The PR industry should surrender the Wikipedia fight, cut ties with Wiki-PR

After the Wikimedia Foundation, Wiki-PR debacle heated up last week, with Wikimedia threatening legal action and sending Wiki-PR cease and desist letters, PRWeek’s Editor-in-Chief Steve Barrett wrote an article titled “Why Wikipedia needs the PR industry.”

While I respect his opinion and understand the role PRWeek plays in standing up for those in our industry, I disagree on two accounts. First, I think it would be in Wikipedia’s best interest to stay as far away from the PR industry as possible since cultivating that relationship would contradict Wikipedia’s core philosophy. Second, I think it would be in the PR industry’s best interest not to push the envelope.

Before I support my opinions, here’s a quick recap of the situation: Austin-based firm Wiki-PR “has recruited 300 sock puppets to write and edit biased Wikipedia articles on behalf of paid, corporate clients,” including Viacom and Priceline, according to Business Insider and the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia’s non-profit parent company.

“Sockpuppetry,” as the name suggests, is the practice of using an online (usually fake) identity to deceive others.

“Although there was an investigation that questioned whether Wiki-PR used sock puppets, it concluded we did not,” Wiki-PR CEO Jordan French told PRWeek in an email last month. “Rather, we were and are paid editors, paying other editors, which is not against the rules.”

The Wikimedia Foundation has not confirmed that the investigation is closed and deleted or suspended over 250 accounts run by Wiki-PR and its editors, suggesting that it’s not.

Barrett made two main arguments for why Wikipedia needs the PR industry. He said that since Wikipedia is one of the leading sources of information in the world, “any brand, company, organization, or agency responsible for brand reputation has a right to be concerned that articles published on the online encyclopedia are accurate and fair.”

I agree and can confirm that in my career at different PR firms, and now at my own, I’ve checked the Wikipedia pages of clients to confirm accuracy and protect against libel. I did not, however, accept money to write and edit pages to their liking. To me, there’s a clear difference between the two.

Barrett’s second point was that as Wikipedia’s volunteer army of editors continues to shrink, it would be in the best interest of both Wikipedia and the PR industry to work together to ensure the accuracy and credibility of the online encyclopedia.

I respectfully, but wholeheartedly, disagree with that opinion.

Wikipedia is an idea, not a business. Have you ever noticed that you don’t see advertisements on Wikipedia? “We do not believe that advertising belongs in a project devoted to education, and one that is driven by the values consistent with a balanced, neutral encyclopedia. Our big, global volunteer community (the people who make Wikipedia) have always felt that advertising would have a major effect on our ability to stay neutral, and ultimately ads would weaken the readers’ overall confidence in the articles they are reading.”

If Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, Wikipedia’s founders, wanted to make millions from the idea they could have, but the idea transcends profits. Why then would they willingly allow the financially motivated, like Wiki-PR, which proudly states on its website, in all capital letters, “OUR AFFILIATES MAKE BIG MONEY,” to pimp their platform for monthly retainers?

When asked what Wikipedia’s mission is, Jimmy Wales once said, “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”

From the PR industry’s perspective, this isn’t a fight worth fighting, and the longer it goes on, the worse it makes the industry look. In the past, PR practitioners were referred to as “spin doctors.” While it’s not a flattering term, it’s not completely unfounded.

As a practice, PR has come a long way in recent years, in terms of the value placed on it and its legitimacy. This is in a large part due to measurable results (web traffic, shares, etc.), but there are still many firms and individuals bringing the industry down, hanging on like dead weight. I think it’s time to cut them loose and make the barrier for entry more difficult. Not only is it wrong to abuse the Wikipedia platform for personal gains, then fight back when asked to stop, it’s unwise.

Furthermore, it’s idealistic to think that firms like Wiki-PR are only using Wikipedia to ensure accuracy, while resisting the temptation to write favorable, dishonest pages for their clients. These kinds of practices will come back to bite our industry in the form of heightened public distrust.

You can follow Joseph McKeating on Twitter at @josifmck and Editorial IV at @EditorialIV

Comments

  1. says

    Wikipedia and education seem to be strange bedfellows don’t you think?

    Outside of pop culture it is unrelentingly bad, The maths articles are almost all corrupted to be the playthings of advanced maths students. Your average high schooler is unwanted these are articles for the professional mathematician.

    Science articles are written by the scientifically illiterate who simply copy and paste 30 year old material juggle the words about to avoid plagiarism, and create a mishmash of nonsense.

    History articles are frequently anachronistic. People living centuries apart are made contempories, events are garbled, and references misquoted.

    All this is when those adding content are trying their best. Mix in the revenge editing, and the agenda pushers, and you find a site that is little better than the worst of good old USENET.

