Jimmy Wales of WikipediaWikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, spoke last week in Gateshead as part of a BBC Radio 3 lecture series. The man behind the world’s most popular encyclopaedia was keen to point out that he was not really an Internet guru, rather he was someone who simply had a vision of making knowledge freely available. Yet, compared with many so-called “Internet gurus” he is clearly someone who has an understanding of what the web does and what it can achieve. Many Internet experts, it seems, are woefully lacking in any real thinking.

Take for instance the current level of “thinking” about online business. What are you told – repeatedly – by these Internet experts? You MUST have video; you MUST have loads of relevant images; and you MUST have a mailing list. Where is there evidence for such “thought”? Well, video is popular, granted – but that does not mean you MUST have it. Equally, imagery can help convey a quick message in the short attention spans people have online, but again that does not mean it is a MUST have. And mailing lists? Yes you can make money from them – probably more than from a website in many instances. But there are several multi-million pound online enterprises without them.

As an example, consider Wikipedia itself. Last year it brought in almost $24m in donations – users, once a year, are asked to stump-up cash to keep Wikipedia running. Most do not pay a bean, but enough people do pay. Not bad for a site that is almost entirely text, has no video and no mailing list. How much did you make last year just by asking people to donate to your company? Wikipedia, of course, reaches more people than you; it is the 5th most popular website in the world with around 450m views per day. And they are achieving this huge success WITHOUT any of the trappings the “Internet experts” say are “MUST HAVES”.

Not only that, Wikipedia has only 73 staff around the world. And they only have 1,000 servers, compared with more than 1m from Google. True, Google is about 200 times the size economically, but it also has almost 32,000 staff. Google – the world’s number one website – is reaching around 47% of the global Internet audience. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is getting to around 15%. Wikipedia is reaching one-third of the audience Google gets to, but with only 0.25% of the staff and resulting costs which are probably a mere rounding error on Google’s annual accounts.

Wikipedia is not alone. Take Businessballs as an example. This website is run by one man. It has no video, no pictures, is all text and has no mailing list you can subscribe to. But Google has indexed around 175,000 pages of content from this website and if you do any keyword searches, such as “leadership tips” you find that Businessballs is Number One. It is the first search result for thousands of keywords. Yet the site goes against the “wisdom” from “Internet experts” telling you that you need brilliant design, video, pictures, some kind of email capture device and so on. With a position as the 12,000th most popular website in the world, Businessballs gets significant amounts of traffic, meaning that the income generated by the Google advertising must be quite OK for a one-man website.

Maybe Internet experts are making us all face the wrong direction. Maybe sites like Wikipedia and Businessballs tell us that you don’t need a mailing list, you don’t need video or pictures and that you don’t need offices filled with staff “running” your website. Maybe all we need is interesting content.

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