William Beutler on Wikipedia

Archive for the ‘Wikipedia etiquette’ Category

The Grande Guide to Wikipedia

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on May 3, 2011 at 8:14 am

In line with my cryptic tweet of yesterday afternoon (owing to an early scoop by The Next Web) here’s the big reveal: in the past few months I’ve been working with the marketing automation company Eloqua and design firm JESS3 (with whom I worked on “The State of Wikipedia” video) to write a new entry in their “Grande Guide” series of how-to manuals. Of course, I wrote about Wikipedia: “The Grande Guide to Wikipedia”:

Because Eloqua’s audience is marketers, they are also the focus of this guide. One of the first (rhetorical) questions raised in this guide is this: “Is Wikipedia a marketing opportunity?” The answer, more or less, is: “No, but…” While trying to use Wikipedia as a marketing tool is one of the surest ways to find yourself in trouble with Wikipedia editors, there are times where it is appropriate for someone who works with or for a company to make positive suggestions and even some non-controversial edits.

This subject makes Wikipedians understandably nervous. As evidence, consider the many tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of words expended on debating the propriety and rules surrounding paid editing—without coming to a resolution. The result is a confusing place where contributors with a financial interest are not exactly welcome, but also not disqualified. It can be very confusing. As Eloqua’s Joe Chernov writes:

It’s also important to note that we worked hard to preserve the integrity of the Wikipedia community throughout our Guide. We aimed to share how Wikipedia truly works, so that marketers can understand and appreciate it – not so they can game the system. We hope and trust that respect comes through in the content.

I hope you’ll read “The Grande Guide to Wikipedia” and, whether you’re a marketer curious about Wikipedia (more than a few of you, I know) or a Wikipedia editor skeptical of marketers (and not without reason!), I hope you’ll learn something new.

USA Congressional Staff Edits to Wikipedia: The Saga Continues

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on April 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Last week I was asked by Politico’s Marin Cogan to provide some commentary about a situation on Wikipedia whereby a congressional staffer had tampered with her boss’ entry. This became “Rep. David Rivera’s war with Wikipedia” in last Thursday’s paper.

As the article explained, David Rivera’s press secretary, Leslie Veiga, had created an account using her real initials and last name (otherwise, she would’ve gotten away with it) in order to delete a number of negative subjects from the entry and replace them with conspicuously favorable language. Both actions are officially discouraged by site policies, but no official action was needed: the changes were rolled back, the offending account was issued a warning, and the unhelpful editing activity ceased.

Now a new section about the incident has been added to Rivera’s article, although its inclusion has been disputed (Wikipedia dislikes self-referentiality unless unavoidable, and its relevance to Rivera’s overall career is unclear) so it’s not necessarily there “forever,” as Gawker suggested. Then again, as I told Cogan: “All Wikipedia aims to do is reflect what is public knowledge and has been widely reported.” And it seems to have been covered widely enough.

As hinted above, the cynical view is that Veiga’s biggest mistake was the one thing that was laudable about her actions: her transparency. The truth is that she could have been transparent and made helpful suggestions in accordance with Wikipedia’s conflict of interest guideline… but this requires much more knowledge about Wikipedia than most staffers have. (As Politico mentions, I deal with this subject professionally and written about how it can be done it properly.) And none of this is new: the fact of congressional staff editing Wikipedia was first widely reported in early 2006 and is now memorialized in the Wikipedia article “USA Congressional staff edits to Wikipedia”.

What most staffers seem to do instead is what most uninitiated contributors do, and that is edit without creating an account, thereby displaying their IP address. The U.S. House and U.S. Senate have dedicated IP addresses serving members’ offices on Capitol Hill (I used to think there was a single IP address for each, but now I’m not so sure; if anyone knows for sure, please speak up in the comments). As Cogan writes:

The House IP address … frequently shows up in the edit histories of members, committees and constitutional amendments. Wiki editors repeatedly blocked the House IP for limited periods of time until 2009, when they apparently gave up the effort.

By following these edit histories, you can make some guesses about which offices might be doing the same as Rivera’s staffer. To be clear: most of these edits are not so blatantly self-serving as were Veiga’s; most are only mildly self-serving, such as the staffer from Rep. Jimmy Duncan’s office, who apparently tried to add his Facebook page and YouTube channel (for which one could actually make a decent case, but few know to do) only to be reverted and warned.

