An Open Letter to Jimmy Wales

November 29, 2010

Hi Jimmy. Got your fundraising appeal for Wikipedia. Let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia; it is a truly amazing tool and a tremendous accomplishment. It’s a phenomenally time-saving research tool. I believe in what you are doing, I’ve contributed financially in the past, and I’d love to do so again. However, a few changes really need to be made.

Call off the dogs. The Wikipedia cabal. The Priesthood. You know who I mean–that inner circle who feel it is their right to take down any content, for any reason, with no explanation or warning and limited appeal rights. Not merely to edit content, or post a comment, but outright delete it (I learned from my first experience at Wikipedia editing never to make any change with keeping a local backup of the text and code). And when called on their behavior, to defend it in the most arrogant, condescending manner possible.

I understand you don’t want Wikipedia to devolve into a collection of marketing brochures. No one does. I certainly don’t. That does not mean, however, that any sentence which could possible be construed in a positive light constitutes “marketing” and deserves to be stricken from the pure environment of Wikipedia. Any editor who isn’t embarrassed by the Anvil Media – Attensa Wiki-gate fiasco should be permanently banned.

Example: most people would agree that the word “leading” rarely belongs in a company description on Wikipedia. It’s an over-used PR buzzword. Since every company is a “leading” something-or-other according to its own press releases, the word has little if any real meaning in most cases.

However, there’s a world of difference between PR buzzwords and objective facts. If XYZ Company is the largest global supplier of flabberglumping software, and that is an objective fact which can be substantiated through industry sales figures and third-party sources, then there should be no problem including that fact on the company’s Wikipedia page (and linking to those sources).

It’s also not just okay, but vital, for a company page to include descriptions of the firm’s products and/or services. Yes, these should be written in a factual and objective tone, not flowery marketing prose rife with glowing adjectives, but properly written such descriptions should be left intact by the self-appointed guardians of Wikipedia unless they can add or improve something.

If John or Jane Doe want to add content to a page about their company on Wikipedia, and have done their level best to write such content in an objective, encyclopedic fashion, they should be able to do with fear that Wikipedia’s self-appointed censors will immediately rip it down with no explanation out of some bizarre anti-commercial malice. With great power comes great responsibility. A little humility would create a ton of goodwill.

Have respect for bloggers. I’ve actually been told by a member of the cabal that a term didn’t deserve to be defined on Wikipedia simply because a few meaningless bloggers had used it. Get with the 00s. Bloggers now include highly regarded journalists, analysts, executives and independent subject matter experts. 77% of Internet users read blogs. Blogs are now the mainstream media. Refusing to cite or link to blogs, or give their content credibility, is rather archaic at this point.

Recognize the value of corporate websites. Certainly much of the content on corporate sites is inappropriate for linking from Wikipedia: product feature-benefits pages, “why buy from us,” press releases, etc. But company sites also often contain highly linkworthy industry resource type content, such as explanations of concepts, glossaries of industry terminology, research results, thought leadership articles and more. If Wikipedia would link to this type of content on, say, a university’s website, there’s no reason not to link to it just because it’s housed on a corporate site.

In addition, corporate sites should be linked from corresponding industry-related pages. For example, if Wikipedia had a page about flabberglumping software, I’d expect the page to include a list of vendors like XYZ Company, with links to their sites. Since it’s a commercial product, links to corporate sites are appropriate in this context.

While I support efforts to keep Wikipedia free of advertising or blatant marketing, it’s my job to make sure my clients are represented fairly on the site. Not marketed or promoted, just described accurately and objectively, with due consideration given to links to thought leadership content they’ve contributed to their industry. Again, I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia and what it’s accomplished for the spread of knowledge. I’d really like to contribute, both in terms of content and money. But if you won’t accept the former, you don’t deserve the latter.

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4 Responses

  1. I fully agree with everything in this letter. Also, Jimmy, what’s with the 101 portraits of your mug on every single of Wikipedia’s gazillion pages? Is seems like you have a Napoleon complex run amok. What will your circle of sycophants suggest next, a 100 foot statue in every town square a la Lenin or Sadam Hussein? Ask for funds, sure, but spare us the compulsory idolatry.


  2. Tom 

    Nick – thanks, but wow, you’re being a bit tough on Jimmy! Again, I admire the achievement of Wikipedia overall, but contributors must be treated more fairly and without the hostility. Those few who are truly out to spam Wikipedia should be shot down, but recognize that most contributors are participating with honorable intent.


  3. David 

    I understand Nick´s reasons to complain, but it is very true that wikipedia would not be what it is today if it weren´t for altruist contributors. I admire their (unpaid!) work.


  4. Tom 

    Hi David – the altruist contributors are to be commended. It’s some of the editors who are problematic. They need to lose the attitude, and the hostility, and understand that while a few “contributors” may be there to spam, most are just trying to be helpful.

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