Words by Lorna Li, Photos By Brian Caldwell
Source: Fast Company
On Wednesday July 18th, I walked into Jimmy “Jimbo” Wale’s Q&A presentation thinking I would drop to my knees and swoon in the presence of the man who launched the most ambitious Internet endeavor of our time – free access to the sum of human knowledge on the planet.
I didn’t. He’s not that tall. I was fooled by Wale’s god-like cover shot on Fast Company’s April edition – back lighting does wonders. But I’m, nevertheless, hugely impressed.
As of July 20, 2007, Wikipedia has approximately 7.8 million articles in 253 languages. It is the largest, most extensive, and fastest growing encyclopedia ever compiled. Written collaboratively by volunteers around the world, editable by anyone with access to the Internet, it is a user-generated content machine. And the best thing about it – it’s treeless!
On the flip side, Wikipedia’s domination of search engine results pages (SERPs) makes it the object of fear, loathing, and secret envy among search engine optimizers (SEOs). At the heart of the debate is concern over the proliferation of amateur content on the Web, in addition to the ability of meritless and sometimes empty Wikipedia pages to achieve the top 5 positions on all keywords.
The audience at the Commonwealth Club were far more interested in the politics of Wikipedia rather than the inner workings of search engines. How accurate are Wikipedia’s posts? How does Wikipedia plan to approach censorship in China? How does Wikipedia intend to maintain neutrality of information in the face of the 2008 elections? How do you deal with paid PR firms and copyright issues?
Photo courtesy of Brian Caldwell
Jimbo’s answers were pretty much what you’d expect from a founder of a behemoth Wiki empire. At the end of the day, it all goes back to trust in the all-powerful Community – its ability to police itself, identify and eliminate pirated content, regulate neutrality and maintain accuracy of information.
Topics in the discussion included:
- Chinese censorship of Wikipedia
- Wikipedia Neutrality in the 2008 elections
- Accuracy of Wikipedia Articles
- Wikipedia and Copyright Issues
- Wikipedia Articles Written by PR Firms
Photo courtesy of Brian Caldwell
Chinese censorship of Wikipedia
On several occasions, the government and Internet service providers of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) blocked Wikipedia in mainland China due to strict censorship laws. Wikimedia sites have been blocked at least three times in their history; as with all other blocks in the PRC, there was no warning beforehand or explanations afterwards. The blocks function in a similar way to a content filter.
Censorship kills the spirit of the participatory web. Apparently, Baidu Baike, or Baidupedia, a wiki-like Chinese online encyclopedia launched by Chinese search engine Baidu is not subject to blocking. According to Jimbo, Baidupedia copied all Wikipedia’s content, censored it, and consequently, no one participates because it is not that interesting.
Wikipedia Neutrality in the 2008 elections
As Wikipedia has becoming a top starting point for informational searches, the information it contains has the ability to influence millions of minds. Fear of political agendas making their way into Wikipedia entries related to the 2008 elections were high.
Jimbo extolled the community editors on this one. His take: healthy democracies include open debate. Of course.
In the super-democratic, debate-friendly Wikipedia community, pushing an agenda doesn’t work, because editors can smell propaganda a mile away. Writers seeking to update articles relevant to the upcoming 2008 elections will need to look for ways to present issues in a way that is agreeable to both sides.
Accuracy of Wikipedia Articles
High profile articles are easier to verify. However, Wikipedia editors have the most trouble verifying the accuracy of lower profile articles, especially posts about people who are somewhat notable.
Editors have deleted numerous profiles of self-promoting, individuals with no claim to fame. Since editors are required to reveal why an article has been removed, deleted profiles are ego-crushing and extremely embarrassing for all parties involved.
Wikipedia and Copyright Issues
Again, Jimbo defers the ability to root out and eliminate plagiarized content to the power and goodwill of the mob. Wikipedia’s communities tend to police themselves really well – and members don’t like copyright violations. Information that is cut and pasted from other sites into Wikipedia is easy to spot with a quick Google check. He did admit, however, that copyright-infringed images were more difficult to spot.
Wikipedia Articles Written by PR Firms
According to Jimbo, they do not have many occurrences of profiteering entries written by PR firms as originally feared. Since quality PR firms try not to make their clients look bad, they actually read the Wikipedia guidelines.
Jimbo’s recommended rules of engagement for PR firms:
The best thing to do is go to the discussion tab, openly explain who you are and why you’ve made changes, leave references, and explain why the edit supports neutrality.
Why Do SEOs hate Wikipedia?
Read why Wikipedia Dominates Search Engine Results Pages.
Lorna Li and Jimbo Wales. Photo courtesy of Brian Caldwell
Wikipedia Defies China’s Censors
Why Is This Man Smiling?
jimmy wales, jimmy+wales, jimbo jimbo+wales, commonwealth club, wikipedia, wikipedia and 2008 elections, censorship in china, lorna li, lorna+li, brian caldwell, brian+caldwell