  2. thekohser2 says

    I tried to read Mr. McKeating’s opinion piece without snickering, but I just couldn’t get past these two lines:

    “Wikipedia is an idea, not a business. Have you ever noticed that you don’t see advertisements on Wikipedia?”

    There will be ads running at the top of every Wikipedia page for the next month, and who will profit from these ads? A small group of about 170 people I equate with insider traders, along with their hand-picked paid vendors and consultants, many of whom never had to submit to a competitive bidding process at all. If you sum all of the revenues the Wikimedia Foundation has raked in via donations for the past 5 years, then compare the money they have legitimately spent on the program services that the charity is supposed to uphold, the second figure represents less than 50% of the first figure! This is not an estimate — the figures are all there in Form 990 documents. Their program expense ratio is probably lower than any other educational charity of its size or larger. That means they are using the money to line the pockets of staff and contractors who don’t contribute to fulfilling the mission. Imagine the Red Cross holding extravagant caviar and Bordeaux parties after every natural disaster. It is a sinister case of non-profit mismanagement that is far worse than any “Wiki-PR” problem we’ve ever seen. So, I conclude that McKeating has been brainwashed by the very PR pablum issued forth by the Wikimedia Foundation cronies.

    Oh, the irony.

  3. says

    Thank you both for your thoughts.

    John – As I said on Twitter, I think you raise several excellent points and laid out your argument nicely. There are tons of problems with Wikipedia and the information on it is often not accurate. My article was in response to another arguing that Wikipedia should support Wiki-PR’s behavior, like MyWikiBiz. I wholeheartedly disagree with that, which brings me to my next point…

    Gregory (thekohser2) – While I appreciate your thoughts, you not being open about who you are and the fact that you’ve been blocked from Wikipedia when responding to this type of article really hurts your credibility. Aren’t you the founder of MyWikiBiz, the company I mentioned above which is openly anti-Wikipedia and makes money supporting corporations and agencies just like Wiki-PR? I’ve researched your business before and here is what Wikipedia says about you (ironically). Please feel free to contest any of it since I’m aware you don’t have a good relationship.

    “MyWikiBiz is a wiki directory that allows people and enterprises to write about themselves. The brand began as a service creating Wikipedia articles for paying corporations; the founder and owner of MyWikiBiz, Gregory Kohs, was soon blocked from Wikipedia.[2] As of September 2012, the MyWikiBiz directory contained over 80,000 pages of content about corporations and individuals.”

    • thekohser2 says

      Joseph, you are acting like I did a “bad” thing by not announcing the long, ridiculous, troubled history that certain Wikipedia insiders had with me. Do you think that I’m not being “open” enough using my headshot and my “thekohser” nickname that I’ve used all over the Internet for 20 years? Maybe I should have started with something like this — In 2006, I launched MyWikiBiz, a paid editing service dedicated to writing factual, reliably-sourced Wikipedia articles about businesses. My business was no different than Wikipedia’s Reward Board, except that personal disclosure wasn’t required by buyers on the Reward Board, but I would be disclosing all of my content as paid for by clients. In October of that year, Jimmy Wales seemed to have a conniption fit about the agreement he himself had arranged with me only two months before, and in a snit, he blocked my user account. A highly abrasive administrator then deleted an article I had written for Wikipedia, he moved the words around a bit offline, then he re-published the article on Wikipedia, making it appear that he was the originator of the content. This was an intentional snub, and a violation of the GNU copyleft license that my work was released under. This really irritated me, and I pointed out to Jimmy that one of his administrators was acting with complete contempt for the provenance of my article. Wales didn’t bother to try to understand what had happened — he just automatically sided with one of his “trusted” admins. That’s when I started to learn that Jimmy Wales isn’t a trustworthy person, and that he was abusing his position as “founder” of Wikipedia. Finally, he would apologize to me for the way he handled himself in October 2006, and he unblocked my Wikipedia account.

      You probably don’t believe me, that this is how the situation went down. It’s not how you’re “used” to the story being told, I’ll bet. It doesn’t fit your model that all paid editors are devious, out to undermine Wikipedia with content that “promotes” or “advocates” for a client. Well, I was different. I offered my services as a paid encyclopedist — not a PR shill. My articles frequently contain proportionate documentation of legal troubles or other criticisms facing my subjects. Anyway, I don’t need your approval, because I know my story is the true story. And here is Jimmy’s apology to me, if you don’t believe that part of my story:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Talk%3AArch_Coal&diff=258731121&oldid=224255965

      P.S. MyWikiBiz isn’t “anti-Wikipedia”. It thrives financially on Wikipedia, so why would it be against the very medium that drives the income? I personally am “anti-Wikimedia Foundation”, because that organization is devious and corrupt, and just like those “State Firefighters Funds” that spend about 12% of their telemarketed donations on the actual victims in need, I don’t like Internet scams that pass themselves off as “charities”. You would do well to take a day or two to learn more about the real history of the Wikimedia Foundation. Do you think it was a coincidence that for years its board of directors was composed 60% by employees of Wikia, Inc., Jimmy Wales’ for-profit enterprise, which now constitutes over 80% of his personal wealth?