The Talk page associated with the IP address is also enlightening (that’s how I found the Duncan edits) and sometimes amusing; this comment (under the header “Wow”) is my favorite:

Look at all those edits of mudslinging your opponents and painting yourselves in some golden light. I expected better from our government.

Uh huh… right. And of course there is the page listing all contributions made from the House IP address, where one can find all manner of subjects that Hill staffers are interested in, besides just their bosses. Among non-political recent edits:

As you can see by the repetition of collegiate topics, one may surmise that more than a few are largely concerned with themselves. One edit from late March was undoubtedly self-centered: Congressional staffer. But their bosses do seem to be among the greatest focus. And about the fact that, in late March, edits were made to the article titled Liar, perhaps the less said the better.

P.S. Just over two years ago, I covered this topic in a post titled “Did Rep. Hinojosa Get a Free Pass on Biased Wikipedia Edits?” (Yes, for awhile.)

P.P.S. Just over one year ago, I had an article published in Campaigns & Elections’ Politics Magazine about very nearly the same topic: edits made by political campaigns, how they are most often bad and some pointers about how to make them good.

More Ironic than an Alanis Morissette Song

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on October 12, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Every once in awhile you just come across something like this which makes you out laugh out loud and start showing it to people sitting next to you. For me, this is such a something:


There is an explanation, and some additional curiosity, in the fact that the idea of “original research” as conceptually separable from “research” is primarily a concept at Wikipedia—namely that information in articles should be previously published in reliable sources, which makes this a self-referential article. Wikipedia usually tries to avoid having articles about Wikipedia-related subjects that have not gained currency off-site. For example, “Neutral point of view” has no dedicated article separate from Objectivity, while the Wikipedia biography controversy involving John Seigenthaler does. Should this article exist? It’s been debated before, and even put up for deletion before, but consensus has never been achieved, and others have floated potential sources for inclusion in the article.

Oh, and it doesn’t take all that much to be more ironic than the song referenced in the title; as the “Linguistic usage disputes” section of the Wikipedia article about the song notes, by most definitions the situations posited in Alanis’ song fail the requirements of irony. And that’s kind of ironic, don’t you think?

How Not to Plead Your Case at Wikipedia

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on March 29, 2009 at 10:20 am

Yesterday I wrote a relatively lengthy post discussing the circumstances surrounding the deletion of a Wikipedia article about Human Achievement Hour (HAH), a parody holiday created this year by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The title — “Why WWF’s Earth Hour Gets a Wikipedia Entry But CEI’s Human Achievement Hour Doesn’t” — was a bit misleading in that it did not actually go point-by-point about why the Earth Hour article lives yet HAH is no more, mostly because it was a response to a request from CEI’s Twitter guy about whether environmentalist-oriented articles had been removed in a similar manner (they have).

There should be no great mystery as to why the article was deleted, and the reasons given can be found in the relevant deletion debate. But such discussions are not always easy for the uninitiated to follow, so let me try to explain a little more neatly:

  • The article’s supporters maintained that because the fake holiday had been mentioned in various publications, it deserved an article.
  • However, they failed to acknowledge that these citations do not trigger notability — Wikipedia’s rules are a little more complex than that.
  • For one thing, mentions in the National Post and National Review were by CEI employees; commentaries don’t count toward establishing Notability in the same way that reported news articles do.
  • Notices from actual news articles, in USA Today and Time, only mentioned HAH in articles about Earth Hour.
  • Therefore, HAH warrants a mention in the Earth Hour article (which was not in dispute for long) but because it does not yet have news reports dedicated to HAH itself, it doesn’t make the cut for a standalone article. It would need at least two or three to rate.

Yet there are at least two recently-arrived Wikipedia contributors who may not necessarily have CEI’s blessing but have continued to press their argument at Wikipedia. And, to put it diplomatically, they are going about it all wrong.

The first, as noted previously, is someone calling themselves Thehondaboy. The second is an account named Thelobbyist, which has only ever edited articles related to this issue. So let’s take a tour of the arguments made by these two and the mistakes they’ve made. This won’t contain all of the necessary context, but I will link to the pages that provide it.

