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 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?


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