    • says

      What I don’t think should happen is for people to act like the IIPM as Eric’s article outlines. The real question ios should WP be a compendium of every restaurant, and bookshop. Probably not, yet WP administrators regularly write such articles for their friends. The site is written, in a large part, by fans, and supporters of one group or other. It has for instance 1000s of articles about synagogues often on the back of 50 years of news reporting about jumble sales. If the synagogue why not the local kosher deli? It will almost certainly have an article about the nearest bus stop, or train station. And if the deli owners pays for someone to write it what is the harm?

    • says

      Take a look at how WP treats different companies. Start with Google Maps which is highly detailed advertisment for the app and has been since its inception. Compare that with rival mapping apps such as MultiMap or MapQuest. Where are the details in the Google article, that they have been accused of using their monopolistic position in search drive competitor maps from search? The issue here is that Google maps is a nerdlinger favourite and will attract massive amounts of editing activity, whereas what were once rivals are ignored. There is no balance in the WP articles on commercial products. Look at the article on the Ordinance Survey, how does that compare with Google maps?

      WP has no editorial control, and as a result is incredibly biased in how it represents different commercial interests. It is also incredibly ignorant in huge areas of activity. Take the industry that I’m in CAD/CAM if it wasn’t for the marketing depts of each company writing their own articles WP would have next to nothing about the software that designs and makes almost everything you touch in your daily life.

      • thekohser2 says

        Not to mention, Google’s principals have donated millions of dollars to the Wikimedia Foundation over recent years, so we might expect to see “their” Wikipedia articles get some additional favorable leeway.

  4. metasonix says

    Mr. McKeating:

    You are a FOOL if you think that Wikipedia is not swamped in paid editing. Wagging your finger at Greg Kohs is just an attempt to straw-man this argument.

    I just wrote an editorial for the Wikipediocracy blog about a paid editor who also happens to be a Wikipedia administrator. It is causing quite a stir in India right now. For information, Wifione is far from the only Wikipedia administrator editing for money.

    In the process of researching our book about Wikipedia’s history, we have uncovered thousands of abuses of this type. Thousands. And those are only the ones we could find–no doubt there are many others, yet undiscovered. Some are so enormous and epic that they would require an entire textbook of their own. We now have enough material to write our own encyclopedia, just about Wikipedia’s internal problems.

    If you believe a word that comes out of Jimbo Wales’s mouth, you are a hopeless basket-case. And he has surrounded himself with sycophants and fellow liars. He shrieks about Wiki-PR in public, while simultaneously nodding his head at Wikipedia insiders who also edit articles for money. It happens routinely and has happened since 2003, and possibly before. And it will go on happening.

  5. says

    Gregory – I appreciate you taking the time to write a thoughtful response to my last comment. That gives both me and my readers a much better background and understanding of where you’re coming from. If your articles frequently contained proportionate documentation of legal troubles or other criticisms facing your subjects, then I don’t find that devious or think you were out to undermine what Wikipedia, in theory, offers. However, being in the PR industry myself, I think it’s fair to say that you were in the minority. As you suggested, I’ll dedicate more time to understanding the other side of the story.

    The reason I started this blog was to promote intelligent conversation about issues I’m passionate about, exactly what I believe is happening here. I have my opinions but in no way attempt to force them on readers. Instead, I welcome different points of view so that I can expand mine. If you’re interested in writing a rebuttal to my article or expressing your thoughts on Wikipedia and paid editing, I’ll be happy to feature it on here.

    Eric – Besides implying that I’m a fool, I also appreciate your contributions to this debate. I found your article about Wifione and the IIPM both informative and troubling. I’ll investigate the situation and look forward to Wikipedia Through the Looking Glass. Barring ad hominem attacks, the same offer to contribute your thoughts to Editorial IV applies.

  6. says

    Thanks for sharing the links. I think both you and Eric come off a bit abrasive and condescending when debating, especially in your Wikipediocracy forum side conversation, which turns people off to listening to your point of view. Luckily, I’m from a large family and am used to that so it doesn’t affect me much. I’m able to cut through it and get to the core of your argument, but I’d keep that in mind moving forward. That type of attitude will significantly limit your audience.