Going chronologically, Thehondaboy argued in the HAH deletion debate on March 23:

    The commentor presumably thinks that criticism from ClimateBiz determines the event is not notable. ClimateBiz commentary will obviously be opposed to CEI or anyone that sides with their position or takes part in the event. Obviously they believe (or hope) the event is not notable. Using their sentiments to determine notability is therefore asinine. The use of the link is clearly to show a major player in the environmental movement noting the event. The observation by the of the event taking place justifies its notability. Thehondaboy (talk —Preceding undated comment added 20:37, 23 March 2009 (UTC).

Thehondaboy makes two primary mistakes, that I see. The first is violating the “Assume good faith” guideline; making inferences about another editor’s political viewpoint does not change any of the facts under discussion and is no way to ingratiate you with other editors. It’s a tactic of weakness, and a sure sign you’re going to lose. Second, look up what “Notability” means to Wikipedians.

On the same page, Thehondaboy argued later:

    It certainly sounds like the attempts of someone opposed to the event, rather than someone simply and unbiasedly concerned about whether it should or should not exist. The reasons for it’s removal are weak. There are reasonable sources that have listed the event. Whpq asks for reliable sources. I don’t know who Whpq is. He is some random guy on the Internet. Why would he get to decide what is or is not a “reliable source.” Weak argument for deletion. Additionally, he again makes the assumption based on personal bias that the event is not notable. The argument that “We don’t create articles in the hopes that the subject may become notable in the future,” is not valid because it has not been agreed on that the subject is not notable. The events notability has not been agreed upon, so therefore we can’t determine that it is currently or will be notable. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.Thehondaboy (talk —Preceding undated comment added 20:42, 23 March 2009 (UTC).

Pretty much the same thing here, although now that the discussion is resolved to the dissatisfaction of Thehondaboy, he’s making the same arguments again. There are a few behavioral guidelines that apply here, but one worth focusing on is “Characteristics of problem editors” which unfortunately describes Thehondaboy. Here he is again, on the talk page of an editor who had disagreed on the deletion review after the HAH page was first removed. And here is Thelobbyist also claiming to know the rules better than Wikipedia editors who regularly work in AfD:

    Very clearly what I mean by political is the fact that editor’s of the Earth Hour page have been rallied to endorse deletion on our page whether it has merit or not. It’s obvious that no one actually cares about merit or WP rules. There is no way after this I could ever trust anything on WP ever again. There are climate articles built on blog citations. But Human Achievement Hour is mentioned in 3 national papers including the USA Today. And there is a story citing it in TIME MAGAZINE today. But these aren’t good enough for noteriety. Why? Because individuals personal bias is deciding when these will be good sources or not. This whole project is a sham. thehondaboy (talk) 17:03, 28 March 2009 (UTC)

“Problem editor” also describes Thelobbyist, another account created with the apparent sole purpose of arguing about HAH. Here he (or she) is on yet another editor’s discussion page, with Thehondaboy right on his heels:

    Human Achievement Hour
    Your deletion of HAH is based on a previous page that had no notability. A brief even callous glance at the new page placed up today would make it very, very obvious that the event is notable now. It appeared in the USA TODAY this morning, and two national news papers yesterday. This is censorship at it’s finest. Especially being that the event is tomorrow. It needs to be reinstated now. Thelobbyist (talk) 22:06, 27 March 2009 (UTC)

    Agreed. Reinstate. thehondaboy (talk) 22:07, 27 March 2009 (UTC)

Thelobbyist’s attempt to dictate content is laughable, although it is disruptive and therefore serious. This person makes a few obvious errors, such as arguing that Wikipedia is censored and trying to impose a deadline. Wikipedia does not take kindly to being called “censors,” and conservatives who know that only the government can truly impose censorship should not be flinging the term around. Likewise, Wikipedia is not a promotional tool, and will generally resist attempts to use it in this manner. And of course, it’s painfully clear neither of the pro-HAH contributors have bothered to study the aforementioned Notability guidelines even four days later.

Worse still is the fact that Thehondaboy’s comment was added just one minute after Thelobbyist’s, which raises the possibility that they are working as a team — a frowned-upon activity referred to as Meat puppetry:

While Wikipedia assumes good faith especially for new users, the recruitment of new editors to Wikipedia for the purpose of influencing a survey, performing reverts, or otherwise attempting to give the appearance of consensus is strongly discouraged.

