Friday, April 24, 2009

The Nonprofit Business Model Works?!

Kul Wadhwa, Wikimedia


Wikipedia Gets a Corporate Partner

By Geoffrey A. Fowler

On Wednesday, the Wikimedia Foundation — the organization that runs online community-edited encyclopedia Wikipedia — announced its first large content partnership with a major company, Orange, the European telecom brand of France Telecom.

The deal will allow Orange to develop co-branded Wiki channels on its mobile and Web portals. The two will also begin working together to develop new services and features around content from Wikipedia.

For Orange, the motivation is simple: Wikipedia is popular with Web users, more so in Europe than any other part of the world. “We are looking to partner with some of the best Internet brands, so that our customers have access to the best of information on the Web,” said Orange spokeswoman Carolyn Owen.

But for the nonprofit Wikimedia, partnering up is more complex. Orange will share some revenue out of the deal with the foundation, but Ms. Owen declined to reveal the specific terms. Wikimedia currently raises most of its money — $6.2 million last year — through donations from users. But it will need more resources if its traffic continues to soar.

Kul Wadhwa, who heads the foundation’s business development efforts, says Wikimedia gets approached by a whole range of companies, but bats away many offers. The terms of use on content from Wikipedia does allow for some commercial use. But any company that Wikimedia works with, he said, would have to help “expand free knowledge to everyone.” For example, he won’t allow companies to tap directly into the Wiki community, or directly link commerce into Wikipedia pages, such as directing viewers away to buy products.

“Our site is very unusual — the community really controls it and we want to make sure that that isn’t influenced by an outside entity, whether it is a business or a non-profit,” said Wadhwa.

That said, “one thing that people misunderstand is that our community isn’t anti-business,” added Wadhwa. “We just need for them to be mission friendly and provide strategic value to us.”

Wadhwa is also looking for corporate partners to help Wikimedia explore new technologies that the foundation’s staff of about 30 couldn’t develop on its own. “This really lets us try some things that are experimental,” said Wadhwa.

With Orange, for example, he said the foundation would get to explore ways to get Wikipedia content onto cellphones, as well as ways to distribute content from the foundation on systems such as IPTV, which Orange runs in Europe.

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