Over the last few years the Wikimedia Foundation has built a board with some serious street cred, climaxing with the appointment of venture capitalist Roger McNamee to its advisory board in January . Money has been rolling in.
Wikipedia long had to rely on the nickels and dimes of contributors to keep the servers on and the bandwidth bills paid, but now those nickels and dimes are turning into serious change, and it is becoming a darling of the philanthropic establishment.
On its own the Foundation raised $6.2 million worth in 2008. (Full disclosure. I threw in a few of them. About $50 if I recall correctly.) Such early money is indeed like yeast. It lets the dough rise. So here is $300,000 from the Ford Foundation. And $500,000 from the Hewletts.
The influx of money and talent has allowed Wikimedia to get its head up out of the day-to-day and focus on the longer term. Plus, with 3,000,000 articles and counting (just in English) the absolute growth rate is slowing.
It's not, as The New York Times snarked, that "as the site grows more influential, they must transform its embrace-the-chaos culture into something more mature and dependable." It's more like a couple that owns its house and has come into some money. Out with the garage sale cabinets, let's make a serious Ikea run.
No one is making big money here. But some digital plumbers and electricians and framers and painters are getting some work, turning the resource into something that will stand the test of time.
The first bit of renovation will come on one of the most controversial and bug-ridden parts of the house, living people. The aim is to put a process together that can end the back-and-forth between friends and enemies on your Wikipedia page.
I had a personal run-in with a Wikibully. Someone who didn't care for me tore my reputation on Wikipedia to shreds. I finally rewrote the whole thing to my own liking. Recently the whole article was taken down.
But here's the good part.
All the official actions related to the page are, for the first time, transparent and identified as to who did what. This person took the page down first, this one restored it, this one took it down again. Processes are being built by which such decisions can be managed and defended. What was arbitrary is becoming arbited.
That's important because Wikipedia is becoming more than a source of articles on Japanese anime. As I found in rewriting my 2002 book on Moore's Law recently, Wikipedia is our best hope of fighting link rot. It's a source you know you can link to, an address that is unlikely to disappear, or go behind a paid firewall.
Like the Internet itself, like open source itself, Wikipedia is growing up. This is something to be celebrated. Regardless of what happens to your personal page.