    Like I said earlier, I welcome all points of view and would be happy to feature an article singing the praises of paid editing on Wikipedia. If you’re interested, email me at jmckeating@pulsarstrategy.com.

    • thekohser2 says

      Abrasive and condescending is the unfortunate side-effect of years of banging one’s head against the Wikipedia brick wall of “group think”. I’m not naturally this way in person, or on virtually any other topic of human interest.

      Really, right from October 2006, I would say things to Jimmy Wales like “There is a Conflicts of Interest proposal forming, that I think that MyWikiBiz.com could live within those parameters, but I don’t want to get my heart set on it, if you feel that it still would be unacceptable (because the paid-for GFDL content would be entering ‘Wikipedia user space’, even if it is not originating by the paid party in the ‘article mainspace’.”

      To which his response was, “Absolutely unacceptable, sorry” and “If you don’t stop trolling, I am going to ban you myself” and “Bullshit. You owe me an apology. And you are on VERY VERY thin ice. I recommend that you stop editing Wikipedia, and shut down your company.”

      It’s tough to maintain the high road and remain perfectly pleasant when confronted with such gruff and bossy anger like that, on a consistent basis.

  7. Thomas Frick says

    Mr. Keating, I think that Greg Kohs would have more credibility if he didn’t repeatedly engage in unethical “sockpuppet” edits via multiple accounts.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Sockpuppet_investigations/Thekohser/Archive If you look at his block log on Wikipedia, you can see that this person has made a pest of himself over a period of years.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Log/block&page=User%3AMyWikiBiz

    https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Log&type=block&page=User:Thekohser

    I think that Eric Barbour (“metasonix”) might have more credibility if he had disclosed to you that he is permanently banned from Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Log/block&page=User%3AEricBarbour

    Both Mr. Barbour and Mr. Kohs are in no position to preach to you, or to anybody in Wikipedia, until they recognize that their past conduct has been unacceptable.

    • thekohser2 says

      Thank you for dredging up sockpuppet reports from 2010, Thomas. And I note the most recent report on that page, from May 2013 was filed by a user named “Russavia”, who was indefinitely blocked from Wikipedia in August 2013. It would appear that nowadays, the conduct of vindictive sockpuppet hunters is what is “unacceptable”. I suppose Woodward and Bernstein were said by some to be “making a pest of themselves over a period of years”. I’ll wear the badge with honor, considering the inability of the source (Wikipedia) to accurately engage with the facts.

      • Thomas Frick says

        Greg, to compare your tawdry, failed business and juvenile misconduct to “Woodstein” shows only that you’ve spent far too much time in the echo chambers of the Internet. Wales is no prince but your attacks on him are so crude that you make people feel sorry for him.

        Mr. McKeating, there is a great deal wrong with Wikipedia’s governance, but you’d never get at the truth listening to these two characters. They were justifiably banned from Wikipedia, which they conveniently forgot to tell you, and they have their own narrow agendas and obsessions.

        Keep up the good work and don’t let yourself be sidetracked by a couple of misfits who don’t speak for the vast majority of honest, reputable people in the public relations profession. Kohs isn’t even in public relations. His one venture was his Wikipedia venture and he really made a muck of that. Barbour is just an Internet kook.

      • thekohser2 says

        According to my e-mail, Thomas Frick left a comment that was so incendiary that it appears to have been deleted. Just for the record, Mr. Frick, could you inform us of which “Thomas Frick” you are? Are you the Leo Burnett executive? The cartoonist? Some other Thomas Frick? Since you called Mr. Barbour and I out for our narrow agendas (in your deleted comment), it would be helpful to know what agenda you might also have, and your CV might define that for us. Thank you.

      • Thomas Frick says

        No, I’ll decline your offer to share my personal information with someone who posts this kind of filth: http://wikipediocracy.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=67584#p67584

        Your unprintable comments were in response to a post by Jimbo Wales here, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Jimbo_Wales&diff=578821013&oldid=578819404 in which he accurately pointed out that Wikipedia has banned you and doesn’t want you around anymore.

        It takes a lot to be banned from Wikipedia but you pulled it off, not because you’re a “whistleblower” or Wikipedia is “corrupt” but because of your own actions.

  8. says

    Thanks for your thoughts, Thomas. I welcome both Gregory’s and Eric’s thoughts, though I wish they would present them with a bit more civility. The side conversation about my post on Wikipediocracy (http://wikipediocracy.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=3471) was nothing more than a string of unfounded, ad hominem attacks and contributed nothing to the debate beyond stroking each other’s egos. Editorial IV is a place for intelligent and civil debate. I think their posts on here, while personal at times, did help contribute to a good debate.

