User:Ihcoyc/The presumption of non-notability for Internet related, computing, and services businesses

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"After the spam article about my consulting business makes me an Internet millionaire, I'll be able to afford a pair of pants!"

"Bias" and "prejudice" have become tendentious terms. What I am saying here might be considered evidence of bias or prejudice. I prefer the term presumption, myself.

The presumptions for and against[edit]

Whatever word you choose to apply, I do use the following presumption as a personal yardstick in Articles for Deletion discussions about the notability of businesses, and urge others to adopt something similar:

  • I presume that a business or product is unlikely to be notable if it:
    • Relates to technology, software, computing, or the internet;
    • Is a service or publicity business; or
    • Provides goods or services to other businesses rather than the general public.

This has a flip side, of course:

  • I presume that a business is likely to be notable if it:
    • Manufactures tangible goods in its own facilities; and
    • Sells its manufactures to consumers under its own brand.

Being an inclusionist, I tend to give articles the benefit of a doubt in favor of keeping them. But being hostile to spam in all its forms, business articles are somewhat suspect. Businesses that fall within the presumption, very simply, do not get the benefit of a doubt from me. As the business notability guideline says, "When evaluating the notability of organizations, please consider whether it has had any significant or demonstrable effects on culture, society, entertainment, athletics, economies, history, literature, science, or education." Where the possibility of commercial conflict of interest exists, this kind of historical, technical, or cultural significance rises in importance, and should be considered a standard for inclusion.

These presumptions actually flow from official content policies, which is why I don't consider it to be a bias or prejudice. To be an appropriate subject for a Wikipedia article, a topic must be independently verifiable through reliable sources, and the subject covered neutrally.

Business owners who seek to promote their business often have conflicts of interest that prevent them from writing objectively about their subject. This is a source of many related issues.

The core issue[edit]

What turns a business into something you'd expect to have an encyclopedia article?

A presumption, not a prejudice[edit]

The presumption mostly comes into play in considering notability. We begin with Jimmy Wales's assumption: we "attempt to make some sort of judgment about the long term historical notability of something." There are many ways for a business to make the history books. You could invent a product that changes the face of your industry. You could launch a brand so successful that it becomes a household name. You could also preside over a major disaster, a scandalous white collar crime, or a spectacular bankruptcy. There are hundreds of different paths to historical notability. There are probably more ugly ways to encyclopedic notability than there are desirable ways. You probably don't really want your business to be notorious enough to be covered in an encyclopedia. But without anything like that, odds are your business is not notable.

Very simply: businesses that make tangible consumer goods are likely to generate truly independent reviews in reliable media, published under by-lines and subject to some editorial control. If you make wine or shoe polish or toasters, odds are that some consumer or connoisseur's magazine or edited website has given your product line some attention. If you haven't yet reached that stage, odds are you aren't going to pass muster under the guidelines anyways. Your customer base, moreover, is rather broad: everyone who drinks wine, eats bread, or wears shoes. This is why tangible consumer product businesses get the benefit of a doubt, though. The odds are in their favor that it could be shown that they received truly independent attention. Because of the spam problem, the criteria for inclusion for businesses ought to be at least as rigorous as the criteria for porn stars. If the general public is likely to have heard of them, or they've achieved something that has the sort of historic significance so that the general public ought to be interested, they meet the test. If not, they should not be included.

Similarly, owning brick and mortar factories and shops is likelier to increase public awareness of the business in question. This too makes it likelier that independent, reliable sources can be found for an article about the business.

A question of audience[edit]

If you are some kind of tech or service business selling your "solutions" to other businesses, I consider the odds are substantially less likely that general interest publications are interested in you or your wares. And trade publications are not good enough, either. There are several reasons why.

First, the more technical your product is, and the more limited your customer base is, the less likely you are to receive independent, reliable coverage. If your customer base consists of investment banks or dental practices, that's a very small subset of the general public. This makes it less likely that your business or your wares will receive coverage in truly independent sources — i.e. outside the investment or dental industries. There are, of course, consumer electronics and software companies; these generally get the benefit of the doubt from me, to the extent that they serve a consumer customer base and sell tangible goods under their own brands.

