WikiGate: A Wakeup Call For Wikipedia

I’ve built a career as an Internet marketer since I optimized my first Web site in 1996. Back then, it was the Wild West. Academia and early Internet adopters eschewed commercialism, but alas, it was inevitable. Fast forward a few years, and a similar situation arose with the explosive growth of the blogosphere. Bloggers enjoyed power and prestige, but were unwilling to admit then needed money to live, so they bit the very hand that fed them (by taking money from folks like Marqui, then bashing them). Wiki is now the latest Web technology to face the jury of big business supply and consumer demand. Is Wikipedia up for the challenge?

For the past year or so, my search engine marketing agency has provided help in managing their brand reputations online. This includes the all-powerful Wikipedia. Recently, MarketingSherpa published a Wikipedia case study on Attensa, our client. Within minutes of the article going live, we received inquiries from other companies interested in help with social media marketing, especially on Wikipedia. Unfortunately, the article also led to a backlash by Wikipedia editors, which resulted in all Anvil posts being removed, regardless of topic or value. While we may have brought this on ourselves, the reaction begs a bigger question: what kind of service is Wikipedia offering?

How are companies that are listed on Wikipedia supposed to clarify or correct inaccuracies, or add new content? Not only is writing about ones self a violation of the rules, but paying someone to do so is as well. However well-intentioned the rules were when established, the result is a state of fear among corporations, celebrities and anyone else deemed “culturally relevant” that earns the status of a listing on Wikipedia. Who is more qualified to be an expert on a person or company than the individual or employees themselves? Read Scott Niesen’s view on this topic on the Attensa blog.

Further exacerbating the problem is Wikipedia’s lack of transparency. A vast majority of editors are unknown to the public, free to edit and delete-at-will and deciding who and what is culturally relevant. Why not make their profiles public and ratable by visitors, as with so many other social media platforms, like blogs and LinkedIn? How about requiring credentials in order to edit? Pass a test or provide information that demonstrates you are qualified to post on a topic. If you look, I think you’d find that behind the curtain is someone who is tech savvy and perhaps even passionate about specific subjects, but not necessarily an authoritative expert. With the current rules in place, the metaphor of the wisdom of crowds morphs into the one percent (editors) being the arbiter of all information.

While the problem is complex, the solution may be closer than we think: Google. With the advent of the Knol project, Google will be forced to promote its own expert community over Wikipedia. The honeymoon between Google and Wikipedia may soon come to an end, leaving Wikipedia editors to find alternative forms of self-expression and community service. I believe my cohort Janet Johnson has said it better than I in her recent WikiGate blog post.

Anvil and Attensa played by the rules as best we could (maximizing our Truthiness in our own Wikiality) by providing accurate company content and balanced perspective (including competitor links on topical pages). It’s too bad the fact that the content we provided to Wikipedia users that was considered relevant and valuable yesterday has been deleted because of unrealistic and unfair rules established yesteryear. Moving forward, Wikipedia needs to figure out if their current structure and process can meet the needs of the increasingly savvy and skeptical Web surfer, and do so before Google decides for them.