Wikigate!

by Rick Jelliffe

My blog An interesting offer - get paid to edit Wikipedia made it to the most downloaded page on oreillynet, was Slashdotted, and even made it to CNN.

Here's the way the script would have gone in a sane world:

Wikipedia: Microsoft eats babies!

Microsoft: No we don't

Wikipedia person: Tell it to the hand!

MS: Are you interested in correcting this?

Rick: Sure, lets make sure everything is upfront. I know, I'll publish a blog called "An interesting offer - get paid to edit Wikipedia" to start the conversation.

Microsoft: No problems.

Wikipedia person: oh, we have conflict of interest rules

Rick: Oh, OK. Whats the best way to proceed then?

Wikipedia person: A or B or C. But we have a problem in our procedures here, so maybe D. In this case, E is OK too.

Here's the way it went instead

Wikipedia: Microsoft eats babies!

Microsoft: No we don't

Wikiepedia person: Tell it to the hand!

MS: Are you interested in correcting this?

Rick: Sure, lets make sure everything is upfront. I know, I'll publish a blog called "An interesting offer - get paid to edit Wikipedia" to start the conversation.

Microsoft: No problems.

Journalist 1: BLOGGER REVEALS BRIBE ATTEMPT!

Journalist 2: SCANDAL! ATTEMPT TO SUBVERT WIKIPEDIA DISCOVERED!

Journalist 3: BABY EATERS STRIKE AGAIN!

Journalist 4: WHO IS WORSE: THOSE THAT EAT BABIES OR THOSE THAT SELL THEM HERBS?

Journalist 5: WIKIPEDIA BOSS IN COMA!

Journalist 6: CONSPIRACY BLOGGER TO JOIN CELEBRITY SURVIVOR ISLAND

Wikipedia reader: Oh, I didn't know that Microsoft eats babies.

Unscrupulous competior: Excellent, Excellent. Relase the flying monkeys and pass another baby (urp)

6 Comments

Rick Jelliffe
2007-01-24 22:02:28
For a civil and reasoned discussion, see this ars technica thread. The comments are overhelmingly positive; life is beautiful.


Good to see that at least people can see a difference between ethics, morality and the self-appointed terms of use guidelines on a website. It is not immoral to tell the truth; whether it is ethical to follow terms of use depends on weighing all the factors. But underlying these grand things is basic civility and politeness, the handmaiden of ethics. Wikipedia does not set a moral order or a new ethical regime, but I think it is just bog-standard politeness says "It's their game, they should be able to set the rules to play" unless there are any greater ethic or moral issues at play.


Also see Seattle Post-Intelligencer for some of the backstory of Wikipedia's policy.

(Added...)
ome more links.


IBM's Rob Weir puts me in a interesting diagram. I sent a comment where I say that his axis (pro-ODF to pro-OOXML) is wrong: why cannot you be both pro-ODF and pro-OOXML?
http://www.robweir.com/blog/2007/01/document-format-punditry.html#links


Good Morning Silicon Valley's is the best: Jelliffe obviously isn't a Microsoft apologist.
http://blogs.siliconvalley.com/gmsv/2007/01/people_shouldnt.html


Scott Karp is good:
http://publishing2.com/2007/01/24/what-is-the-check-on-wikipedias-power/


Hat tip to Nicholas Carr for the links:
http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2007/01/experts_go_home.php#comments


Devon
2007-01-24 23:39:28
LOL you crack me up. Great sarcasm. When I first heard the news, it was a great scary FUD story at some news site...and I thought "what?? Who does Micro$oft think they are??", but then Slashdot had a link to your other entry about this and I read it. After reading what you originally said in the first place, I thought everything sounded fair. Unusually fair, considering Microsoft's reputation. It is pretty amusing to see how journalists picked up a story and made up a different story about it.
M. David Peterson
2007-01-25 03:35:09
I can't stop laughing, Rick! -- Truly a classic work in and of itself! I have to admit that I have truly be amazed by all of this -- Amazing as it may sound, I am just now coming to truly understand why Tim Bray has continued to make cautionary statements as to the "goodness" of Wikipedia becoming the defacto link for any given topic on the net.


What a sharp contrast to the real world where those who take the time to become experts in any given area (e.g. Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Software Developers, etc...) get rewarded with a paycheck every -/two/+ weeks that's, generally speaking, above and beyond the paycheck of those in whom choose not to become similar experts in any particular field.


Of course, I do recognize the fact that money can't buy you happiness, nor can it be a replacement for what truly matters (e.g. Family, Friends, Service to Others, and so forth), but I'm not so sure a world in which those who have the true expertise on any given matter are scorned and mocked and called evil names if they so much as think about making edits to a so-called "anyone can edit" (just as long as they're not Microsoft, or experts who have "the nerve!" make a living from their expertise, apparently) real-time "encyclopedia", and do so when they're on "the clock."