Notability is not temporary. Technology often is.[edit]

Businesses whose chief stock in trade is programming and services can be established in anonymous office buildings. Given the nature of their wares, they can be somewhat ephemeral; they can appear overnight and vanish equally quickly. Brick and mortar manufacturing plants, by contrast, have a certain "long term historical" persistence and durability that service based and intellectual businesses do not have.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Finding that a topic is notable is exactly equal to a claim that the topic deserves a standalone article in an encyclopedia. Because notability is not temporary, any business or product needs to be examined from a geological time scale. 500 years from now, will this business or product be thought worthy of mention in an account of the development of the field? That's the sort of thing that sources should say to make a behind the scenes business notable.

The IT department is not the world[edit]

We have long acknowledged that inherent biases creep in due to the sort of people who choose to edit Wikipedia. They are probably going to be busier on the Internet and more proficient with computers than most people are. Many will make their livings using computers, often in programming or information technology jobs. This means that IT department trivia may loom larger in their minds than is strictly warranted. "(S)ignificant or demonstrable effects" on culture, society or history means "outside the IT department".

While the supervision of computer programmers and the automated updating of websites may be worthy subjects for general articles, the many separate software tools designed for these tasks probably do not warrant separate articles. Nobody without a professional stake in them is likely to have heard of them, or care about how they compare to one another. The same is true of many other crowded back-office software fields.

Wikipedia is not a free advertisement host[edit]

Moreover, if your business involves publicity, computing, or the Internet, I presume that you are aware of the prominence Wikipedia has in Google.com and other search engines. Very simply, having a Wikipedia article is a publicity coup, and is likely to rocket your firm to the top of search engine results. We're not here to help you this way.

Trade publications and awards aren't good enough[edit]

The current notability guideline for businesses discount purely local coverage, on the grounds that while your business may be notable in the town in which it operates, this doesn't translate to notability in the general world.

Trade publications and websites, in my opinion, suffer from the same problem. They just aren't likely to be read by anyone outside your trade. And, since many such publications rely on submissions from the businesses they cover, their independence is also subject to some doubt. If you want to rest your case on notability on coverage in business periodicals, they need to be general interest and general circulation periodicals of the Wall Street Journal and Business Week type. A mention in Blacksmithing Today or Modern Dental Offices just doesn't feed the weasel. Likewise, your receiving a minor award at an industry awards banquet does not make a strong case for notability of your business.

Inclusion in "Top 100" lists of various sorts is especially unconvincing. Unless the list has the kind of significance to make each of the 99 other businesses listed there an encyclopedia subject, your inclusion on the list isn't the kind of independent notice that confers notability. Trade awards generally count very little towards encyclopedic notability.

Likewise, there seem to be many trade awards, and few of them have any import in the outside world. There does seem to be something of a mutual admiration society at work in their bestowal. Trade awards are about as convincing evidence of notability as those Valentine cards your elementary school teacher made you give everyone of the opposite sex are convincing evidence of true love. Especially if they're given for "Innovation!" or "Excellence!"

Obviously, there is a sliding scale here with no clear cutoff point. Some publications and awards serving a particular trade (e.g. Variety, Pulitzer Prize, Great American Beer Festival), are nevertheless valuable for establishing notability.[1] Being of interest to the general public is what counts for notability, though. The bottom line is: like your local newspaper, trade publications may serve a limited community of readers. General interest outside your locality and outside your industry is what makes a case for notability.

