There have been several cases of universities, libraries, musea and other archives (from here referred to as 'archives') where the main (or only) contributions of the (single purpose) accounts have been the addition of external links. Often only in external links sections, sometimes as references (but without adding actual content). An increasing number of these link additions are addressed as spam. Though the links as such are not spam in the classical sense of the word, the link additions are un-solicited (see spam).
Even while these links are as such OK (they provide reliable information, often from respected organisations), the way they are added is not, and they are not necessarily appropriate (even if they are on-topic). Often the accounts in this discussion have a conflict of interest, and that should be addressed. It must be said here, these editors are welcome. They are all specialists, and have a lot of data available that can enhance this encyclopedia.
Often these accounts are 'new' (that is, they have not been doing anything else and have not been addressed about the fact that their link additions may be in violation of (some of the) policies and guidelines.) This document tries to summarise why these link additions can be addressed as 'spamming', and why the actions of these accounts may be worth considering.
These links can be considered 'spamming' for a number of reasons:
- We are writing an encyclopedia here, not a linkfarm
- Many of these accounts add external links only. It is difficult to see if they are to improve Wikipedia (see also point 3-7) or if it is to promote their organisation (see our conflict of interest guideline; although many of these organisations are not commercial, they still need money to keep the organisation running, (bad faith warning!) and Wikipedia may then be a good place to just add a couple of links to tunnel people to the website of your organisation, resulting in a) visitors on the site (in some cases a measure for organisation efficiency), and b) maybe also visitors in your building (which is also a financial gain).
- Even if these external links are on topic, they often should not be external links, they can (often) be used as references (which of these archives would not be a reliable source?).
- So, do we want a link to all car-musea in the world on the page Car .. no .. but why then this one? Maybe because the information provided on the page is really unique .. but then it is worth talking about that in the document, is it not?
- Adding a link to the talkpage so that editors know that there is a resource available takes just as much time as adding the link to the page itself. And all the relevant policies and guidelines here suggest just that, propose the link on the talkpage (see also next section).
- If there is time to spend hours adding only external links to a significant number of pages, then there are also hours of time to actually improve one (or maybe even more) article. After all, when one knows the link, one has the information at hand. And for someone who is working in the archive, that person is probably even an expert in the subject.
- These accounts are often new (at least, have not been doing anything else than adding links, and have not been welcomed and guided), and these editors do not always know what links are or are not appropriate. e.g. the external links are sometimes either too shallow (they are on-topic, but do not contain much extra information), or too broad:
- Sometimes, links are added to a nice page that goes into way too much detail; one (fictitious) example would be a page about "Hybrid crabapple trees in Tasmania" linked from the main Tasmania article.
- Alternately, the link may be to something too shallow; for example, a page about "World War II in the Pacific" linked from our Battle of Midway article.
And, to a lesser extent:
- A resource an archive offers is not always unique. It is then better to link to the linkfarm (e.g. for a non-unique book link to Worldcat, or to the internal ISBN page, where available) than to one online copy of the book that is available from a certain source (see also our neutral point of view policy).
Below is a list of how link additions are (or may be) in violation of some relevant policies or guidelines. Although for some of these the true nature of the intention may not be known, the point that such mass link additions can be questioned against a number of policies and guidelines (which have been agreed upon by many editors!) should at least be addressed with the editors, and such editors should strongly be discouraged to perform link-additions (to main space articles),without discussion, only:
- Wikipedia is not a mirror or a repository of links, images, or media files (part of policy):
- We are writing an encyclopedia, not a linkfarm. Adding an (even the first) external link may be the start of a linkfarm, mainly as for many subjects, many archives have an appropriate link that could be added, all of which should be allowed, if we allow the first account to add the links (see also the essay Spam event horizon).
- Neutral point of view (policy; pillar):
- If there are more possible sites which have similar or relevant information which may also be linked, then unilateral linking to one external site only is in breach of this policy.
- Conflict of interest (guideline):
- Our conflict of interest guideline states "... if you have a conflict of interest avoid, or exercise great caution when ... 3. Linking to the Wikipedia article or website of your organization in other articles (see Wikipedia:Spam)" Note here, that it uses the word "organization", not company, profit-organization or something similar. Adding these links yourself without discussing, or, when after warning undiscussed link-additions keep being performed, the editor in question does not exercise great caution.
- External links (guideline):
- Often the page linked to is better used as a reference, see the intro of the guideline: "If the website or page to which you want to link includes information that is not yet a part of the article, consider using it as a source for the article, and citing it. Guidelines for sourcing, which includes external links used as citations, are discussed at Reliable sources and citing sources". For some external links the page one wants to link to cannot be used as a reference (e.g. pictures; although even these can sometimes be useful as a reference, e.g. where describing the object).