    However, I felt like we got away from my initial point, which was that agencies like Wiki-PR using Wikipedia to favorably and dishonestly edit the pages of corporate clients hurts the PR industry. As I’m sure you’re aware, PR has a long, troubled history of public distrust. I think that this type of behavior damages the trust that some of us are trying to restore.

    The points that Gregory, Eric and John brought up about behind the scenes paid editing at Wikipedia are also troubling, if they’re true. I don’t know enough about that yet to have an educated opinion. Regardless of whether or not it’s true, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Wiki-PR’s actions hurt my industry’s reputation.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on that, since that’s what this post was about.

    • says

      The questions that you need to ask yourself are “What do people think wikipedia is?” and “What in reality is wikipedia?” Most will answer the first question by saying that it is an encyclopedia of facts written from a neutral point of view, and devoid of bias. Which is the message that the WMF portray when they are begging for money. When they are being held to the claim (in cases of defamation) they point out that it is written by individuals over whom they have no control. And so it is. It is at best a compendium of advocacy. Anonymous editors such as Qworty and Jagged85 (look him up in wikipedia) spend years manipulating articles to conform to their world view.

      All the partisanship that was on USENET is there on wikipedia just hidden under a veneer of policy and civility. Articles are written by a process of attrition. Any passing IP address can defame a company or individual and none of it is the fault of the WMF. Should a company or individual overtly correct the defamation they are almost certainly going to be pilloried and banned. The wikipedia process guarantees that articles will be edited surreptitiously.

      Meanwhile anti-GM individuals are free to edit biotech company articles, defame scientist. Anti-vaccinationists can edit pharma articles and defame doctors. Advocates of green energy can write articles about oil companies. And so it goes on. Wikipedia is used as a weapon in the fight against your clients. As a NPOV encyclopaedia it has already been corrupted, there is nothing that the PR industry can do to make it worse. What the WMF and its community are doing is shifting the blame for the fact that it has become a steaming pile of poo onto others.

    • thekohser2 says

      It is quite a shame that “Wiki-PR” chose the letters “PR” to describe what they are doing. They are not really a public relations firm, at all. Then again, Wikipedia isn’t exactly an “encyclopedia”, either.

      For about 8 years when I worked for a market research firm, many of my survey projects were conducted for PR firms. While they sometimes skirted the edges of “spammy” endeavors, I always tried to keep my clients within the bounds of legitimate “social good” via survey data. There was one study about marinating foods in a bag that I felt was my lowest moment. But, nobody got hurt, and no lives were lost. Just as nobody gets hurt if a notable retailer pays someone to write a factual article about their company on Wikipedia. The key is that the editor not become a non-neutral advocate for an exclusively favorable portrayal of the client. Jimmy Wales refuses to accept that neutral non-advocacy content can be generated by a paid editor. But if that’s the case, why are “Wikipedian in Residence” positions encouraged by the Wikimedia Foundation PR department? They are paid editors, plain and simple, directly editing Wikipedia articles about their employer. And not always for museums and archives and the like. One position was recently with Consumer Reports (http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Grants:Consumer_Reports/Wikipedian_in_Residence ) which, while a non-profit, is essentially a commerce-oriented money-making machine ($336M in gross assets).

      I think there is a lot of room for an improved relationship between the PR industry and the Wikipedia community. However, it is my solemn belief that the most ugly viewpoints about that relationship come from people like Jimmy Wales and his supporters who (for the most part) refuse to identify themselves, while simultaneously insisting that corporate editors *always* identify themselves. When cleaning up a problematic situation like paid editing, I think first and foremost the entity calling for the clean-up needs to itself adhere to the most rigorous interpretation of the standards they are setting for others. Thus far, I haven’t seen any of that from Wikipedia’s elite.

    • Thomas Frick says

      I just noticed your final comment, Mr. McKeating, and that your question at the end might have been directed at me. I’m not sure what you mean by “behind the scenes paid editing.” I think that if you look at the media coverage of Wikipedia overall, in publications like Salon and the Guardian, the problems with Wikipedia fall into a few general areas.

      The first is the public’s perception that Wikipedia is swamped with paid editors and overt corporate influence. This is what Kohs defends, and that is why he is here, since you support Wikipedia’s editorial independence. He and the thousands of editors like him want to make money off Wikipedia. They are jealous of Wales’ success, they are upset by his disdain for them, and by the fact that he has made millions of dollars from private ventures and speaking engagements.

      The second is that too many articles are unreliable and inaccurate. That is true.

      The third is that Wikipedia’s biographical articles disparage their subjects. This is also true.