No bullshit, please[edit]

The Wrath of Heaven
May it visit laryngitis, halitosis and a severe stutter on those vendors who describe disk drives, network routers, printers, computers, or pretty well anything that contains silicon and plugs in, as “solutions”. A disk drive is not a solution dammit, it’s a disk drive. This is so freaking retarded, can there be a living human being who believes anyone will be more willing to drop the $450 on their box because it’s described as a “storage solution”? Bah.
- Tim Bray[2]

The management schools, and the pretense that business management is a real academic subject, do not encourage their victims to write well. The prose that comes from minds that have been malnourished on management fad paperbacks tends to be a morass of euphemisms, inappropriate abstractions, deliberate ambiguities, depersonalizing constructions, weasel words and glittering generalities designed as a sort of verbal sleight of hand. This sleight of hand act may serve to mask the harsh reality of the manager's actual plans. It may also be used to make banal business plans seem innovative, incomprehensible, and so complex that you've no choice but to pay the proponent to enact them. Bernard Madoff and his operatives were apparently masters of this kind of sales patter.[3]

I consider this prose style to be an intentional breach of the neutrality policy. If it seems constructed to be deliberately obscure, or make the obvious seem impressive, it is also patent nonsense. Moreover, it is uninformative - perhaps deliberately uninformative - and therefore just does not belong in an encyclopedia. That sort of material also generates instant doubts about the motives of the inserter: the actual method would be trivial or obvious if stated plainly, so verbal tricks must be used to make it appear to be something worth paying for.

It is very hard to assume good faith about the authors of pages that are full of slanted, meaningless, and grandiose but deliberately evasive sales patter. Perhaps a softer line should be taken with pages that are obviously by people who are not native speakers of English. They may be just repeating buzzwords that they read, without really perceiving their vacuousness. They may innocently imagine that people with real responsibilities normally speak and write that way. Still, it's all nonsense. As the Wall Street Journal put it:

Coca-Cola Co. and General Motors Co. don't have to explain to the outside world what they make.
That isn't true of Ingersoll-Rand PLC. The company, with headquarters in Ireland but most of its operations in the U.S., this year began calling itself a "world leader in creating and sustaining safe, comfortable and efficient environments."
Translation: The company makes locks, air-conditioning equipment and battery-powered golf cars, among many other things.[4]

If a maker of air conditioners and golf carts calls itself a "world leader in creating and sustaining safe, comfortable and efficient environments," you aren't going to be able to restate that neutrally from the information provided in the text. Don't tell me it can be fixed by editing; it can't, the specifics aren't there. It's deliberately evasive and uninformative: therefore, it's content that, though meaningful after a fashion, isn't the sort of thing that a reader is going to get much information out of. It is indeed patent nonsense, in our technical sense.

This is one of the most frequently encountered problems with business articles: they read like advertisements or press releases, and are therefore fairly obviously slanted. If you'd have to do a total rewrite on an article to make it pass muster under the neutrality policy, odds are I will favor its deletion even if it is notable. You will also be judged on the readability of your prose; and if it reads like an advertisement or a press release, or appears to be written in bullshit rather than English, I will likely argue that the current article should be deleted even if a case for notability could be made.

The world of business is full of fascinating industrial processes, complicated legal regulations, and local resources, and frankly we'd love to learn about them from you. Just keep it in English. Even if your business is not notable, if you make something very specialized and specific and are famous in the field for it, we might be able to reference it in an article about the industry generally. If your text contains information you've met the first hurdle. But if you don't want to tell us more than that your business is a multinational information technology company providing software solutions in vanguard growth markets, your text is going to the round file the same as all other such inane and meaningless patter. The more you try to make yourself look important and omnicompetent with vagueness, the more you actually look like just another spammer.

Writing bullshit rather than English is almost guaranteed to make me want to delete your article, regardless of your business's notability. The Briticism bollocks is sometimes used, and on account of its relative obscurity it sounds politer in the USA. This is where my feelings become quite hot. If you write vague, evasive, buzzword laden prose that seems as if its chief purpose is to demonstrate fluency with current TLAs, or to disguise the triviality or banal truisms of the underlying content, be warned. That kind of prose arouses the sort of disgust in me that you'd expect to feel if you found a dead mouse in a can of soda pop you'd just had a swig from. The bottom line is, that sort of glib but incoherent gibberish probably ought to be deleted on sight.

