Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On PR, Wikipedia and the next thing you'll be trying to edit

PR and Wikipedia have long had more of a standoff than a relationship going. Communicators fret about not being able to make simple factual changes to Wikipedia pages about their companies or organizations, but that yen to make changes has led some to revise history, or at least try to do so--witness Five Thirty Eight's list of the 100 most-edited Wikipedia pages, loaded with controversial topics ranging from climate change to George W. Bush. Getting paid to write a Wikipedia article violates the site's terms of use, and the Wikimedia Foundation has banned at least one firm it accused of "paid advocacy editing." Any paid relationship is supposed to be disclosed in your editing account, according to new terms of service on Wikipedia.

But in Narrowing the chasm between PR professionals and Wikipedia, word comes of an organized effort to start repairing that relationship. Eleven firms have issued a statement about their commitment to the goals of Wikipedia, and to the ethics policies of their firms. The statement came out of a meeting earlier this year in Washington with a mix of Wikipedia volunteers and scholars who study the wiki phenomenon. In part, the firms agreed on the following:
We have promised to continually seek greater understanding of the project’s goals for our employees and clients, and to investigate and seek corrective action in any instance where a potential violation of Wikipedia’s policies arise based on the work of our respective agencies. And we have committed ourselves to push our industry as a whole to have more deliberate conversations about a high standard of ethical engagement with the Wikipedia project (and similar initiatives) as well as better education in our field for what the Wikipedia project is striving to achieve.
There was one big transparency misstep with this initiative: It came as a surprise to Wikipedia itself. Maybe not the best of best practices for PR firms. A better approach? The Phillips Collection, a museum in Washington, DC, asked Wikimedia volunteers to help them write and upload articles without a hitch. They weren't self-promotional, but contributed to knowledge about particular artists.

This post from a Wikipedia administrator details just how complicated its posting rules are, which suggests you should at least make an effort to understand them before you start trying to change them. One person who gets the rules is the most prolific volunteer poster of all, responsible for some 2.7 million articles, or more than 8 percent of the total. And yes, he uses a bot for some of that.

In the meantime, I think I've spotted the next thing that PR could ruin for everyone, if it wanted to (and too many practitioners want to). The Knight Foundation just awarded nearly $4 million to an effort by Mozilla, the Washington Post and the New York Times to create an open-source platform "that will allow readers and users to upload pictures, videos, and other media for news outlets to use." Yikes. Just think about that for a few minutes. Described as a publishing platform for readers, you can read more about OpenNews here. It's not clear how this will play out, but the effort is worth keeping your eye on.

If you insist on playing with Wikipedia, at least use these tricks and extensions to improve the experience. And if you're thinking about making anonymous edits to Wikipedia, keep in mind that it's possible to set up a bot that identifies edits from particular IP addresses and tweets out who's changing what, as in this example of a bot that tracks edits from U.S. Senate or congressional offices.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Kristina Alexalverson)

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Hey Denise,
I appreciate your sharing my HBR piece and about our multi-agency statement! Transparency on Wikipedia can't be separated from larger ethics/transparency issues across communications...but it is a site wherein issues of disclosure, of adhering to community protocols, and of having the ability to empathize with the ethos of the community have particularly come to the forefront.

One thing I wanted to note regarding your piece: at the meeting back in February where we decided to work on this statement, participants included a Wikimedia Foundation employee and two longtime Wikipedia volunteer editors who are not in the corporate communication/PR space. Their feedback significantly shaped the focus and development of the statement and everything surrounding it.

We didn't coordinate anything about the statement with the Wikimedia Foundation because the statement was about our commitment to the Wikipedia volunteer community. It wasn't (as some headlines incorrectly reported) any kind of agreement "with" the Wikimedia Foundation or the volunteer editor community. And we didn't want to ask Wikimedia Foundation or Wikipedia editors to do anything in response to the statement but, rather, know the priorities and intent of those who have signed on...

I think it's a positive sign that our statement seemed to adhere well to Wikimedia Foundation's changes to the Terms of Use that were announced a week after our statement was published. And now we're working on, among other things, educational initiatives within our industry to try and get not just people at our firms but well beyond to better understand what the Wikimedia Foundation is, what the Wikipedia volunteer editor community is, and what the Wikipedia project really is--beyond just a "free encyclopedia anyone can edit."

Really appreciate your interest in these issues. And look forward to more discussion on it in the future.