The Science Behind Wikipedia’s Jimmy Appeal

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Seen the latest banner ads on Wikipedia appealing for donations?

Like me, perhaps you wondered how such dating site-style ad with a gory close-up could possibly work as an appeal for funds?

Data says: very well.

Jimmy Riddle - The Wikipedia Jimmy Appeal - Information Is Beautiful

See fascinating data on the effectiveness of the ad from around the world.

[via O'Reilly Radar]

New: now twinned with this amazing visualisation (snarf!)

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Show Comments ( )

  • Ben C

    I think it’s the (short) facial hair. That sounds flippant, but think about it—he looks like a normal guy, not a computer nerd or an eccentric recluse. He looks like your drinking buddy, that mechanic that lives down the street, your old college roommate. Actually, he looks quite a bit like one of my old college roommates, to be honest. It’s the face that sells it.

    • Rev.v.AME

      Don’t really agree with you. He just looks like a billionaire or a boring business man in nice suit. I donated some because I use Wikipedia a lot – almost every day -, but do not really like the banner nor the appeal itself. In my opinion the banner is just annoying and the appeal made me laugh, bitterly.

  • Philippe Beaudette

    Very cool visualization! Thank you!

    Philippe Beaudette

  • Stan B

    More people use Wikipedia now that during the the times those previous messages where broadcast.

    Do you think that it would make sense to normalise “$ Day” by the number of impressions / uniques the Wipedia gets per day?

    My 2 cents,

    p.s Awesome blog btw

  • Ben Shepherd

    It’s a pretty big banner too – the biggest ever maybe? Can we see the correlation between banner size and amount raised?

    • Philippe Beaudette

      It’s the same size banner as the last two years :)


  • Robert

    I’m wondering how this data corresponds with amount of users of wikipedia over time. back in 2004 wikipedia was hardly mentioned but in 2007 more so. Google trends of wikipeida

  • Will McKenna

    I’m guessing that this has to do with the same psychological factors that cause people to be more “moral” or at least follow “social norms” when they feel they are being watched. People see his face and eyes and feel the need to do the more morally correct action (i.e. pay for something they had been using for free and which they know has costs). I’d guess it also helps that it is a personal request from an individual which is harder to turn down than an amorphous request from “Wikipedia”. Now that I’ve thought this through I think I’m going to have to change my own fund raising methods. :)

    • Philippe Beaudette

      For what it’s worth, we’re also doing personal appeals from Wikipedia editors. We’ve found the appeal theme, when added to personalization, resonates well.

  • Noreen

    Now we know how to raise money from highly educated, wealthy, young people: ;)

  • Gert K Nielsen

    Can’t say I’m overjoyed with seeing yet another infographic, which is everything but correct – not to mention scientific . The research here isn’t good enough, as you can see in the spreadsheet published by wikipedia a layer beneath your source-url.

    • Gregory Kohs

      Gert, you are absolutely correct. Your correction of these lies was brilliant. But, as with Wikipedia, the first-mover gorilla gets all the press, not the truth that exposes the immoral gorilla.

  • Andy Cotgreave

    Nice viz, as always. Area isn’t always the best way to represent size, though. Ask yourself (without looking at the numbers) – how much more successful is the “personal appeal” than the “admit it” appeal?

    5 times? 10? 15?

    I took the data and did a linear representation: Click here to see it


  • Gregory Kohs

    Interesting that Philippe Beaudette himself would respond with a comment here, when he got his boss into a bit of hot water by wiring a sweetheart contract to his former employer, likely skirting the disbursements review process in place at the Wikimedia Foundation. The most shameful aspect of the deal was the blatant cover-up after the fact. I wouldn’t donate a dime to such a corrupt organization:

  • Hmmm

    Are you sure it’s about the appeal and not just because the banner is HUGE and on every page?

    And this is the guy who takes your donations and spends them on lavish dinners and dates with news anchors, right?

    • fallibility

      I am sure he has his weakness, and has had a few lavish dinners and hot dates, but overall, the public service provided by wikipedia is phenomenal. A little bit of goodness in an imperfect world

  • Leonaltro

    @Philippe: I’ve been looking with shame at the dismal figures coming from Italy, which are really VERY low, even accounting for the obvious difference in number of people speaking italian vs english. Is there a soothing explanation, something like “the banners were displayed for a much shorter time on the italian wiki”? Or those data represent the stark reality of how little we, as a country, are prepared to give?

    Related question: is there any data about total donations split by country or by language?

    thanks a lot

    • Philippe Beaudette

      Hmmm… Dismal? I haven’t seen any figures coming in from the Italian chapter recently, but my recollection was that they’re doing quite well. If you were looking at the spreadsheet, those were for limited duration testing periods. Where are you looking for that data?

  • Matt Jones

    Imagine how much Wikipedia could make if they just adopted a simple advertising model like Google or Facebook? I’d rather have a slither of an advert over being guilted in to paying for something that I agree should be free.

    • Jonny

      If you feel guilted by it that’s your conscience trying to tell you something…

      “STOP STEALING” maybe?

  • Melina

    This visualization made me giggle. I just loved it. Thanks for that… an early morning joy makes my whole day. GORE!

  • J

    I am a product manager for a performance marketing company that sees millions of impressions a day across hundreds of advertising verticals and niches. This infographic says absolutely nothing to the effectiveness of each campaign without providing the amount of impressions given to each. For a valid split test you need equal traffic volume and quality being given to all contenders. $ / day means nothing without additional information.

