Just how easy it is to edit Wikipedia:
A real wiki-expert jumps in the fray. The wiki-gate scandal has brought me from blogger into journalism. Just to re-cap:
1. Wrote a blog post: the How-to guide to getting jacked by Wikipedia
2. Got a lot of traffic from it as well as comments and personal emails. Job well done
3. Wrote a follow up post “interview” with Anvil Media, the marketing agency whose clients got “jacked” by Wikipedia.
4. Now, got approached by Gregory Kohs who has been following the Anvil Media saga AND is an expert on Wikipedia.
5.Interview done…see below
Anyway, this interview is very interesting: we learn a lot about how Wikipedia works, the Wiki landscape, and how we as b2b marketers can make use of it all.
Funnelholic: First, tell us about yourself so we can understand your expertise on the topic of “wiki-gate”
Greg Kohs: I’m a marketing research practitioner working at a Fortune 100 company. But I’ve always had an entrepreneurial interest on the sideline, having founded two Internet businesses since 1995. One enterprise is called MyWikiBiz, and we were the first company to overtly state (July 2006) that we would author freely-licensed content suitable for Wikipedia, in exchange for a reasonable fee.
Funnelholic: Give us your take on the Anvil Media “wiki-gate” scandal?
Greg Kohs:Anvil Media was doing something Wikipedia invites every visitor to its pages to do — edit the encyclopedia “anyone can edit”. Unfortunately for Anvil and its clients, they didn’t do quite enough homework to understand the pervasive culture that underlies Wikipedia. While Wikipedia boasts of a “neutral point of view”, self-appointed defenders of Wikipedia have determined (without any authoritative, outside consultation) that commercially-funded scholarship and encyclopedic documentation cannot possibly co-exist constructively within a “neutral” perspective. Not realizing that this perverse proviso undergirds all of Wikipedia, Anvil made the mistake of fully disclosing its method of participating in Wikipedia’s content creation. Within hours, their relatively acceptable content was relegated to the dust heap.
Funnelholic: What is the real issue here?
Greg Kohs:The real issue is that Jimmy Wales and a close-knit team of partners have capitalized on and exploited the “community” that feverishly edits Wikipedia. In a stepwise fashion, they have optimized a system whereby they turn a personal financial profit off the success of Wikipedia, and they’ve ingeniously decided that nobody outside their circle should be likewise allowed to do so. Ask yourself, is it a coincidence that Wales’ speaking bureau charges $100,000 a day for his appearances? Is it a coincidence that there are over 13,400 outbound links from Wikipedia to Wales’ for-profit Wikia, Inc. site? Is it a coincidence that two of Wales’ original Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) board appointees now serve as senior officers of his Wikia farm? Was it a coincidence when Wales appointed a junior employee of Wikia, Inc. to serve on Wikipedia’s “Arbitration Committee”, the highest editor-adjudication body on Wikipedia, short of Jimbo himself? In light of these overlaps in interest, is it really honest that Jimbo declares on his Wikipedia user page that Wikia and the Wikimedia Foundation are “completely separate” operations?
Funnelholic: Who controls the Wikipedia content and if ANYONE can put up and alter content, why are the appeal and change mechanisms so arbitrary?
Greg Kohs: Wikipedia content is controlled, quite simply, by the agent or agents who will most tirelessly persist in trying to control the content; that is, up to the point where certain objectionable content may legally threaten the solvency of the Wikimedia Foundation, which is where they will step in with “WP:OFFICE” actions. Appeal and change mechanisms are wholly arbitrary for two important reasons:
- The WMF is largely protected from libel claims by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The more aloof and “hands off” the Foundation remains in terms of content change mechanisms, the easier it is for them to maintain in court that they are not accountable for the libel that appears on the pages hosted on their servers. The WMF must continually appear as an “interactive computer service” to courts, so that they are not held to the standards of decency and ethics to which “publishers” are held.
