Wednesday, January 24, 2007

This Wikipedia Article Brought to You by Microsoft

According to an Associated Press article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, January 24, 2007, Microsoft acknowledged that it had approached a blogger "and offered to pay him to correct what it was sure were inaccuracies in Wikipedia articles on an open-source document standard and a rival format." In an uncharacteristically patronizing comment, Jimbo Wales reportedly stated for the record, "We were very disappointed to hear that Microsoft was taking that approach."

The blogger in question is Rick Jelliffe, who is no slouch when it comes to computer programming and technical standards. Indeed, Jelliffe is noteworthy enough to have his own Wikipedia article, which has been around since long before this tempest in a teapot scandal broke, and prior to this story becoming newsworthy, Jelliffe wrote on his blog:

". . . I was a little surprised to receive email a couple of days ago from Microsoft saying they wanted to contract someone independent but friendly (me) for a couple of days to provide more balance on Wikipedia concerning ODF/OOXML. I am hardly the poster boy of Microsoft partisanship! Apparently they are frustrated at the amount of spin from some ODF stakeholders on Wikipedia and blogs.

"I think I’ll accept it: FUD enrages me and MS certainly are not hiring me to add any pro-MS FUD, just to correct any errors I see."

I've never understood the logic behind Wikipedia's conflict of interest rules, and this particular incident is reminiscent of the sort of humbug that one would expect from the faithful members of the Inner Party at ODP/dMOZ. Sure, there's a potential conflict of interest when someone is paid to contribute content to a website that is built primarily by volunteers, but it's rather naive for Wikipedians to assume that this sort of thing doesn't happen all the time. Indeed, the articles that Jelliffe was supposed to review and edit were allegedly written by people working for IBM.

In a more measured, albeit still sanctimonius position reported by Brian Bergstein of the Associated Press, "Wales said the proper course [of action to take] would have been . . . to write or commission a 'white paper' on the subject with its interpretation of the facts, post it to an outside Web site and then link to it in the Wikipedia articles' discussion forums." However, having covered Wikipedia editing practices and policies at continuing education seminars for lawyers and paralegals, I can honestly say that the rationale for such bureaucratic nonsense is inconsistent with Wikipedia's fundamental values of radical openness.

During my tenure at ODP, the pendulum swang the other way when it came to incorporating professional content providers (PCPs) into the ODP community. Said mercenaries were given carte blanche over the hardworking volunteers who helped ODP win the Web. As I stated almost seven years ago in my ODP swan song, ". . . I had no problem working with PCP editors, but I think that ODP could have and should have put them on a much shorter leash with a cadre of more trustworthy volunteer editors as the handlers." In the context of a purportedly open community like Wikipedia, the same standards should apply with even greater force.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting article on the ongoing Microsoft/Wikipedia Neutral Point of View Debate

http://microsoftisawesome.blogspot.com/2007/01/microsoft-pays-editors-to-improve.html

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 2:14:00 PM  
Blogger llywrch said...

Your concerns about Wikipedia's unclear Conflict of Interest rules proked me to some thinking. I'd consider it a favor if you looked at my response & offered your opinion here: http://original-research.blogspot.com/2007/01/wikipedia-conflict-of-interest-how-i.html

(I tried to email this inviation to you, since I'm not looking for hits, just feedback -- but I was unable to find your email information anywhere.)

Geoff Burling

Friday, January 26, 2007 7:35:00 PM  

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