      What defenders of paid editing do is that they yell, “Look! Look! Wikipedia is corrupt! How dare they stop us from making money off Wikipedia.”

      That is why the only people responding negatively to your post are Kohs and his pals, who inhabit the Wikipediocracy echo chamber, one of whose main functions is to defend paid editing.

      • says

        That characterisation of Wikipediocracy is incorrect. I am a founder member of Wikipediocracy, and Greg is my friend, but ultimately I believe that my views and his on paid editing differ. Even so, I don’t think the Wikipedia articles he writes for money are those that critics of paid editing have reason to be worried about.

        Actually, I like the German Wikipedia’s approach to paid editing. (Perhaps Greg does too.) They have verified company accounts, much like verified accounts on Twitter, and there is no witch hunt mentality as there is in the English Wikipedia. Companies have accounts like “User:Coca Cola Germany”, and it’s all very transparent and civilised, unlike the English Wikipedia, where user accounts named after a company are blocked on sight and TOLD TO REGISTER A DIFFERENT USER NAME THAT OBSCURES THEIR CONNECTION TO WHATEVER COMPANY THEY ARE WORKING FOR. Sheer madness, and a carte blanche invitation – request, really – for people to contribute with obscured conflicts of interest. Completely, utterly, bonkers.

        But then the Foundation is counting edits and editors as the main metric of its success. So of course they welcome as many conflict-of-interest edits as they can get. This is why everyone contributes to Wikipedia, after all.

  9. Somey says

    I suppose it’s unfortunate that the Wikipediocracy thread turned somewhat negative, but there are just too many mistaken impressions in the original post. Others have already pointed out that Wikipedia *is* a business (and even worse, one that masquerades as a “charity”), and that paid editing is practically endemic to their whole system at this point, despite what they claim. But you compounded that with at least two others. For the first, you say that if Wales and Sanger “wanted to make millions from the idea they could have,” but this is simply not true – the level of top-down control they would have had to impose on actual content in order to “make millions” would have driven would-be Wikipedia users, editors, and even readers away long before they could have achieved “critical mass.”

    In other words, the perception that Wikipedia was non-corporate during the crucial early phases of its life-cycle was essential to its growth and survival, and it still is. Advertisers don’t want to appear on pages that might contain defamation (against them!), obscenity, pornography, etc., even now. The site would also have needed paid staff to procure, validate, and bill for the advertising, as well as “super-editors” to prevent the very things Wikipedia is now famous for – inaccuracy, vandalism, porn, and so on. Software would have to be developed to support those activities, and all of that costs money, up-front.

    You also say this “isn’t a fight worth fighting” for the PR industry without mentioning why they’re “fighting” it now. They’re fighting it because Wikipedia articles are nearly always the #1 result on Google searches, which is why people read them. If people didn’t read them, they wouldn’t be fighting. (And I should note that one of the reasons Google favored them so heavily and so early was because they didn’t carry advertising.)

    But this is after you’ve already used the word “pimping” to describe what this particular company does to promote itself. It’s just a word-choice, but it makes you look rather non-objective, to say the least. “So is all advertising analogous to managing a stable of prostitutes, then? Or just the advertising that you find objectionable in some way?” You shouldn’t complain about “ad hominems” in some forum thread when you’re comparing (at least by implication) a legitimate business to a sex-trafficking operation.

  10. says

    Here is a fun Wikipedia article to keep watching. Two versions – which do you trust?

    http://wikipediocracy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Klee-Irwin.gif

    Many Wikipedia articles on minor businesses or their principals are like that – written either by the people themselves, or people who hate them.

    PR editing is only one small part of a wider problem with Wikipedia, which is that almost anyone who contributes to Wikipedia articles on controversial topics has an ax to grind or an opinion to promote. It is only natural that activists would turn to Wikipedia – Wikipedia is the top Google link on almost anything, and allows them to change the content anonymously.

    Scholars and real-world experts rarely have the emotional investment and tenacity to engage in daily fights over article content with activists, leaving the field to them. Caveat lector.

    For examples of activist editing, see http://wikipediocracy.com/2013/10/07/wikipedias-balkanisation/ and the sources linked therein.

    For a prime example of revenge editing, see Andrew Leonard’s Salon article, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/17/revenge_ego_and_the_corruption_of_wikipedia/

    Wikipedia’s dirty secret is that it thrives on this type of participation, and encourages it with its policy of completely anonymous contributions. Whenever a particularly egregious case hits the press, as in the recent Wiki-PR story broken by The Daily Dot, the Wikimedia Foundation decries it dutifully, all the while downplaying the true extent of the problem (almost any company article on Wikipedia has been edited by the company’s employees or PR people).

