Confessions of a Wikipedia Editor

In Blog by chris@chriscarroll.com

I’m a major fan of Wikipedia, and use it just about every day. But I never consider it a sole source of knowledge, primarily because of the inherent bias involved in open source editing. It’s easy to become a Wikipedia editor, and while most of the Wikipedia community I’ve worked with are to be commended for their dogged persistence in policing the fair sharing of knowledge, there’s a natural desire for organizations to present their products, services and executives in the best light possible.

There’s also a hidden beaurocracy of editors zealously trying to enforce the Wikipedia editing protocols, which are noble in intention but extremely subjective. The friction of vendors and public relations firms trying to over-promote a viewpoint on Wikipedia has led to stricter enforcement of the Wikipedia guidelines. Conversely, this trend has led to many inexperienced Wikipedia editors wielding inordinate authority over authorizing what gets posted. For more details on this trend, check out the terrific article in this month’s The AtlanticThe Covert World of People Trying to Edit Wikipedia–For Pay. It explores the impact of over-promoting on Wikipedia.

While the number of active editors on Wikipedia is going down, the number of pages continues to increase steadily. I think this is in large part for three reasons:

  1. Wikipedia has become a fantastic global resource that will continue to grow despite process problems
  2. The corporate and promotional community has not figured out how to self-regulate itself enough yet to control over-promotional efforts on Wikipedia
  3. Well-intentioned but unqualified editors are wasting the time of professional editors, discouraging them from spending time working on the site

Wikipedia is a wonderful resource for everyone, and managing the balance between presenting productive, factual information and facilitating the development of accurate and contextual information is a major challenge facing the Wikipedia community. As a Wikipedia editor, I won’t over-promote a client’s point of view but I’ll create or edit content to accurately cover a salient topic. It will be interesting to see what structural and process changes happen over the next couple of years because Wikipedia has to evolve to continue to support content growth while taking steps to increase content quality and consistency.