Feeds

Why would someone toss $1.35m at Wikipedia?

Jimbo Wales catches VC from Bono on Mexico City rooftop

The Power of One Infographic

Updated There's little doubt that anyone with the time and the inclination can overhaul at least a few Wikipedia entries to suit their personal ambitions. All they need is the right friends. Or a little pillow talk. The question is, could someone overhaul the entire encyclopedia?

Over the past two years, one man has donated or "lined up" donations totaling more than $1.35m to the charitable organization that runs Wikipedia, dwarfing the contributions of any other donor. And this man is among Silicon Valley's most conspicuous venture capitalists.

His name is Roger McNamee, and he runs Elevation Partners, a San Francisco-based VC firm whose partners include Bono, the U2 frontman more famous for pop records than venture capital. In fact, Bono played a significant role in the mysterious pas de deux between Elevation and the Wikimedia Foundation, making nice with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales and his wife Christine before a U2 concert in Mexico City more than two years ago.

In the beginning, McNamee's donations were made anonymously - at least on official records. But the Elevation Partners connection has long been an open secret among Wikimedia insiders, and last week the secret spilled out onto the web when former Foundation executive Danny Wool posted a few details to his well-read blog.

After Jimmy Wales dumped his lover on the "free encyclopedia anyone can edit", and Danny Wool accused the site's Spiritual Leader of mismanaging Foundation funds, many assumed that the The Great Wikipedia Soap Opera had reached its climax. But there's more to come.

At the very least, McNamee's involvement with Wikimedia is a puzzle that needs solving. Considering the Foundation's status as a tax-exempt non-profit, a VC would need more than a little sleight of hand to turn it into a personal moneymaker. And if he did, this would surely raise the ire of more than few Wikipedians. Remember: Wikipedia was built almost entirely with free labor.

When Bono met Jimbo

According to Danny Wool, Elevation Partners - named for the U2 song - first approached the Wikimedia Foundation in late 2005. Wool took a phone call from a partner named Marc Bodnick.

"There was a period of time where everybody was trying to get in on the Wikipedia action," Wool told us. "Bodnick was really intriguing. He gave me the whole Bono thing, and I thought that was really cool. So I told Jimmy."

Wales soon met with Bodnick at Wikimedia's St Petersburg, Florida, headquarters, and later chatted with Roger McNamee in San Francisco. Then, several weeks later, Wales and his wife Christine had dinner with Bodnick and his personal assistant at a steakhouse in nearby Tampa. According to Wool, this was the $1,300 meal that Wales famously asked the Foundation to pay for.

In the end, the Foundation did not reimburse Wales for the steakhouse tab. But a few weeks later, on February 15, 2006, Wales and his wife flew to Mexico for that U2 concert, together with Danny Wool and another Wikimedia staffer. And this tab was on Elevation. "They paid for all the expenses," Wool told us. "All of them."

That night, the four of them joined Bono for drinks on the roof of their hotel, and at one point the pop icon suggested that Wales dump Wikipedia's volunteer editors and hire professionals.

Bono also suggested the Wikimedia foursome meet him for lunch the next afternoon before attending the concert. But in the end, that meeting included only Wales and his wife. "I was all dressed for the lunch with Bono and I was told that Bono only wanted to meet with Jimmy and Christine," Wool said.

Boost IT visibility and business value

Next page: Non-disclosure

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
Nadella: Apps must run on ALL WINDOWS – PCs, slabs and mobes
Phone egg, meet desktop chicken - your mother
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
Samsung threatens to cut ties with supplier over child labour allegations
Vows to uphold 'zero tolerance' policy on underage workers
Dude, you're getting a Dell – with BITCOIN: IT giant slurps cryptocash
1. Buy PC with Bitcoin. 2. Mine more coins. 3. Goto step 1
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
US freemium mobile network eyes up Europe
FreedomPop touts 'free' calls, texts and data
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.