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Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2006-08-14/Wikimercenaries

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Editing for hire leads to intervention

Last week's announcement of a business offering to create Wikipedia articles on behalf of corporations prompted Jimbo Wales to intervene directly. Amid a debate about the ethics of this practice, Wales blocked the account being used, but later reported that he had reached an agreement with its operator to address the problem.

The incident began with the appearance of a press release from MyWikiBiz.com, a company that identifies itself as a family business run by Gregory Kohs and based in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The press release said the company "authors Wikipedia articles for companies and organizations that presently lack exposure on the world's largest encyclopedia", calculating that some 30,000 or more noteworthy companies are not included. The coverage of business entities in Wikipedia has previously been the subject of some criticism (see archived story).

The service

Offering to create articles on behalf of companies, MyWikiBiz said it would offer three different levels of its service, all of them for under $100. These were outlined on its website as follows:

  • $49 for a "basic stub"
  • $79 for a standard article of 2-5 paragraphs, with infobox, image, and inclusion in a relevant category
  • $99 for a service including submission to other sites and a "check up" after one year

On its website, MyWikiBiz included a page discussing the "eligibility" of potential clients for this service. The eligibility requirements essentially track Wikipedia's notability guidelines for companies and corporations.

The community response

Reactions to this announcement from Wikipedia editors were mixed, with natural concerns about how neutral such articles would be. Andrew Gray observed that paid-for editing would inevitably happen, and that having it be relatively open and transparent was preferable to the alternative. A number of people indicated they would reserve judgment until seeing the actual articles.

Arguing to delete one of the articles thus produced, FloNight argued: "Wikipedia is not a business directory. We need to aggressively monitor this user's other contributions for more of the same." Shortly afterward, Wales stepped in and blocked User:MyWikiBiz indefinitely, calling it a conflict of interest to get paid for adding articles by the subject of those articles. (Another account, User:Thekohser, was not blocked.)

Wales then reported that he had a phone conversation with Kohs in which they agreed that MyWikiBiz would post articles on its website, and other Wikipedia editors would independently add them on the basis of their own judgment. He also unblocked the account. Kohs called this a compromise, and is also soliciting opinions from the community on User talk:MyWikiBiz about various ways to proceed. Erik Möller suggested developing a guideline for dealing with conflicts of interest, which is currently under discussion.

The actual product

In the press release, Kohs was quoted as saying, "Not one of our corporate articles has ever been deleted by a Wikipedia admin." However, as Mathias Schindler pointed out, the MyWikiBiz website included screenshots from an article on the Farsight Hotel, which User:Thekohser created on 21 July, but had deleted after a day with an apologetic comment that the hotel doesn't exist and the article should have been kept in a sandbox.

User:MyWikiBiz began editing in May, and created its first articles about companies on 25 July. User:Thekohser had created Jacobson Stores as early as 22 May, 2005 although it's not clear which of these articles were created on behalf of clients, if any. At least one additional article, Norman Technologies, has been nominated for deletion, and subsequently deleted by administrator Naconkantari.

Curiously, an article was also created about Kohs himself (by the MyWikiBiz account, rather than by Thekohser). This article was subsequently deleted, with the support of Kohs, this time editing as Thekohser. As Thekohser, he had previously created the Kohs disambiguation page, and an IP address had added his name to it the following day.