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Why Is a Giant Jimmy Wales Staring at You on Every Page of Wikipedia? Science.

You may have heard that the Wikimedia Foundation, the not-for-profit group behind online encyclopedia Wikipedia, recently launched an appeal asking users to donate money to keep the site free; Wikimedia is targeting $16 million of fundraising over the next two months. You may also have noticed, if you’ve been on Wikipedia anytime lately, a gigantic banner atop the page containing a photo of Wikimedia founder Jimmy Wales staring at you, possibly causing your latent scopophobia to kick in. What gives?

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In fact, open data provided by the Wikimedia Foundation reveals that the giant Jimmy Wales ad is not just a monument to the founder’s egomania, but that it’s emerged at the top in a process of natural selection, testing much better than other appeals.

Appeals like “thanks for the brain massage” (cutesy) and “Admit it – without Wikipedia you never could have finished that report” (too close to home?) had lower click-through rates and far lower eventual donation rates on a per-day basis than giant Jimmy. And even that’s been tweaked and tested in a number of ways: “Please read: A personal appeal from Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales” tests significantly better than “A personal appeal from Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales” without the “Please read,” for example.

Using this data, Information Is Beautiful’s David McCandless has created a chart of the efficacy of various Wikipedia appeals: (click to see full-sized)

(Wikipedia via Information Is Beautiful)

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