  • Nico

    I found really anoying and “yellow press” like the fund raising banners… please no closeups, no colors, like the rest of wikipedia!
    Too bad to see this works…

  • Tzipporah

    What in the world do you mean by “gory”? It’s a picture. There are several different versions of the ad, with different founders, and they’re all just portrait shots. I thought I was missing some bloody surgery story or something when I read your graph. The data is revealing, but your analysis is not.

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  • alex

    The banner was just plain annoying. seeing his face everytime was just annoying. i clicked on it because i wanted to get rid of it, but as it looked like maybe he is the founder guy of wiki i wanted to see what he had to say first. unfortunately the message that came with the face connected to me and i donated. the picture and the message felt “real”. like talking to a small group of people not just random masses.

    Its true, all the advert campaigns were easier to ignore.

  • Anonymous

    Wait a moment…if Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia whose articles are contributed by volunteers, why would it need $16 million? I didn’t think hosting a wiki cost that much. Must be the pictures. Oh wait, nevermind, volunteers contribute those too O_O.

    • Joe

      Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites in the world. Do you seriously think that the technical capacity required to handle that kind of traffic comes cheap? It’s not just a matter of “putting up a wiki”. We’re talking millions of hits per day.

      The reason wikipedia doesn’t have advertising is for integrity. It’s so that no one can ever point to the information on the site and say that it is compromised by ad dollars. Would you trust wikipedia as much if, for example, there was a Coke ad embedded in the article on “Coca-Cola”? Not having ads on the site was a principled decision, and I for one am glad for it (in fact wikipedia might never have attained the influence that it does had they chosen another path).

    • lyesmith

      Wikipedia/Wikimedia has around 500 servers running 24/7. They serve millions of webpages every day also tens of thousands of search queries in 500 GB database. Also the foundation has employees that needs to be paid.

  • lyesmith

    I love Wikipedia and in my opinion it is the single most useful website on the net.

    I have two BIG issue though. During the 10 year they could not make a proper API to Wikipedia. Also it is a huge information basis but missing the semantic layer which would make it absolutely amazing and more useful than anything imaginable.

  • Here Be Answers!

    Somehow I have never understood how asking donations from ordinary public is better than putting a few advertisements on the website. By putting ads the people with ample money, possibly big corporates, will be funding the site. But in donations, the heavy burden of the website’s costs is borne by people who have limited means. Yes, there’s no forcing, but isn’t it better if the rich class with excess resources at their disposal run the site by way of giving their ads to it? Seems like good distribution of wealth to me! Right?

    • Tommy J Charles

      You can’t have ads on a free encyclopedia.

      It’s a conflict of interest.

      Would you value an article on fast food if it had ads for Mcdonald’s or Wendy’s all over the place? Would you trust it to be objective?

      Would Mcdonald’s or Wendy’s want to pay for an add on the fast food page when there’s a huge section devoted to the health risks of said food?

      So you see, it just would not work.

  • Here Be Answers!

    Okay! I read some of the comments above, especially, Joe’s one … And the integrity issue it points to makes sense to me.

    But still there are some ads, like Adsense, in which the ads are randomly displayed, depending on the content of the page it appears on. In such advertising the website owner would not have any say on which ad to display. And thus, the integrity issue wouldn’t arise.

    Just another point-of-view. :)

    • Tommy J Charles

      AdSense ads are never randomly displayed. They are relevant to the content of the page. Otherwise, the entire endeavor would fail.

  • sedia

    would be cool to have updates on the new banner, and a chart comparison featuring the images of used banners!

  • Robert Klein

    This will have been the third time I gave Jimmy my money, and that is because he does not need it. He can use the money to reinvent Wiki to another platform that will have even more benefit to society than the previous ones. As a moral imperative, it is always good to try and pay for what one uses, so call this a liberal pipe dream. We are all looking for a legacy, and if one is rich, trying to get even more rich should not be one’s legacy. Take a look at Beyonce and Jay Z, and how they gain their value. That is s symbiotic relationship that honors nothing except over consumption. There is no judgment in this statement.

  • supamodel

    we dont NEED wiki, so stop with the pupy eyed dog face! really! i search something it comes up. I only use wiki coz its if wasnt, no big deal! if its written by volunteers then it should be free no? i could write my opinion because i want to, not because im paid,im not paying wiki so stop asking me too!

  • KoldShadow

    I’ll never donate to Wikipedia, as it’s nothing more than a gatekeeper-controlled, “official story”-centric reference site that one can’t properly use for citations/bibliographies. Not that I have any money to give to anyone nowadays, so even if I was affected by the solicitations, I wouldn’t hit ‘em off.

    Furthermore, one of the Jimbo banners says something along the lines of, ‘If everyone gave just US$5, this pledge could end today’, even though the MINIMUM donation is US$20! Absurd . . . I’ll admit, Wikipedia is the first tab I have permanently established in my web browser, and as I said before, it’s a good launch pad for topics, but I’m much to skeptical of the covert political correctness of that neo-liberally-skewed site to stop my research there.

    This has been a non-personal appeal from Info-Technetronicology Founder Kold Shadow.

    • KoldShadow

      I totally agree . . . magnificently articulated and succinctly presented, bravo, Kold Shadow, bravo. ;-)