innovation | February 21, 2013

Be Critical Consumers of the Media: Wikimedia's Sue Gardner

Sue Gardner, executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, seemed shocked when she was asked when she planned to start using ads to generate revenue for Wikipedia. "I'm sorry, what?" she asked the interviewer on American Public Media. "We will never do that." If she was forced to decide between using ads and shutting down the site, however, she said she would unfortunately have to start using ads. Luckily, the crowd-funding method that Wikipedia employs has been working out pretty well so far. Every winter, Gardner says the company does a massive fundraiser. This year, they generated $2.7 million dollars a day from ordinary people who love the site and want to ensure it doesn't get shut down. It's a site by the people, and for the people—literally—so it's no wonder there are so many willing donors who keep the site alive.

The only problem with the community of Wikipedia contributors and editors, Gardner laments, is that 9/10 of them are men. When the site first started, the Internet was fairly new and most users were predominantly men. The site has made a valiant effort to diversify its community. The site is available in over 200 languages and they have appealed to those around the globe to contribute and engage with the content. Bridging the gender gap, Gardner says in the interview, is the next step. It's been a slow process, but the company has implemented programs and initiatives to help get more women on board.

While the site is growing exponentially—the fact that its content is completely curated by the public means users must sometimes be skeptical of its accuracy. The interviewer asked Gardner what she would say if a student asked whether a Wikipedia article was a reliable source for a school assignment. Gardner simply laughed. "Everybody's saying, be skeptical of Wikipedia. That is true," she says. "They should also be skeptical of everything. We should all be critical consumers of the media." As a former CBC employee, Gardner knows the importance of cross-checking everything you read—especially online. Using her first-hand experience with online collaboration and citizen-driven media, Gardner gives eye-opening talks on how to be innovative using these very powerful tools.