Monday, May 21, 2007

Busted By The Wikipedia Police

In a recent post on Search Engine Land's Link Week I got a less-than-enthusiastic comment/rebuttal from a Wiki supporter after I suggested looking to the Wikipedia as a link resource.

Deb, please have a look at Wikipedia's conflict of interest guideline. I believe that webmasters should be able to do whatever they want with their own sites, but when they visit somebody else's Web 2.0 site, they need to follow house rules. Breaking the rules when you are a guest in somebody else's house is rude.

Link building is great, but you need to keep reputation management in mind. Wikipedia's rules strongly discourage self-serving edits. If you get caught, you and your client could suffer public embarrassment. We all know how well Wikipedia pages rank. Before taking this risk, I recommend reading this essay.

That comment was made in response to what I said here:
I also recommend you take the time to submit to the Open Directory Project, pay for a Yahoo! Directory listing (especially if the site is new) and look for submission opportunities at Wikipedia. Yes I know the Wikipedia uses nofollow on their links rendering them virtually useless from a link popularity standpoint, but—the traffic you'd get from those links is worth it. If you can find an opportunity to add your site where it will make a useful contribution, do it.
Bold is mine. At first I was surprised given the Wikipedia disclaimer in my post - “add your site where it will make a useful contribution” but, after thinking about it, looking through Wikipedia and the link the poster provided, I decided to step back and try to see things from his perspective instead of being automatically defensive. To do that I knew I had to spend a good bit of time reading through Wikipedia with more of an editors mind than a link builder.

Which shouldn’t have been hard for me since I spent many years as a DMOZ editor. But the two entities are very different so I found that didn’t help much in the end.

To get started, I clicked the conflict of interest link the poster provided and read through the page, then subsequent pages and even more pages after that. After all the reading and link skipping I came away with two conclusions: There isn’t a page in the guidelines and the site itself that doesn’t warn (in some fashion) about spamming. Every page mentions it so unless you’re a total idiot, that should be clear .

Second, after it was all read and done, I still don’t agree with the logic behind the posters comments -or- understand how my comments could be construed as a conflict of interest. Even the conflict of interest guidelinepage I was pointed to had an exception " Merely participating in or having professional expertise in a subject is not, by itself, a conflict of interest"

So I ask sincerely- where’s the correlation between “useful contribution” and conflict of interest? And where is this "don't submit your/client's information clause"? Would a public library turn down a book I authored simply because I wrote it?

I say "sincerely" because based on what I read, the guidelines provide a lot of positive encouragement and suggest editors approach the submission process with an
assumption of good faith. The idea of submitting with a neutral point of view comes up over and over as does the issue of respect and consensus. All positive and constructive guidelines, and all related to my suggestion of making a “useful contribution”.

So why is it not right to add a site you own/are passionate about or add to a discussion and cite a resource you are associated with? Not everyone is trying to game Wikipedia. I can’t speak for others or what’s happened in the past but I do feel suggesting that someone is being rude or could suffer public embarrassment by contributing usefully totally goes against what they talk about here in
common sense: “Being too wrapped up in rules can cause you to lose perspective”.

I totally get the idea they need rules and guidelines, any publically edited encyclopedia would but - to tell the public they can't contribute affiliated material because it's a conflict of interest just seems - well - undemocratic to me. The public reading the info doesn't know who submitted it, nor do they care. They just want good information. Can the Wikipedia honestly say they have all the quality information on subjects listed? Probably not. If you publically put a dampner on the idea you can't submit good information because you're the author or tied to the materials , there's a chance you'll never get quality information. Now who suffers?

One last thing.

I stand by what I recommended in my post today, getting links from credible sources such as the DMOZ, Yahoo! Directory and Wikipedia work to build your foundational link and business reputation. With the Wikipedia's all around visibility that just makes business and community sense. If you have good content that the world would benefit by knowing about, find the right category and participate by offering your information.

Don't spam and

Read the guidelines before you submit anywhere.
Hopefully I've covered all the disclaimers needed this time!


Lea de Groot said...

There seems to be a mindset in Wikipedia that you should never, ever, ever link to your own stuff on wiki, including clients.
I don't think it adds value.
"Don't spam wiki". yes, this is a sensible rule. "Don't link to yourself" seems to go counter to human nature - what do I know the most about? Things I have built sites about!

Good entry - thanks :)

Stephen Pitts said...

If what you author or publish is a resource or authority on a topic then you should be included, period. Just because you are making a conscience effort to improve your website does not equate to being a conflict of interest. I agree that you should not try to get links to artificially inflate your rankings, but if you deserve the link or mention, then you should get it. DMOZ should consider providing their visitors the resources that they expect.

Thank you for being honest, some editors might not realize the truth behind it, but there are some people you just can't reach.

Anonymous said...

there must be some secrets to making a site wikipedia friendly, where others add your link for your. Maybe sites need a "Add to Wikipedia" button, HAHA!

Eric said...

Submitting to wikipedia is one of those areas where people lose their sensibilities. It all boils down to quality of content and relevance to the wiki page. There are countless instances where submitting to wikipoedia is nothing more than self-serving and adds no value. On the other hand I have personally submitted over 50 URLs/sites over the years to wikipedia, and every one of them is still there. Why? because the sites I submitted were from content producers like PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, etc. These are unlikely to ever be disputed due to the credibilty of the content producer. That said, not all sites have this level of quality content, so what we have is a continuum of sorts...on one side the sites that are no-brainers for inclusion, and on the other side are the sites that are absolutely useless to wikipeida. The challenge is being impartial about the content you are considering submitting to wikipedia. Is it truly useful enough to add? Defining "useful" is the problem. What you and I perceive as useful could be very different, and likewise with wikipedia police. I have a gut feeling most people know they are submitting crap when they do it, they just rationlize it away...

Debra said...

I understand that everyone's definition of "useful" is different, that goes for the people submitting the material and those reviewing it. I've seen some of the moderators threads at the Wiki where they're discussing whether something is relevant or not. Half the time they don't agree either. However....

My issue with this and the reason I keep coming back to it is this: If you want to be a resource site for what's important on a subject, you can't discount information submitted by people who own it, work for it or who's names aren't PBS. That's simply ridiculous. If it IS a rule that you can't submit something you've authored or are pimping for someone else, they should write it out plainly in their guidelines.