German Community Project about paid editing starts

This Monday, I – Dirk Franke – started a Community Project about the future of paid editing on the German Wikipedia. For one year, as a kind of a fellow of the German Wikipedia community and the German Wikimedia chapter, I will be exploring the risks and opportunities posed by the writing of Wikipedia articles for personal financial gain, and discussing possible policies in dealing with this.

Wikipedia articles are a way to reach many, many people. Most companies have discovered that their clients and business partners look them up on Wikipedia. Many cultural institutions have made this discovery, too. These institutions are actually being guided by several GLAM projects worldwide. Many universities now know that students not only look up their homework on Wikipedia, but also their prospective place of study. Next to the volunteers who edit Wikipedia, the number of PR people, company employees, people working for museums, cultural institutions, universities and the numbers of students working in course assignments has steadily increased. Motivations, incentives and goals of these people are vastly different. But all of their participation changes Wikipedia as we know it.

I am Dirk Franke – Benutzer/User:Southpark – Wikipedia editor since January 2004, Wikipedia admin since February 2004, former member of the board of Wikimedia Deutschland (2005 and 2012), and former member of the German ArbCom. Some of you might know me from my blog iberty.net or from my recent Wikimania presentations about Chiara Ohoven/notability or White Bags/the image filter. And I am the author of about 35 featured and good articles on the German Wikipedia about oceans or strange cultural phenomena. These articles have nothing to do with my present project, but I’m terribly proud of them.

My fellowship project, called “The Limits of Writing Articles for Financial Gain“, was approved by the Community Project Budget. This is a program where Wikimedia Deutschland gives money to the community to spend on their own projects to support free knowledge, and Wikimedia projects in particular. A committee of community members and chapter members determines on what to spend it. Luckily for me, they decided to fund my project. So right now I have a kind of community fellowship to investigate and explain, and to help the community in making up its mind. This special status also means that all opinions I state, mails and texts I write, mistakes and brilliant discoveries I make, will fall solely into my own responsibility and not that of Wikimedia Deutschland.

Opinions on how to deal with these authors differ vastly even within a single Wikipedia. Internal rules are often contradictory. The rules become even more contradictory when one looks at different language editions of Wikipedia. My project is designed to unify discussions, find and detect paid editing already there, talk to GLAMs, companies, and many many Wikipedians, to help Wikipedia to stay a neutral, balanced encyclopedia with a lively community even when facing the money challenge. The fellowship will last a year, and it will involve a lot of talking, writing, listening and most of all reading.

For a lot of reasons like practicality, insider knowledge, and community trust, my project will focus onto the German Wikipedia. But of course the challenges and risks are similar across the language spectrum. As always in wikiworld, collaboration and communication can only help. So I am happy, happy, and happy to hear from any experiences, opinions, best and worst practices or whatever you have to say about this topic.

Right now at the beginning, the acts of reading and listening are even more important. Who has experience with paid editing in Wikipedia? What are your local rules on paid editing? How do the people of your local recent changes patrol deal with conspicuous edits? How do the people of your local quality control react to conspicuous edits? What tools and help do they need? Who has already received offers to write for money? Who has agreed on such an offer? Who has an opinion about or experience with the various cooperations with GLAMs? Who has experiences or opinions about Wikipedians-in-residence at non-profit or for-profit organizations?

Links:

P.S.: I try to be as open as possible in this project and to talk in an unbiased way to anybody willing to talk to me. But of course I’m a human being and you may be curious about my own position. On an emotional level I want my Wikipedia from 2004 back and feel that paid editing is eeeeeeeevil. On a rational level I’m afraid the whole subject matter is way more complicated.

Dirk Franke (Southpark)

German Wikipedian

 

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3 Comments on German Community Project about paid editing starts

DixonD 2 years

Well, I was thinking several times that it may be good idea to spend a part of funding for hiring good scientists and make them do only writing of articles on Wikipedia. This may improve the quality of a number of articles significantly.

David King 2 years

I do a lot of work as a Wikipedia consultant for companies on the English Wikipedia, where I’m currently working on upgrading my COI works from B class to GA.

In my view “paid editing” is a form of astroturfing. The Federal Trade Commission requires marketers to disclose ourselves in online communications and the German court ruling confirmed that – in at least some cases – directly editing the article is illegal.

We should discourage “paid COI editing” at every turn. Create firmer and better guidelines to discourage it, use analytics to detect spam and censorship, partner with the Federal Trade Commission and other entities to set stronger legal precedence and work proactively with the media to humiliate obviously bad-faith abuses.

In the meanwhile, any journalist will tell you that good PR is useful and the same goes for Wikipedia. PRs should be encouraged to donate images, provide sources, offer expertise and request corrections. Any journalist would consider it an obligation to seek input from the company and include their perspective as one source in a balanced story.

One of the most atrocious things in my opinion is that so many PR people make awful edits to their articles, which is not useful. Meanwhile, all the sources I need to improve the article have already been collected by the PR firm in their coverage reports and I want them to share those.

I’m always happy to discuss, share my experiences, etc. from the PR side of the fence. I think the core of my perspective is that astroturf is almost always bad, but good PR is a good thing. We need to encourage good PR and discourage astroturf.

-David

Peters Vecrumba 2 years

I read Dirk’s proposal with great interest. Paid contributors is a door Wikipedia should not open. Wikipedia is already a target for pushing points of view, particularly over current geopolitical conflicts or over mutually exclusive versions of history. Any move to legitimize paid-for content will also legitimize those paying to insert their agenda. By way of comparison, I point to YouTube being flooded by RT (Russia Today) to push the official Russian agenda. Wikipedia will become the YouTube of encyclopedias if we allow paid-for content. Unfortunately there are far more interests with far more money to spend who are eager to proselytize their agendas than those willing to simply pay for an improvement in scholarship.

I have personally engaged with paid-for editors pushing non-scholarly agendas, mine is the voice of experience. Would I be happy to be a paid-for contributor? Certainly, I’ve probably spent several thousand dollars on sources since becoming an active contributor. But in probably half of cases, that has been to buy sources which my paid-for editorial opposition had surely misrepresented, but they were recent, specialized scholarship not even available at the New York Public Library. What to do? I once spent $240 on one book just to prove a paid-for editor wrong. I welcome all those who are willing to put their money where their mouth is, but that should only be to purchase sources to become better informed contributors, not to pay third parties to hijack Wikipedia.

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