- Often the links are to the domain only, see Links normally to be avoided: "Sites that are only indirectly related to the article's subject: the link should be directly related to the subject of the article. A general site that has information about a variety of subjects should usually not be linked to from an article on a more specific subject. Similarly, a website on a specific subject should usually not be linked from an article about a general subject. If a section of a general website is devoted to the subject of the article, and meets the other criteria for linking, then that part of the site could be deep-linked." The question could here for example also be, is linking to a page with pictures of a number of paintings by the subject of the article a direct link. The pictures don't talk about the subject. Here the pictures could be used as a reference, e.g. when explaining a specific style. A link to the picture is of course directly linked to the subject on the page about the painting.
- Advertising and conflicts of interest states You should avoid linking to a website that you own, maintain or represent, even if the guidelines otherwise imply that it should be linked, which is in line with the conflict of interest guidelines.
- Spam (guideline):
- "Adding external links to an article or user page for the purpose of promoting a website or a product is not allowed, and is considered to be spam. Although the specific links may be allowed under some circumstances, repeatedly adding links will in most cases result in all of them being removed." Although it is often unclear if the edit is good-faith, or indeed to promote the organisation, it is still better to avoid such implications. Note: linking to non-profit organisations like libraries or musea is indeed to a non-profit organisation. Still, bear in mind that these organisations still need money, often from government, or e.g. people visiting the musea. Although it is assuming bad faith, adding links to an organisation where one is affiliated with on pages may increase the number of hits on the site, and may attract visitors. It is therefore not true that linking to a non-profit organisation cannot be 'promotional'.
- Username (policy)
- Choosing a username which is the name of your organisation could be explained as promotional, which would be prohibited by this policy.
- Wikipedia:Arguments to avoid in deletion discussions - What about article X (essay)
- That other (similar) links are there on the page where a link got added is not a reason to add more. For that it should be investigated who and how that link got added, and what the information the page that is already linked to does provide. It may be that the link has already been endorsed by a WikiProject, it may be that in the previous situation it can still be described as 'a few' (see Wikipedia is not a mirror or a repository of links, images, or media files) or that that other link should not have been added either.
On the other hand:
- Ignore all rules (policy)
- When improving Wikipedia, rules can be ignored in certain cases. Though, seeing the number of policies and guidelines that may be of interest here, it may be better to see if it can also be solved without ignoring the rules. See the recommendations below.
In other words, although the links might be appropriate, and may even be good external links, they first should be addressed on talkpages (as per all the mentioned policies and guidelines), or added with great caution.
What if you were warned that other editors have concerns about your edits
First of all, stop at this point, and discuss first. We know your time is limited, but Wikipedia has been there without your links for some time, and the articles can wait until this issue is resolved. Your intentions are probably genuinely to improve Wikipedia, but since your link additions may be in (an unintentional) violation of a number of the above-mentioned policies and guidelines, any further additions without discussion may get you blocked.
Your edits will probably be reverted. That may be a painful decision (especially since you put a lot of time into them), but as explained above, there are quite a few policies and guidelines of which you might be in violation.
In discussing the situation (which may be on your talkpage, or on a suitable WikiProject) you can suggest one of the solutions mentioned below. It may very well be that one of the solutions is already being enforced, but still, as the history of the page (click the 'history' tab on top of the page), and your edit history (click 'my contributions' on the top right of this window), are still there, all the information you added is not lost, but it may not be available in the current version.
There are several ways to go through this process of validation. The following solutions can be envisaged:
Removal and discussion
- Remove all links added by the account(s) (whether or not they have a conflict of interest),
- Start a project page (for example in the userspace of the editor), and discuss for each link if they are:
- appropriate for use as a reference or
- as an external link, or,
- should just not be added.
- After discussion of the individual cases, start adding the links back in the appropriate place with in the edit summary a link to the link discussion project (for external links it may be good to use a template which is endorsed by an appropriate WikiProject, see the next section).
- Create a template, e.g. first without a live link
- Convert all additions so they use the template
- Discuss whether the links are appropriate as external links only.
- If so,
- If not
- Either delete the template, remove the template from the pages, or,
- choose the above solution.
Remove and move to talkpage
- Remove all links added by the accounts, move each to the appropriate talkpage.
- Wait for consensus on the talkpage before adding the links again.
- Just remove all links added by the accounts. Sometimes the links are appropriate and on-topic, but superfluous (information is already incorporated and the links just don't add anything anymore).
Links to discussions
Below is a (probably incomplete) list of cases pertaining to archives with (some of the) the involved editors.
- The European Library
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Washington State Library
- Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Spam/2007 Archive Aug#http://www.secstate.wa.gov/history/publications, includes discussion of "Broader implications of librarians' linking campaigns"
- Archives of American Art - Smithsonian Institute
- Washington State History Museum
- Wikipedia_talk:WikiProject_Spam#http:.2F.2Fwww.washingtonhistory.org.2Fwshs (still active - no it's not. Archive link?)