- The wildly arbitrary rule set is ideal for enforcing content disputes the way those in power wish them to be enforced. Sometimes it creates obvious and embarrassing contradictions, such as when most of Wikipedia’s key administrators supported the rampant sockpuppetry of business blogger Gary Weiss and simultaneously banned the account of the primary whistleblower who discovered Weiss’ shameless promotion of naked short selling on Wikipedia’s pages. Furthermore, we saw how Jimmy Wales sought the quiet assistance of a leading administrator to influence the content of Rachel Marsden’s biography on Wikipedia, hours before Jimbo met with her for a passionate encounter in a Doubletree hotel. Rather than being reprimanded for their ethical lapses, these administrators hold sway over their critics, simply banning them from the site when the criticism hits too close to home.
Funnelholic: You have been fighting Wikipedia’s hypocrisy for two years now, what does that mean?
Greg Kohs:It means I’m not willing to give up identifying and narrating the hypocrisy that permeates Wikipedia’s leadership. And as long as parties like Anvil Media are fooled by Wikipedia’s true nature until it’s too late, my work is obviously still important enough to carry on. Like Jimmy Wales, I am available for speaking and consulting engagements; I just have a different perspective than his. I’m also frighteningly more cost-efficient!
Funnelholic: You mention that Anvil Media and Attensa are not the first to have attempted to game Wikipedia. Who are the others and what was their fate?
Greg Kohs:I reject “game” as the word choice here, but… MyWikiBiz. Microsoft and Rick Jelliffe. Almeda University. Kellen Communications. You and your readers can look up each of their stories as they related to Wikipedia. All of them met the same fate — public admonishment leveled by Jimmy Wales or one of his devotees. Utterly predictable and manifestly hypocritical, if you understand “the real issue” discussed above.
Funnelholic: What does the future hold for Wikipedia and/or the world of Wikis in general?
Greg Kohs: Wikipedia will persevere as a massive revenge platform and point-of-view pushing game disguised as an encyclopedia, until the combined effects of the all-too-frequent breakdowns in quality, ethics, and accuracy bring it down a few notches. Perhaps we will see a defamation lawsuit that finally challenges the precept of Section 230 that Wikipedia is not a publication. We may already be seeing the effects of diminishing respect for the project. Wikipedia may very well be replaced one day in the next decade by the next big compendium of information on the Internet. Remember, just a decade ago, hardly anybody thought that Altavista and Lycos would be where they are today, buried under hundreds of other more popular websites.
Wikis are really neat devices for generating trivial content from editors who don’t care to take responsibility for their words (since they will just be changed by the next guy). Wikis, however, are inherently self-destructive platforms for “open”, “anyone can edit” collaborative projects of a serious nature. You literally get what you pay for with free culture and free content when it’s produced anonymously. If you add a teaspoon of sewage to a cask of wine, you have a cask of sewage.
Funnelholic: Since this is a b2b lead generation and marketing blog, any tips you can give to them on how to use the world of wikis for branding, thought leadership, or lead generation?
Greg Kohs: By all means, use other wikis like AboutUs.org and the new MyWikiBiz.com to post directory-like pages about your and your clients’ businesses.
As for Wikipedia, Anvil Media came awfully close to how B2B marketers should be interacting with that site. Anvil blew it only when they publicized their techniques. Successful marketers will learn the lessons taught by the Wikipedia trailblazers who went before them and took all the arrows in their backs. Don’t ever disclose what you’re doing on Wikipedia. Don’t use your real name as a screen name. Use a network of sockpuppet (and preferably meatpuppet) accounts, ideally employees working from their homes and coffee shops (preferably with non-disclosure agreements). Never log accounts into Wikipedia from the same IP address. Don’t try to push marketing materials onto Wikipedia. Devote more than 50% of all your editing to topics that have nothing to do with your clients. Don’t even disclose your techniques to your clients; rather, assure them that you will be working on their Wikipedia pages and links, but can’t divulge your proprietary methods. MyWikiBiz authored from scratch nearly ten different pages on Wikipedia in exchange for payment from clients. Those which we disclosed to the community were deleted or heavily ransacked. Those which we never disclosed are still thriving to this day, productively edited and cared for by the unsuspecting Wikipedia community, nearly two years after their creation.
I sound like a sneaky bastard, but this is the way Wikipedia has taught us to behave. Paid content, no matter how professionally researched, carefully cited, and neutrally crafted, will always be deleted from Wikipedia the moment its paid origins are discovered. Instead, keep the origin of such writing a secret, and they’ll be tripping over themselves to award you barnstars and promote you to administrator!