All such text is morally suspect. The world abounds with "management theories" whose chief feature is that they increase the amount of documentation and overhead workers are expected to comply with while maintaining previous levels of production. These are typically trotted out with lofty sounding abstractions about Quality and Excellence, but in the trenches everybody knows how they really work. An article that "explains" such things by the self-chosen words of its promoters is inherently pushing a point of view, and as such does not belong here.

And if your text contains passages like In today's complex and ever-changing world of technology, where it's all so complicated and up-to-the-minute that you'd like to think that your potential clients will cheerfully throw money at you just to be saved from all the change and complexity, you aren't going to win my confidence that way, either. This kind of text is just going to stand out as flagrant advertising and inherently non-neutral.

How should I write about a business?[edit]

Apply this test to your prose: am I getting a clear picture of the wares you will have on your stock shelves? What your rank and file employees spend their time on the job doing? If not, your article is too vague and seems evasive, even dishonest. An article about a business can be saved from non-neutral language by being rich in verifiable facts about the business itself. An article that is poor in facts can't be helped at all, and ought to be deleted.

Ask yourself: is this business or product really an encyclopedia subject? This WP:AFD discussion contains a useful precedent: Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/2N3055, an article about 2N3055, a large and fairly familiar transistor that's been around since the Sixties. I was persuaded to say the article should be kept. " If electronic engineers say that this transistor belongs in "the archives of history", it belongs in an encyclopedia." That's what it takes to be an encyclopedia subject.

If you sell or rent goods or services, don't say you "provide" them. Who do you think you're fooling?

I am probably revealing what ought to be a closely guarded trade secret here. My method in looking for spam is very, very simple. I start by searching for mainspace pages that contain phrases I've learned to associate with spam, such as, leverage as a verb, or solution used in the offensive and inherently promotional way. I look through the results and either propose for various speeds of deletion, or if it seems that the business would likely be considered notable by consensus, stub and rewrite them so that they will no longer contain any of the trigger phrases.

If you really wanted to, you could probably look at my searches and edit history, figure out how I was operating, and learn to write bullshit that evades all the search parameters I've fashioned so far. It's probably easier to just write concrete and informative articles in the first instance, though. Your PR people are not the ones who should be writing the Wikipedia article. Amid neutral and encyclopedia style texts, their material will stick out. Somebody in engineering should do it. They may not write elegantly, but their text will contain information, and if the information is there it can be fixed by editing.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ One criticism some make of Wikipedia is that we cover Britney Spears much more extensively than Socrates. This is made almost inevitable by current policy. There's a lot more data available in edited sources about Spears than about Socrates, who had the misfortune of living before the Internet and before the mass media. Unfortunately, it's difficult to imagine how policy could be made tighter without introducing very subjective elements.
  2. ^ Tim Bray, "The Wrath of Heaven"
  3. ^ The investment method was marketed as "too complicated for outsiders to understand."
  4. ^ James R. Hagerty, "Dad, What Do You Do at Work? I'm a Leader in Active Safety" (Nov. 26, 2010)

External links[edit]

The following links are to off-Wikipedia sites that contain instructions, of various quality, about how to spam Wikipedia to make money fast on the Internet so that you can afford a pair of pants. They are presented here for the edification of the actual editing community. My advice is to avoid any advice they attempt to present, and just avoid conflict of interest editing.

This also merits preservation. This is from a version of Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/RHUB that was modified after the business person realized he'd put his foot in his mouth:

I regret for this. Here is what was happening. In 7/09, we hired a contract marketing firm. They created an RHUB article in Wikipedia, which was removed eventually. Later I was asked to create an RHUB article because I am the best person to tell the story behind RHUB, which may meet Wikipedia expectation. I was also told that visitors from Wikipedia stayed with the RHUB website several times longer than those from Google search. This is good to RHUB but also shows the RHUB article does bring values to Wikipedia visitors. That is why I am willing to spend time on this article and answer the challenges from you.