Wikipedia can probably be said to be the father of internet crowdsourcing. Building on a non-for-profit business model, Wikipedia launched a free, web-based, multilingual and collaborative encyclopedia in 2001. Aiming to be “The sum of all human knowledge in one place” and with 17 million articles written collaboratively by the community, Wikipedia is now the most popular reference site on the internet. All of the pages are written collaboratively by community members without pay. Anyone with a computer can create or rewrite Wikipedia articles and users can choose to contribute anonymously. “SuggestBot” further enables and entices users to edit other related articles to which they are reading or have edited. Although Wikipedia’s credibility has been questioned due to it’s open sourcing of content by anyone, studies have shown it to be as accurate as traditional encyclopedias like Britannica.
Looking deeper into the crowdsourcing content generation model, we can see that a continuous flow of new content relies on only a small percentage of active contributors among the users. There is a network of Trusted Contributors who are registered and known to provide most of the content, where over 50% of edits were done by 7% of users. Quality control is maintained through community engagement in debates and vetting out low quality content through Wikipedia moderated discussions called “Revert Wars”. When a conclusion based on consensus is hard to be reached, the case will go through internal processes like “Arbitration Committees” who will perform due diligence to administer a final verdict.
Wikipedia also harnesses the power of the many advantages of crowdsourcing. It creates a collective platform for sharing previously scattered and unstructured knowledge to be shared ubiquitously and in turn builds on direct network effects that becomes more valuable as the knowledge base grows. It also provides timely coverage of information that could be constantly updated and dispersed, a function that traditional encyclopedias can never achieve given the tedious process of editing, proofreading and publishing. The content created on it thus always possesses high relevance to current events and also follows customer interest due to the nature of its crowd sourcing process. When facing the common challenge of quality control among crowdsourcing sites, Wikipedia’s community acts as its own quality control. Because the platform is live and free, it is constantly challenged under constant evolution and supervision.
Despite its broad success and the high value of the platform, Wikipedia resolved to never run ads and runs entirely on annual donations. This business model is based on their mission to provide free information that belongs to everyone, which is also highly connected to user engagement motivation. The community is built on a highly democratic spirit that makes it hard for Wikipedia to pursue a for profit business model without deterring their user engagement. This can seem like a potential impetus for financial distraught, but the platform also takes very low costs to maintain. As of 2014, Wikipedia’s net profit was 4 times its previous projections, netting 36 Million. It seems like they are sitting on a bunch of cash with no apparent use of cash.
On the financial front, Wikipedia’s crowdsourcing model has proven to be successful and seems to be quite sustainable even as a non-for-profit. However, given that recent numbers in user engagement has lowered, their continual success will depend on how they would invest in boosting active contributing users.