    In actual fact, the Wiki-PR investigation was months old by the time of the Daily Dot report. A Wikipedia bureaucrat resigned over it in disgust. Yet the Wikimedia Foundation only acted when the matter hit the press. There is no real integrity in the Wikimedia Foundation. Its responses are themselves PR-driven.

  11. says

    Did you know that the Wikimedia UK secretary and trustee Alastair McCapra is also the CEO of CIPR, the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations?

    https://wikimedia.org.uk/wiki/Water_cooler/2013#Alastair_McCapra.27s_declaration_of_interest

    He is by no means the first PR professional to hold such a position. Arne Klempert, Director Digital at Fleishman-Hillard, served for several years on the international Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation. (Fleishman-Hillard has since published a “Wikipedia Corporate Index” compiled by Klempert.)

    http://wikipedia-corporate-index.de/

    And for added measure, see http://www.dailydot.com/business/wikipedia-tony-ahn-pr-did-you-know/ – Ahn recently stood (unsuccessfully) for a Wikimedia Philippines board seat.

    There is little sign that Wikipedia considers it in its best interest to stay “as far away from the PR industry as possible”. There is every sign though that there is a complete lack of clarity, direction and consensus as to how Wikipedia’s relationship with the PR industry should be managed.

    • Thomas Frick says

      It’s disingenuous to claim that there is something nefarious about public relations professionals like Arne Klempert becoming involved in Wikipedia. That has absolutely nothing to do with the disreputable business model that Mr. McKeating’s discusses in his thoughtful commentary.

      The comments that have poured in from Kohs and his friends only serve to demonstrate that paid editing is a serious problem, and that it is sometimes carried out by unscrupulous persons.

      • says

        I have hardly said that there is something nefarious about people like Arne becoming involved in Wikimedia governance. And when faced with anonymous defamation on Wikipedia, PR professionals actually have a legitimate role to play. I wish Wikipedia had functioning structures to process their complaints in a transparent manner. (It doesn’t. For an example, see Jimbo Wales’ current user talk page, section “COI’s proposing on Talk Pages”.)

        What is clear though is that there is no consensus in the Wikimedia Foundation of the Wikipedia community on how to grasp the nettle, and how to weigh the conflict between anonymous defamation and simple errors on the one hand, and astroturfing on the other (as with admin Wifione’s exploits described in the current blog post on the Wikipediocracy main page). With the result that both are exceedingly common in Wikipedia.

        Wikipedia deserves to die and be replaced by something better.

      • says

        Typo alert: “in the Wikimedia Foundation of the Wikipedia community” should read “in the Wikimedia Foundation or the Wikipedia community”. Apologies.

  12. thekohser2 says

    I would like to thank “Thomas Frick” (if that is even his real name) for giving us a perfect demonstration of how those who aren’t able or willing to understand the nuances of varying degrees of paid Wikipedia editing are eager to hide behind a pseudonym (“Frick” has refused to identify himself here or give us his credentials) in order to defame any and all paid editors (who identify themselves by their real name and are willing to stand behind their opinions by providing credentials), so that there is no accountability on the anti-paid-editing side. Much easier to blame everything on “Kohs and his pals”, when the only voice in earnest support of a blanket ban on any and all paid editing is the singular, lonely, pitiful “Thomas Frick”.

    Most of the greatest works of scholarship, literature, and film were “paid editing” projects. Can anyone hold up for me the world’s best “volunteer created” film? How about the greatest “volunteer written” book? As for scholarship, we already know that Wikipedia is the greatest accomplishment of the free culture movement, and we already know how terribly flawed it is. Excellence comes with expertise, with credentials, with attribution. “Thomas Frick” would rather wallow in the mire of digital world that puts sub-par achievement on a pedestal, where nobody is willing to stand behind their opinions, check facts, or provide their credentials.

    • Thomas Frick says

      “….the only voice in earnest support of a blanket ban…” I believe that Mr. McKeating seems to favor such a ban, which is why you and your friends are here. It is correct that it is hard to find anyone who cares about your views to reply to them.

      Greg Kohs, since you have such a dim view of volunteer efforts, why did you create a business designed to subvert the volunteer website Wikipedia? Why didn’t you just create your own site and stay away? Why do you spend such large amounts of time obsessing on Wikipedia? Why did Jimbo Wales say that he’d call the police on you if you attempted to contact him? Is it because he is “corrupt” or because you have behaved badly toward him for years?

