know.

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