On the 30 July Wikipedia added Bitcoin as a donation option among the 13 different payment methods. It seems like Wikimedia the non profit foundation behind Wikipedia was waiting for something. Compared to other non profit organisations, we could even say that Wikimedia could even be late to start accepting the digital currency for donations. Other big non-profit organisations like Wikileaks and EFF benefited from being some of the earliest organisations to accept Bitcoin for donations back in 2011. So what was it that was holding Wikimedia back?
Being Skeptical of Bitcoin’s Viability
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Back in late 2012, Jimmy Whales the creator of Wikipedia replied to a question in the question-and-answer website Quora. The question was What does Jimmy Wales think about Bitcoin? And his response?
I am Jimmy Wales and therefore have a reasonable amount of knowledge about what I think and what I have done.
It is interesting but I’m cautiously skeptical. What I mean is that if you imagine a spectrum from “optimistic” down to “skeptical”, then I’m slightly closer to “skeptical” than “optimistic”.
I think it is an interesting pilot project and experiment, but that it is unlikely to be much more than that. It may provide the intellectual and experiential groundwork for something more widely usable and consumer friendly in the future, though!
From this, we are assured that Wikipedia was aware of Bitcoin from almost two years ago or maybe even more. It should be kept in mind though that back when Jimmy Whales answered this question the Bitcoin price had never been bigger than 15 United States Dollars. Bitcoin started getting more mainstream popularity during mid 2013 but even today it’s still considered by many to be an experiment. We even see “This is experimental software” in the latest release of the bitcoin core wallet. Assuming that Bitcoin is something new to most people it’s fully justifiable that Jimmy Whales would be sceptical, especially back in 2012. And to be honest, he wasn’t the only one. Even EFF, one of the first non profits to accept bitcoin, stopped accepting donations months after they had started accepting the currency. The first reason they based that decision on as they stated in an update was that they don’t fully understand the complex legal issues involved with creating a new currency system. It wasn’t until last year though that the Electronic Frontier Foundation started accepting Bitcoin donations once again. However a non profit, Wikipedia could also have it’s concerns about those legal issues.
Wikimedia’s View on Bitcoin and Digital Currencies
In the past, the foundation has been heavily criticised about it’s view on bitcoin. More especially, it was a statement they made back in December 2013 through their FAQ that got the Bitcoin community furious. The FAQ has since been updated but the update from December stated the below:
The Wikimedia Foundation, as a donor-driven organization, has a fiduciary duty to be responsible and prudent with its money. This has been interpreted to mean that we do not accept “artificial” currencies – that is, those not backed by the full faith and credit of an issuing government. We do, however, strive to provide as many methods of donating as possible and continue to monitor Bitcoin with interest and may revisit this position should circumstances change.
About four months after that incident, Jimmy Whales came to tell us that he’s playing around with Bitcoin in a reddit post he made. He also gave out a public address he was using. Later this address was stormed with 21 bitcoins coming from people eager to donate Bitcoin in wikipedia. Whales said he would be re-opening the discussion with the foundation about accepting Bitcoin donations. But he also brought up some reasons why they haven’t already done it.
It wasn’t until yesterday, July 30 2014 that Wikipedia, and the Wikimidia foundation, would start accepting Bitcoin for donations. As many other big players, Wikimedia teamed up with Coinbase to start accepting bitcoin. Coinbase also made an announcement in their blog post. In this announcement we can see that from now on, Coinbase will be offering a 0% processing fee for non profits In contrast to regular companies working with Coinbase paying it a 1 percent processing fee after the first $1 million in sales.
Wikipedia also posted the following on facebook to announce that they’re starting to accept Bitcoin donations:
“Currently, we accept 13 different payment methods enabling donations from nearly every country in the world, and today, we’re adding one more: Bitcoin.” Taking into account recent guidance from the IRS, the Wikimedia Foundation has decided to accept the digital currency as part of its efforts to make donating as simple and inclusive as possible.
So maybe this is what was holding Wikimedia back. Τhe lack of guidance and legal regulations could be the reason the Wikimedia foundation was so sceptical about Bitcoin. It was the same reason the Electronic Frontier Foundation stopped accepting Bitcoin back in 2011.