Friday, September 22, 2006

Wikipedia IS a tool to support commerce

Something really astounding was said in a recent blog post at the ClickZ Network. Responding to a discovery that a certain Wikipedia article was the destination of a particular Google AdWords advertisement, the CEO of Wikimedia UK had a retort that is just mind-bogglingly wrong.

To quote Alison Wheeler: "We've found that a number of people have this incorrect idea that Wikipedia can drive traffic to their (commercial operation) Web site. It can't, or rather it won't as when we find such SEO / spam linkages we take action to remove them. Wikipedia is a free and open Encyclopedia, not a tool to support commerce."

In the interest of full disclosure: in our opinion, Alison Wheeler has been a particularly aggressive Wikipedia administrator in her repeated efforts to obstruct and otherwise sully our reputation.

But, still trying to be fair, let's look at the two main points that Alison made.

First, she says that "Wikipedia [can't] drive traffic" to a commercial web site. This is because, according to Alison, Wikipedia's administrators are so vigilant and adept at removing outbound links from Wikipedia that go to for-profit sites.

Oh, really?

There's this neat little tool called "Search web links" on Wikipedia that lets you count up all of the external links that reside comfy and cozy within Wikipedia. Now, if Wikipedia admins were doing a really good job, we shouldn't see very many outbound links to sites whose primary purpose is to sell products or ads.

Then, why do we find...
  • 18,800+ outbound links to
  • 2,600+ outbound links to -- a for-profit reference site whose owner has been blocked from editing Wikipedia
  • 3,000+ outbound links to -- a for-profit community site paid for by venture capital and Google ads, which happens to be run by Jimmy Wales and a board member of the Wikimedia Foundation
  • 700+ outbound links to
  • 400+ outbound links to
  • 400+ outbound links to
  • 200+ outbound links to
  • Nearly 50 outbound links to -- just in case the world's largest retailer needs a little more help marketing their brand

Does anyone else see the hypocrisy and futility of Alison Wheeler's first comment?

Wait, there's more. Second, she says that "Wikipedia is... not a tool to support commerce."

Why is that, Alison? Would we say that "Wikipedia is not a tool to support education"? Of course not, because hundreds of thousands, if not millions of students regularly use it as a basic primer on any academic topic under the sun.

Would we say that "Wikipedia is not a tool to support medicine"? Again, of course not, because hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people suffering from various ailments probably turn to Wikipedia as a first-line source of remedy and cure.

Would we say that "Wikipedia is not a tool to support religion"? Of course not, once again, because many people who are exploring their own faith or those of friends, neighbors, or enemies, likely get plenty of factual information from this tool called Wikipedia.

So, why in the wide, wide world of sports would Alison say "Wikipedia is not a tool to support commerce"? Why is commerce the big exception? We have already seen that Wikipedia is a search engine optimization machine. We can further imagine that countless transactions each day are first initiated by some information obtained at Wikipedia -- such as the business owner who is looking at different brands of 4-ton trucks to buy, and finds this page in Wikipedia. Or, more directly, some transactions are spawned by any of these thousands of outbound external links that I mentioned above. (For heaven's sake, if we imagine that each outbound link gets an average of 3 clicks per day, and that 1% of those clicks end up in a sales transaction, then alone is making $2,058,600 a year off of Wikipedia, if the average sale is $10.)

Why, then, do we see this abundantly stubborn yet naive reaction to "commerce and Wikipedia" from administrators like Alison Wheeler? In her defense, nobody wants to see Wikipedia go the way of Usenet, rendered useless by unsolicited spam and advertising. Yet, there has to be some consideration that many Wikipedians are having trouble suppressing feelings that they are pissed off at "the business world", as it appears to be co-opting their volunteer/knowledge utopia. Their quasi-academic "club" is being mercilessly exploited, in their minds. To that, I make the following declaration:

Ninety percent of the companies that are striving for space within Wikipedia are not looking to ADVERTISE on Wikipedia, they're looking to be RECOGNIZED. While the former is a scary thought, there's no real harm in the latter.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The gaping void in Wikipedia

I have contended that, while Wikipedia is an expansive compendium, it is sorely lacking in its coverage of business and non-profit entities. The program has been in place for five years now, but major companies (e.g., Arch Coal, the second-largest coal mining operation in the United States) are STILL MISSING from the pages of Wikipedia. As a quasi-scientific experiment to further examine this problem, I turned to one of my favorite magazines about the world of commerce -- Fast Company.

Going online, I opened up the July/August 2006 issue of FastCompany and saw that there were 27 distinct articles or serial features in that issue. In order to be fair, before even looking at the articles, I parsed out a random selection of seven to review -- the 3rd, 7th, 11th, 16th, 20th, 24th, and 25th pieces. As I read those seven articles, I counted 41 unique business entities and non-profit organizations or projects that were mentioned. (There were two duplicate entities -- Ford Motor Company and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, each of which were only counted once.)

I then went to Wikipedia to carefully look up those 41 entities. Not to my surprise, Wikipedia failed to have an article for 13 of them; plus there was one article that could be found, but only if you took the German spelling of the business. So, we might say that 13.5 out of 41 entities were MISSING FROM WIKIPEDIA. Thus, nearly a third of the entities mentioned in a major publication like FastCompany are missing from Wikipedia! I will concede that not all of these probably merit an article in Wikipedia, due to the encyclopedia's own criteria about notability. However, I have to think that if FastCompany is mentioning the organization, there are other media sources who are, too; and that would qualify them under the rules of "WP:CORP".

For all of you process wonks out there, the "found" companies and non-profit entities were:
  • ABN Amro
  • BlackBerry
  • Capital One
  • Citigroup
  • City Year
  • Columbia Tristar Pictures
  • Country Music Television
  • Credit Suisse
  • Duke University
  • Ford Motor Company
  • Indianapolis International Airport
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Molson beer
  • Northwestern University
  • Plain English Campaign
  • Qwest
  • Rice University
  • Safeco
  • Starbucks
  • Telecom New Zealand
  • Tufts University
  • University of Chicago
  • U.S. Army
  • Viacom
  • Warner Brothers
  • Zipcar

On the other side of the coin, though, the "missing" entities were:
  • 1Bloc
  • Blind Cow (restaurant that is listed under "Blindekuh")
  • BlueTights Network
  • Bradley & Montgomery
  • Chase Commercial Banking
  • Gary Klinsky Children's Centers
  • Healthquest Technologies
  • Institute for Social Innovation
  • KLD Research & Analytics
  • NanoDynamics
  • Parking Stripe Advertising
  • RedPeg
  • StartingBloc
  • Transnational China Project
  • Wizmark

I founded a business that would help organizations like Bradley & Montgomery, the Gary Klinsky Children's Centers, and RedPeg establish a presence within Wikipedia. Those organizations are not supposed to create articles about themselves (a conflict of interest), and the volunteer Wikipedia community is obviously not getting around to helping them -- they're too busy with articles about Pokemon characters and debating whether or not to include numbered asteroids in the encyclopedia. So, tell me, then... what is inherently so evil about the business model of

I say, "absolutely nothing".