Florence Devouard, chairwoman of the Wikimedia Foundation - which
owns operates the online encyclopedia Wikipedia - on Thursday at LIFT07 in Geneva said that they currently have cash to pay the bills for about three months (see my original post - Philippe Mottaz also reported on it from the conference, and corrected his initial post). The information in the meantime has made rounds in the blogosphere, morphing into "Wikimedia to could shut within 3-4 months", accompanied by the inevitable speculations about who could take it over.
Let's start by saying that the most-digged story on this (by several thousand people) was by a blogger that was not at the conference. Laurent Haug, the producer of LIFT, has already made clear that Devouard did not say that Wikipedia is going to shut down, nor used the word "disappear" during her speech. I had a long chat with her during LIFT, and here is what she told me:
- We currently have money in the bank for three-four months, but "I don't worry for the future" (verbatim).
- We are trying to give Wikimedia a more professional structure.
- In mid-2005 we hired our first employee, now we have ten.
- In 2005 we were spending 5000 USD a month for bandwidth only; our projections for 2007 say between 60'000 and 100'000 USD a month for bandwidth.
- We had a single server in 2003 when we did the first fundraising: we raised about 20'000 USD and we bought two additional servers.
- We have 350 servers now, in three data centers, and hardware costs alone for the first half of 2007 are projected at more than 1 million USD (here is the last approved hardware purchase for 300'000 USD)
- Our end-2006 fundraising drive brought in about 1 million USD; for this year we would need about 5 million USD in total.
- So we are experiencing the normal cash issues that all fast-growing organizations experience; and we are a non-profit with limited revenues (mostly from donations, something from royalties: DVDs, info embedded in other sites, etc).
- There are many contributors, particularly in the US, that would not be totally against accepting advertising on Wikipedia, Europeans are strongly against.
I have under my eyes the Wikimedia Foundation financial statements for 2004-5-6 (their fiscal year goes July to June). Here is what they say:
Revenues (including in-kind support):
to June 2004: 80'129 USD
to June 2005: 379'088 USD
to June 2006: 1'508'039 USD
to June 2004: 23'463 USD
to June 2005: 177'670 USD
to June 2006: 791'907 USD
Cash available at end of year:
June 2004: 9'718 USD
June 2005: 137'237 USD
June 2006: 512'313 USD
The growth is spectacular. Donations are coming in steadily at about 30-40'000 USD a week, Devouard told me, which together with the million USD raised at the end of 2006 should put the organization on the safe side for the near future.
So Devouard's call for support at LIFT07 was a legitimate and serious one, because Wikipedia's growth requires resources. But she did not suggest at any moment that Wikipedia, which has become an essential resource for the world, is going to "disappear" or "shut down" anytime soon.
UPDATE 18 February 07 - Final word on Wikipedia: not gonna shut down, but needs support