      If you are in favor of people disclosing their identities, why do you come on Wikipedia as sockpuppets [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_checkuser/Case/MyWikiBiz]? Why have you been evading your ban by constantly posting on Wales’ talk page? It was so obvious that Wales recently called the guise you were using “Greg.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Jimbo_Wales/Archive_148] Do you deny that you are on Wales’ talk page constantly without disclosing your identity?

      • thekohser2 says

        Wales said that he would call the police if he saw me when visiting *my* metro Philadelphia because he loves to grandstand about imaginary “threats” to his safety. I have repeatedly attested that I pose zero threat to Mr. Wales’ safety or to that of his family. He erases those assurances, because he knows that stooges like “Thomas Frick” will believe anything he says, regardless of evidence to the contrary. I also deny that I am on Wales’ talk page constantly without disclosing my identity. You’re off base here, Thomas, which is really no surprise. Again, I thank you for serving as an apt example of the addlebrained Wikipedia devotee who can’t understand or speak intelligently about the concerns surrounding paid editing on Wikipedia.

  13. thekohser2 says

    One additional comment about the amusing notion that “it takes a lot to get banned from Wikipedia”. If it is such an extraordinary event, then why does this page take nearly 40 seconds to scroll from the top to the bottom?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:List_of_banned_users

    Getting banned from Wikipedia is apparently about as easy as getting killed on Game of Thrones. And who would be surprised? When the governance structure finds “trolls” and “enemies” lurking around every corner, and the admins are typically pseudonyms with no real-world accountability, that “perma-block” button gets awfully easy to use.

    Here are a few examples of articles I authored for Wikipedia. If anyone can tell me how they damaged the encyclopedia project, I’m all ears:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Arch_Coal&oldid=76592206 Arch Coal

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Alec_Head&oldid=316417922 Alec Head

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Job_sharing&oldid=299529822 Job sharing

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Line_management&oldid=305819558 Line management

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=National_Fuel_Gas&oldid=238999676 National Fuel Gas

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Zale_Corporation&oldid=76232040 Zale Corporation

    • Thomas Frick says

      Either you don’t understand why you are persona non grata on Wikipedia or you are just pretending to “not hear” the reasons. For everyone else, they can be found on the list of banned users, under “M,” alongside all the other overgrown children and narcissistic head cases who have disrupted Wikipedia over the years:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Banned_users#M

      MyWikiBiz (talk • contribs • block log), October 5, 2006
      Originally banned by Jimbo for “inappropriate use of Wikipedia name in commerce” and “implying that people can pay him [MyWikiBiz] to get listed in Wikipedia.” After having one of his sockpuppets, JossBuckle Swami (talk • contribs • block log), blocked, it was decided to reinforce Jimbo’s ban with a community ban on January 23, 2007; the community felt this was necessary because his activities were an egregious violation of the pillars of the project. Unblocked by Jimbo March 23, 2007; reblocked for legal intimidation as Zibiki Wym (talk • contribs • block log) March 29, 2007. Has continued to disrupt and vandalize the project over the long term through various sockpuppet accounts as of early 2008, including impersonation of other users. This ban was provisionally suspended by the Arbitration Committee here under conditions which were then violated, reinstating the ban. See also Thekohser (talk · contribs).

      The Arbitration Committee suspended the ban at https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:Arbitration_Committee/Noticeboard&diff=298187430&oldid=297942980

      You violated those conditions and the ban was reinstated.

      You’ve been a major waste of time for everybody who’s had to clean up after you, a real embarrassment to yourself, not to Wikipedia. All you’ve done is annoy everybody with your vendetta against Wales and your constant efforts to corrupt and to undermine the project. You were kicked off by the community, not by Wales. I’d say “shame on you” except that you have no shame.

      • thekohser2 says

        How amusing, the notion that Wikipedia has “the community” that makes ban decisions. Thomas, can you explain to the limited audience here, why do I have active accounts in good standing at Wikimedia Commons, Wikibooks, Wikiversity, Wikisource, and other Wikimedia Foundation projects? If I am an embarrassment and an annoyance, why have these projects all accepted my contributions?

  14. says

    There is stronger consensus among Wikipedia’s editorial community than people tend to think. Most Wikipedians would agree that marketers should:
    – Point out errors and bias to impartial editors
    – Correct grammar and make other clerical edits
    – Abstain if they cannot be neutral
    – If we can be neutral, disclose and defer to the community’s opinion

    Technically speaking marketers may edit articles if they are neutral, but practically speaking they almost never are and create the appearance of impropriety, so we should disclose and defer to an impartial editor.

    The area that lacks consensus is when it comes to Wikipedia creating universal rules, because any rule that is created would have exceptions and depend on the circumstance. Like with all marketing, companies are most effective if they are transparent, ethical and most of all, useful.

    -David King, Ethical Wiki

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