I don’t know who either editor may be or whether they are in fact working in tandem, but I will reiterate my point from yesterday: it’s a shame that CEI cannot find someone more knowledgeable or conscientious to make sure they are represented fairly.

There are more examples from both editors, but they tend to mine the same territory. Four days later, both editors were still banging their heads against the wall. Here’s Thelobbyist reduced to being snide on still another editor’s talk page:

    Enjoy your articles?
    I hope so. Thelobbyist (talk) 06:58, 28 March 2009 (UTC)

And here’s Thehondaboy, back on the original deletion debate:

    This just got picked up by Michelle Malkin. michellemalkin.com. Any further questioning of it’s relevance or notoriety is at this point garbage rhetoric from individuals biased against this article. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Thehondaboy (talk • contribs) 17:33, 24 March 2009 (UTC)

Right, but Michelle Malkin is a blogger and that only counts under certain circumstances. It’s also hilarious — and almost as telling — that this person has confused “Notability” with a non-existent “Notoriety” standard. And if there’s one thing Thehondaboy knows, it’s garbage rhetoric. What’s more, this kind of edit activity makes it difficult to take seriously complaints from NewsBusters’ Christine Hall that there is an “Enviro Wikipedia Assault on Human Achievement Hour” going on. Doesn’t it look like the other way around?

Let me conclude with a few quick points of advice:

  • Don’t make demands.
  • Don’t issue threats.
  • Don’t keep making arguments that have already been resolved.
  • Don’t treat Wikipedia debates like a 50 percent-plus-one vote.
  • Don’t argue that other editors are politically-motivated — especially if you are also politically-motivated.

These are all negative, so here are a couple that are positive:

  • Remember that words like notable, verifiable, reliable and others have specific meanings at Wikipedia, so get to know them.
  • Ask for help.

Yes, ask for help. Go to the Help desk and ask uninvolved editors which content guidelines apply. Wikipedia is not monolithic, and if one or two editors are unfairly denying your argument, another editor is likely to make a non-judgmental call. Maybe you win or maybe you don’t. But you sure won’t get posts like this written about you.

How to Avoid Unnecessarily Annoying a Wikipedia Editor

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on March 28, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I work in an office where discussions of Wikipedia come up fairly often, which owes something to the fact that I work for an online marketing firm. However, one habit on the part of some co-workers (about which I have not previously commented and will permit myself just this one gripe) is the irritating habit of referring to Wikipedia as Wiki.

Now, I get the need to economize time spent devoted to communication, especially when everyone is on Internet time. “Wiki” is just two syllables and four letters, while “pedia” tacks on an additional three and five, respectively. Not to mention, between the two halves of the word, “Wiki” is more distinctive than “pedia,” and also ~pedia has been growing in usage as a suffix (mostly because of Wikipedia). So I understand why they (or maybe even you) do it. But here’s the problem — it’s just wrong.

Even if you’ve only used Wikipedia as a time-waster you are probably at least somewhat aware that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia built upon something called a “wiki,” which is analogous to a blog in that it is a relatively new platform for building a website. Although the Web is lousy with wikis — the software having business and entertainment applications alike — I’d wager that Wikipedia is the only one that most people ever use. This explains the habit, but doesn’t excuse it.

Calling “Wikipedia” by the abbreviation “Wiki” is expressly verboten on Wikipedia itself, which in fact has a guideline-like essay appropriately titled Don’t abbreviate Wikipedia as Wiki. This obviously does not proscribe such usage off-site — nor does it try to do so — but it would at least save a bit of the enamel on my teeth.

As the essay advises, in written communication “Wikipedia” can be abbreviated to “WP”; to be sure, this is also the initialism for WordPress and arguably so for the Washington Post as well — two other terms in common usage at my inside-the-Beltway workplace — but I think in most cases, context will make this clear. As for spoken word… you know, if you’re in a rush and call it “Wiki” I won’t correct you (like I will those who mispronounce “Oregon” or “Nevada”) but I would appreciate your attempt to call it “Wikipedia” whenever possible. Just out of common courtesy is all.

So there, I’ve said my piece. Sincerely, your trying-to-stay-friendly neighborhood Wikipedia editor.