There’s Nothing Sexy About Wikipedia

And that’s a good thing, executive director of the nonprofit that runs the site says.

The Wikimedia Foundation is a nonprofit that runs Wikipedia and its sister sites including Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource and Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to being the center of most everything else these days, the Internet is a hub of capitalism.

With new things being monetized everywhere you look online, federal agencies, universities and nonprofits face a dilemma: how to look user friendly, hip and authoritative, all while making it clear you’re not out to make a buck.

You might expect a nonprofit born online to come down on the slicker side of that balancing act, but Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner made a case for homespun charm during a press conference Thursday:

Wikipedia has always been kind of a homely, awkward, handcrafted looking site. It’s not a pretty site. I don’t think you’d use the word flashy. It’s clearly not at all designed by marketing people. I think that kind of homeliness at the visual layer for readers is part of its awkward charm. It is clearly not trying to sell you something… It’s not employing mad patterns to encourage people to stick around for financial reasons because we’re monetizing their eyeballs. So there’s an element of that I think readers find charming.

Gardner was answering a question about staying current online during the opening day of the Wikimania 2012 conference in Washington. In case you’re wondering, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was sitting next to Gardner during the answer and did not appear to be biting his lip.

Gardner added that looking homespun doesn’t equate to not being user friendly. One of the foundation’s main goals, she said, is making it easier and more intuitive to edit Wikipedia articles. She views that as a “necessary precondition” for increasing the ranks of the site’s volunteer editors.

“We want to make it easy for people to edit Wikipedia,” she said, “as easy as it is to update your status on Facebook.”