The children of the world will be deprived of knowledge unless you shell out money soon, says Jimmy Wales, the sleaze-drenched cofounder of Wikipedia. Is this what Wikipedia has come to — an online telethon?
If so, Wales makes for an unlikely Jerry Lewis. The nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation is trying to raise $6 million to fund its operations — chief among them Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia anyone with more time than sense can edit. Wikipedia does not run ads, instead relying on contributions from Wikipedia's users.
But Wales has had more luck drumming up donations from wealthy venture capitalists scheming to make money off of Wikipedia volunteers' articles than from ordinary users. Of the $3.9 million that has come in, $2.6 million came from already announced donations; half that amount has come from the fundraising drive.
We have to wonder: Is the problem Wikipedia's pitchman? Wales profits handsomely from his Wikipedia connection, parlaying his status as the site's cofounder into a lucrative speaking career. And he's also used his sway over Wikipedia's volunteer editors to get himself laid, most notably by Rachel Marsden, the Canadian political commentator who some say is the Great White North's answer to Ann Coulter. The junkets, paid for by sponsors, suit his taste for jet-setting, but conflict with the man-of-the-people image he needs to beg for money.
Unfortunately, he's the best Wikipedia has got. The Wikimedia Foundation's executive director, Sue Gardner, a Canadian pop-culture journalist with a thin resume, is actively scheming to supplant him as Wikipedia's public face, but she's embarrassed herself by defending Wales's sleazy sex hijinks and hasn't otherwise made much of a public impact.
So here's a notion: Why not have Marsden, Wales's former paramour, give it a try? She's a proven television presence with a knack for driving controversy. (Sure, she was escorted out of Fox's offices, but she says that was all a misunderstanding!) And she's proven herself to be very interested in what Wikipedia has to say about her — to the point that she was willing to bed Wales to get her entry edited. That's the kind of passion Wikipedia's fundraising needs!