Wikipedia is currently in fundraiser mode. It reminds of the PBS phone-a-thons of my childhood. But it also reminds me of an interesting component people frequently neglect when discussing social programs and taxes in relation to institutions seen as a “public good.” In the debate over who does a better job of address the needs of the public, the arguments are frequently framed in Public vs Private…. what about the 3rd option of non-profit/charity? Websites like Facebook, twitter, Gmail, etc are free because they’ve figured out how to profit from data mining and running ads, while other sites like Wikipedia rely on user donations. Comparing Wikipedia and the Recovery.gov site which the government spent over $9.5 million to redesign, makes me wonder if discussions on government spending should be aimed at government vs non-profit rather than Public vs Private.
Most people I’ve talked to about this in person tend to point out that most people won’t give willingly unless the government makes them. But I have to wonder is this true? Am I being too much of an idealist? I know I prefer to directly donate $15 to an institution than have an additional $20 added on to my taxes. Of course, I’m somewhat assume that at least $5 is lost in the bureaucracy it would take to get my $15 to Wikipedia if Congress decided to financially support Wikipedia. Something I know will never happen, but the thought experiment is still the same.
This brings up a few questions for me. Is it feasible to run all Open Access on a Wikipedia model or fundraising and user donations? Is the model somehow better suited for the Internet? I’d love to know if anyone has come across studies comparing Private, Public (government), AND Non-Profit models for providing public goods and services.