By Scott Hamilton
Over this last week Elon Musk has been slammed by the public writers of content on the popular internet site wikipedia.com. I have to agree with the comments being made about him after his posts on X, formerly Twitter, regarding the request for donations by the Wikimedia Foundation.
Every year the foundation behind Wikipedia places an ad on their site asking for donations to keep the service free. This year Elon Musk has non-stop made fun of the foundation for this practice. This is why I ask if you are smarter than Elon Musk. When you finish reading this article, provided you understand it, you will in fact be smarter than Musk when it comes to Wikipedia.
Musk posted, “Have you ever wondered why the Wikimedia Foundation wants so much money? It certainly isn’t needed to operate Wikipedia. You can literally fit a copy of the entire text on your phone! So, what’s the money for? Inquiring minds want to know….” (See https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1716099814264328390?t=l27XDFR7mF0wA2BzT8W4yA)
There are two problems with his statement. First, the full history of Wikipedia, which is everything needed to operate the platform, requires about 430 terabytes of storage, which is 1720 times larger than the storage space on the largest cell phone manufactured today. Granted if you only stored the text of the current version of every page and ignored the 20+ years of historical content it would easily fit on your phone at 22 Gigabytes, as most phones can store at least 50 gigabytes, but you would not have any of the images, videos, diagrams, audio or history. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Size_of_Wikipedia)
The second problem is that even though you might be able to fit all of their current text on your phone, you would have to download that text from somewhere. Currently Wikipedia sees 8.43 billion site visits a day on average, ranking it at number four globally as the most accessed website. Google, YouTube and Facebook take first, second and third, respectively, and Musk’s X (Twitter) ranks at number five, according to www.semrush.com. The other interesting news here is that Twitter numbers are falling where Wikipedia is climbing. Let’s just say that maybe Musk is jealous of their success. Accommodating this amount of web traffic results in bills of over $2.7 million for web hosting.
I have to ask myself how Wikipedia operates. You see, Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube all rely on advertising dollars to maintain their web presence and have multi-billion dollar profits. Whereas Wikipedia remains free to the public without advertising revenue, operating as a 501c non-profit organization. Wikipedia depends solely on the donations of their users to remain in operation and as of today, only two percent of the readers donate. Last year Wikimedia Foundation raised $160 million and had total expenses of $146 million. They currently hold $240 million in assets with an $8 million dollar gain last year. (See https://wikimediafoundation.org/about/annualreport/2022-annual-report/financials/)
In my research into how Wikimedia Foundation works and what they actually do with Wikipedia, I learned something absolutely amazing about their foundation. They do not believe in censorship, but do have a policy on offensive material.
“Wikipedia’s encyclopedic mission encompasses the inclusion of material that may offend. Wikipedia is not censored. However, offensive words and offensive images should not be included unless they are treated in an encyclopedic manner. Material that would be considered vulgar or obscene by typical Wikipedia readers should be used if and only if its omission would cause the article to be less informative, relevant, or accurate, and no equally suitable alternative is available.”
The other thing to know is that any Wikipedia article can be edited by amendment or deletion by any registered user on the platform, but the full history of every article is contained in the archives and can be accessed by clicking the “View History” link at the top of the article. This makes the site self-policing, meaning that the readers and content creators have full control over all content. You are free to edit articles you find offensive, but you cannot change the history of the article. This allows for self-censorship without permanently removing offensive material. The storage of this history over the 20 plus years of operation is where a vast majority of computing resources is consumed. I highly recommend reading more about the Wikimedia Foundation, and if you like what they stand for, consider donating or volunteering, and if not, at least you learned something Elon Musk refused to research on his own.
Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.
Scott Hamilton is an Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to email@example.com or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org.