I was at a college graduation ceremony yesterday, and when one of the student speakers mentioned Wikipedia the graduates broke into applause. “Now we can finally admit that we use Wikipedia for research,” the speaker continued. That brought another round of cheers from the kids as well as some futile boos and hisses from parents and faculty.
Also yesterday, Facebook let it be known that it would launch a free classified-advertising service, which will compete with Craigslist. That’s a smart move. Facebook’s core users – college and high-school kids – are also big users of Craigslist. When Facebookers go off-network, Craigslist is probably one of their most likely destinations. So creating an in-network version of Craigslist will significantly expand Facebook’s control over its members’ online time. “We don’t try to lock people up or take more of their time,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg fibs to the New York Times today. Then he tells the truth: “If we can provide people with efficient tools, they will use the site more.” Every page view Zuckerberg steals from Craigslist is money in his pocket.
But if Craigslist is a big draw for Facebook members, my guess is that Wikipedia is an even bigger draw. I’m too lazy to look for the stats, but Wikipedia must be at or near the top of the list of sites that Facebookers go to when they leave Facebook. To generalize: Facebook is the dorm; Wikipedia is the library; and Craigslist is the mall. One’s for socializing; one’s for studying; one’s for trading.
Which brings me to my suggestion for Zuckerberg: He should capitalize on Wikipedia’s open license and create an in-network edition of the encyclopedia. It would be a cinch: Suck in Wikipedia’s contents, incorporate a Wikipedia search engine into Facebook (Wikipedia’s own search engine stinks, so it should be easy to build a better one), serve up Wikipedia’s pages in a new, better-designed Facebook format, and, yes, incorporate some advertising. There may also be some social-networking tools that could be added for blending Wikipedia content with Facebook content.
Suddenly, all those Wikipedia page views become Facebook page views – and additional ad revenues. And, of course, all the content is free for the taking. I continue to be amazed that more sites aren’t using Wikipedia content in creative ways. Of all the sites that could capitalize on that opportunity, Facebook probably has the most to gain.