Instead, apparently, we are better off encouraging those in whom have no real expertise on any given matter, (but boy do they ever have an opinion, "And that's a fact!"), to take on the role of "I'm not an expert in real life, but I play one on Wikipedia."


"Meet the new RagMag, same as the old one."

critic
2007-01-25 08:13:54
I won't have any trouble convincing anyone that I have no love for the baby-eaters, considering that they do, in fact, eat babies, albeit not baby humans, just baby competitors.


And while I don't really have any major ethical or moral conflict with the idea of paying someone to correct public misinformation about me, the situation is a little confusing to me.


First, of course, one's objectivity is always suspect in statements made for hire. But the work involved would not likely be undertaken purely on a pro bono basis.


First and foremost, I don't think, for the first reason, that I'd ever accept such a payment, because even if I had no ethical qualms I doubt that any sum they would be willing to pay would be close to a fair price for my reputation, which in such a position as yours would be my stock in trade and a major source of future income. On the other hand, I'm not so sure of that, because I like the opportunity to correct misinformation wherever it exists and would truly have no reservations about doing it with full disclosure of my funding sources, as you have done (without, I might add, actually mentioning either whether you actually did the work or accepted the funding. My reputation would still rest on my work, which would now be under increased scrutiny, and Wikipedia's provision of opportunity for anyone to challenge publicly any content would be a helpful safeguard, and eventually the truth would, I believe, tend to win out.


Second, I wouldn't object to doing the job, because even baby-eaters don't deserve to be accused beyond their actual guilt. It doesn't mean that I would do it uncompensated, however.


Third, and really an expansion of the second, is that correcting any inaccuracies and even giving them the benefit of doubt is no more than we should do; I believe that evil should be exposed and corrected, but exaggerating it in order to ensure correction is unjust, and forfeits the high moral ground which is the only effective base of prosecution.


The US justice system is Constitutionally required to presume innocence for precisely this reason, and my personal take on the question is this: If a crime is so horrible that the risk of letting the guilty go free is unacceptable, how does increasing the risk of condemning the innocent advance that cause? Assuming no concern at all for the fact that a worse thing is done to the innocent - not only punishment suitable to a horrible crime, but unjust damage to their names - the result is that the guilty has still gone free.


Maybe they are baby-eaters; if so, accusing them of - oh, I don't know - picking their noses won't bring them to justice any more swiftly or surely, and when justice does come, it is all the more gratifying to know that it was absolutely justified.

Doug Mahugh
2007-01-25 10:18:55
Good grief, you have made several people in Redmond pee their pants with this one. This is just further evidence that you should not be allowed to write, period. :-)


One thing missing from the debate so far (that I've seen) is the concept of paying people to contribute to open-source development projects. Many big companies do that quite routinely, and it's seen as a good thing by many of the same people who are critical of this concept. It's strange that paying an expert to contribute to an open-source piece of software can be admirable, while paying an expert to contribute to an open-source-like dictionary project becomes unethical. (Hi Mo!)

len
2007-01-25 10:20:01
A friend of mine terms this "using convenient facts to create a plausible and popular lie". It is an easy distortion to create in a scandal-hungry world. It helps to understand why some population becomes 'scandal-hungry' and delighted by meanness.


Having been treated to that process and having resigned from a company as a result, I leave it to others to work out the facts, but think about this: in a criminal murder case, the consequences of conviction are so high that a body is usually required to convict. In a civil case where the consequences are usually monetary penalties, the evidence for conviction is far less.


Too often, we don't see the evidence in terms of the consequences of conviction, and so we accept the Great Lie that covers up the crime and the destruction of the assets of minor players as the cost of preservation of the greater good. When we do that, we create the small injustice that amplifies into the larger society destroying injustices.


If the last ten years in many locales of history haven't proved it to you yet, I don't know what will. If Microsoft has to pay someone to fix the Wikipedia articles, if that someone is usually thought to be a reasonable third party above reproach, and if other third parties with similar qualifications approve the edits, then the edits are as sound as human editing can produce. If before, after or during that, these parties are assailed by other interests with different motivations, those motivations must be accounted for in the critiques of the edits and documented.


Otherwise, we are slipping towards the barbarities of small fiefdoms whose constant warring scars the land, denudes the forests, and devastates the gene pool of the common neighbors.


There is a price to be paid for these tactics, but it will be your heirs that pay it. You will simply enjoy the fight and die from the pleasure. The consequences of convictions are often born by those innocent of the acts, untried and unlamented.