What's with those glaring 'Donate' banner ads on Wikipedia?

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There would hardly be anyone reading this who wouldn't know about what we're talking about here. Yes, Jimmy Wales and the Wikipedia Banner ads. Just to give a short testimony to what the man has been able to create: Wikipedia is currently the 5th most viewed site on the net with close to 420 million unique visitors each month and the number is steadily growing. This not-for-profit organization has become the biggest resource for knowledge online with about 19 million articles in more than 270 languages.

This stat-saga can go on but we're here to talk about the irritating (if you may let me call them so) banner ads. Much has been written on blogs about how these ads have got on the nerves of some not-so-tolerant people. A pretty famous such diatribe comes from oatmeal but if this is the case, why does Wikipedia use these banner ads?

There is a simple reason for this. The ads work! Wiki started out with carrying tests wherein they put in a picture of Jimmy Wales and the donations more than doubled! Compared to some of their worst banner performances, the Jimmy Banner managed to bring in fifteen times more! So a personal touch definitely works and this was revealed when Jimmy Wales was interviewed by TheNextWeb

So, how much donation does Wiki generate after all? Well, last year their budget was 21 million dollars and they raised it through the fundraising campaign which ran for a span of 59 days. This year they're looking at generating 28 to 29 million to keep the fire burning at the Wiki Foundation.

They've been trying other faces like in June they tried out with programmer Brandon Harris and Operating engineer Ryan Lane. Brandon has a glamorous rock star look with long hair and a macho image while Ryan has a subtle and sober look. No one would be able to say what would work or generate more clicks and conversions but as it turned out, Brandon won the A/B Test (a test to ascertain which variable is more affective in getting the desired result.) Brandon was able to bring in more donations which might be attributed to his quirkiness. The amount was not as big as it was with Jimmy Wales but it was comparable and to spruce up the things, you might see more such faces.

It's difficult to judge as to what works and what does not on the internet as you might agree and this modern-age conundrum is comparable to the not-so-primitive-age question "What is the meaning of life?” But to wrap the findings in the preceding paragraphs with a cover of meaning, I'd like to conclude that the personal touch does work if anything else doesn't. People feel good when they see a human face while donating money. There is a sense of security and more often than not, a connecting chord. So, the picture might feel a wee bit annoying but that is what keeps Wikipedia ticking. And this is an aspect which can be incorporated by other ventures or entrepreneurs who're looking at developing a brand and a loyal customer base.

- Jubin Mehta