UOC Tech Talks. Kul Wadhwa: Online strategies and New Business Models: the Wikimedia phenomenon

Notes from the second Tech Talks series of lectures held at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), Barcelona (Spain), on February 22ndth, 2009.

Online strategies and New Business Models: the Wikimedia phenomenon
Kul Wadhwa, Managing Director, Wikimedia Foundation


Wikimedia is about the community, about volunteering. Since the project kicked off in 2001, there have been created 13 million articles in 271 languagesw, 17 million pages, 325 million edits, 330 million visits monthly, 100,000 active contributors (edit 5 times a month at least), over 50 books published on the Wikimedia phenomena, etc. All coordinated by the 27 world chapters of the Wikimedia Foundation, though with only 35 employees.

If we look not at what’s in there, but what people is looking for (visits to the website), some Wikipedias may already be shifting from encyclopedic core to more topical and current events content. On the contrary, though, 1/3 of the hits of the Spanish Wikipedia deals with science and technology content.

Besides current events or news, local content is increasingly searched for. There is also an increase of geotagged content on Wikipedia, thus the interest in local content. As anecdote, it can be said that the second Wikipedia ever created was the Catalan Viquipèdia.

Management model

  • Provide physical home (servers)
  • Basic rules
  • Leave the community work and grow on its own

Power shift to the citizen

  • Technology: insfrastructure, tools, open source
  • Cultural Movement: free culture (Linux, Apache), free knowledge
  • License structure: GNU FDL, Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA)

All in all, the question was that anyone could contribute and the result would be open to everyone.

How do we take care of the community: transparency, trust, thankfulness, respect, responsiveness.

Business Model

Servant-leaders achieve results for their organizations by giving priority attention to the needs of their colleagues and those they serve. Collaboration, communication, culture.

Create a platform, let other people build (i.e. Mediawiki). It happens everywhere: Google, Apple, Amazon, FaceBook, etc. This also applies to Education, as everyone has something to bring on the table. You have to figure out how to make people that know be involved in the process.

Small “workforce” that can adapt to market changes very quickly, plus a virtual larger “workforce”, using the community as research and development.

You have to figure out what you’re good at, and forget about controlling the whole value change. Do not try and do everything. Networks form to address needs: you have to figure out where you fill into that.


Ismael Peña-López: would your model be different were the Wikimedia Foundation be Wikimedia “for profit” Corporation? It depends on your project, as everyone is different and there is not a unique model, but leveraging the community might still apply. You definitely have to focus in your goal and where you can contribute best to achieve it. If you’re running a talent based project, you definitely have to share some of the wealth in it. Talent goes where it is appreciated most.

Q: Is it a must to have a professional core? A: It really depends on what you want to achieve. There is definitely not “a” model.

Silvia Bravo: where do we start from? A: Figure out what your goals are and find who’s your champion. Once the project is started, things become easier, but the difficult thing is to start up the project, and the role of the champion is crucial here. Then, you need to create something that people can build things on top of. Make sure you have a clear goal, find out what tools will you be needing and get a champion to promote the project.

Q: how do you deal with security hazards/attacks? A: It is very important to have a clear and shared framework (linked to your goals) that everybody can relate to. And the system works the same way.

Q: what’s the physical structure like? A: only 20 servers [guess I got that right], as most information is only text. But the challenge is how to keep up with changes and still being able to bring the relevant information, which increasingly comes in rich media (photo, sound, video, etc.). That’s why Wikimedia Foundation engages in partnerships with the corporate sector to be ahead of the future.

Llorenç Valverde: how do we engage the community, and invite everyone to add value? A: Culture is the biggest problem. The way collaboration and sharing ideas happens varies a lot depending on the culture, understanding culture not only at the country level, but also at the company level. E.g. if you’re a newcomer to a firm, you might have brilliant ideas but you might not be (self)legitimate to share them openly. Culture is doubtless the toughest part of all.

Llorenç Valverde: so the starting point is to share information within the organization? A: Certainly. Add everybody in the process.

More information

People are always going to want to share their knowledge on the web, an interview with Kul Wadhwa.