The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Making money online is a “wiki” business

It’s not all academics in Cyberbrain land. Sometimes, we actually ask oursenew hans muglves can anyone make any money off this citizen journalism, user-generated content stuff. The goal of this blog, in fact, has been sharing our academic research so others can turn it into some practical applications.

The concept I’ve often thought has the greatest money making potential is the wiki. In fact, Jeremy and I agreed over lunch the other day, we’d actually pay a small monthly fee to access Wikipedia. The site has so much good background information on nearly any topic you can think of, that to me, it almost doesn’t even matter if it’s true. Wikipedia works as a good place to start on an information search, and heck, if you don’t like something there, change it.

But does charging for wiki access or conversely, charging to post online somehow diminish its information value? Does it take a volunteer effort that springs from the ground up to generate the kind of interest and contribution to make a wiki a viable information source, or can corporations co-opt and force the process?

I’ll start with one example today that suggests harnessing a viral community for business ends isn’t as easy as it seems. First, Graham Langdon, a University of Connecticut student, has found a interesting wiki application (or would that be wikapplication), but I think he misunderstands what makes a wiki tick. He launched Million Dollar Wiki, in June, and hopes to make a million bucks by selling wikipages such as “business” or “newspaper” for $100 each. If you buy a page, you’ll be the only one who can contribute to it, but everyone can see it. He says he’s already sold 61 pages. Clicking through the random page link on his site, it’s hard to tell who’s buying, but he has sold pages on hotels, security and small business.

Whoever does buy a page needs a refresher course on how a wiki works. By giving everyone a chance to contribute, a wiki fosters Milton’s “free market place of ideas,” because it is only through the expression of seemingly contradictory ideas that the truth emerges. OK, maybe, it’s not that philosophical, but I think even casual Wikipedia users understand that you probably wouldn’t have a list of every Survivor winner or Simpsons’ opening sequence couch gag without a team of dedicated volunteers. You really wouldn’t have much of anything that wasn’t blatantly commercial if you allowed CBS or Fox to produce the pages. CBS doesn’t even archive past seasons.

Can a wiki work for a business? We’ll discuss that more next time, but suffice it to say now, that it can’t as long as the business tries to doggedly control the information available. And as much as I want to see a fellow student make good, I don’t think MillionDollarWiki is going to make much more than a few dollars from the industry dinosaurs who are hearing about wikis for the first time.

June 20, 2007 - Posted by | Hans Meyer


  1. Hans,
    Permit me a rebuttal if you will, for I think you may be slightly misunderstanding the concept of Million Dollar Wiki, which ultimately comes down to traffic. Ask anyone who has ever signed on for Google Adwords (or even AdSense for that matter) or any pay-per-click advertising and they’ll tell you that good advertising isn’t cheap. For example, Google currently charges 5.00 per click to advertise on the results page for a “wiki” search.

    Now if you consider the true value of great exposure on the internet, it can be very hard to put a price on it. But I think we can all agree it’s worth more than $100 that a page costs on Million Dollar Wiki. A hundred dollars will buy you as few clicks as 20 with Google (on the right keywords of course). Presence is just downright expensive these days.

    Flash forward now, to a hypothetical future in which the Million Dollar Wiki has sold all 10,000 pages, many of which have great content that is kept current and fresh by dedicated page owners. Traffic is very high and very well dispersed over the site.

    What you have is an opportunity in which the people who got in first before it really took off reaped tremendous benefits. Their hit counters have been ticking away since they bought the page, making them climb the popularity rankings, increasing their visibility. And finally, because they got in early, they were able to purchase premium pages.

    It’s almost like a microcosm of the internet itself. Some of the content is really great, but not all of it, and the better “Domains” are always more valuable.

    Now, will the business ultimately be so success? 30 pages were sold last week, and 6 were sold today alone. Were up to 90 pages sold, and there is no sign of slowing down. Soon we will hit 100 pages, then 200, and so on. Maybe it will only hit 1,000, maybe it will go as far as 20,000, but if network theory has taught me anything, the probability of selling one more page increase exponentially with the number of people who have already purchased and the number of people who know about the site. And both these metrics are increasing daily.

    So the Million Dollar Wiki will never be like Wikipedia, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to amass 1M worth of paid content. Who knows what you’ll find on any given page? That’s half the fun. And I think the site will be an internet phenomena in less than a year.

    Comment by Graham Langdon | June 26, 2007 | Reply

  2. Graham, thanks for the response. What you are saying really makes sense. Like I said in my post, I wish you the best. I’m glad you cleared up the difference between your site and Wikipedia. I was a bit confused.
    One of the things that the Cyberbrains are trying to do is to bring entrepreneurs like you to the attention of the media owners and managers who are puzzled on how to make the Internet work for them.

    Comment by Hans Meyer | June 26, 2007 | Reply

  3. Availability is only part of the media equation. Why would anyone particularly want to click on Million Dollar Wiki as opposed to the many other sources of information on the Web?

    I, too, wish you well. The free market of the free press thrives on entrepreneurial spirit. But it does not ensure success.

    Comment by Clyde Bentley | June 29, 2007 | Reply

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