News and notes
Vice on Wiki-PR's paid advocacy; Featured list elections begin
Wiki-PR conducting "a concerted attack" on Wikipedia
Media coverage of Wiki-PR continued this week with a feature story by Martin Robbins in the British edition of Vice magazine. Wiki-PR is the multi-million-dollar US-based company that has broken several policies and guidelines on the English Wikipedia in its quest to create and maintain thousands of articles for paying clients. Robbins writes that in recent months:
||insiders have encountered something altogether more worrying: a concerted attack on the very fabric of Wikipedia by PR companies that have subverted the online encyclopaedia’s editing hierarchy to alter articles on a massive scale – perhaps tens of thousands of them. Wikipedia is the world’s most popular source of cultural, historical and scientific knowledge – if their fears are correct, its all-important credibility could be on the line.
Vice repeated the Signpost's discovery last week of a tweet from Wiki-PR's Vice President of Sales, Adam Masonbrink, announcing Viacom and Priceline.com as clients. (Interestingly, accessibility to the tweet was barred shortly after the publication of last week's edition, but had been captured by the Signpost in a screenshot.) Viacom is a global conglomerate of media companies, operating "approximately 170 networks reaching approximately 700 million subscribers in 160 countries" according to its Wikipedia article; Priceline.com is a website that gives users discounted rates on trips and hotel bookings. Its stock is one of the few that retails at more than US$1000 per share.
This flowchart guides PR firms on the correct path as they navigate Wikipedia's complex rules; Wiki-PR took a different route
Robbins obtained responses from several of Wiki-PR's clients. Priceline.com told him that "We are using them to help us get all of our brands a presence because I don’t have the resources internally to otherwise manage". Emad Rahim, the Dean of the College of Business and Management at Colorado Technical University, blasted the company in emails to Vice after a disastrous series of events surrounding his article.
Special:Undelete/Emad Rahim, which is visible only to Wikipedia administrators, reveals that the now-blocked Jaleel487 created Rahim's page in Wiki-PR's typical fashion: by exploiting a "bug" publicized by the Signpost last week. When a Wiki-PR employee created the initial draft on 6 July as a user subpage before moving it into the article space the next day, they bypassed the gatekeeping new page patrol. A different Wiki-PR employee added a picture on 12 July, which was only deleted after this article was published.
Unfortunately for Wiki-PR and Rahim, DGG noticed the new page on 15 July and quickly nominated it for deletion. Seven days and three comments later, it was gone.
Rahim told Vice that he emailed Wiki-PR on 17 July, just after seeing the notice of possible deletion. Michael French, the company's CEO, curtly replied, "You're covered by Page Management. Not to worry. Thank you for your patience with the encyclopedic process." After it was deleted, French told Rahim that his page would be re-created shortly. When Rahim presciently asked what would stop Wikipedians from deleting it a second time, French replied "it wasn't rejected. It was approved and went live. ... Your page was vandalised."
This re-creation consisted of one sentence. Rahim's US$1500 investment ended in a 30-word stub—or, seen another way, $50 per word. Rahim's article was deleted again after this article was published.
These responses are a small sample of the total number available—around 60 companies and individuals contacted by Robbins did not reply to his request for comment. These included Wiki-PR and Wikipedia's co-founder Jimmy Wales, despite commenting last week that "I'm very eager that we pursue this with maximum effect".
The Vice article included a significant amount of information from a former Wiki-PR employee, and also from Kevin Gorman, a Wikipedian with several thousand edits.
The Wikimedia Foundation contributed a surprisingly bland statement, given the depth of the problem. Saying that they were "monitoring" the issue, the Foundation advised that entities and people should not "edit their own Wikipedia pages or hire other organisations to do so for them. Editing Wikipedia articles through sockpuppets or where there is a conflict of interest isn't in the spirit of Wikipedia and can have unintended consequences for those organisations."
Robbins was able to obtain a much stronger statement from the president of the Washington DC chapter, James Hare, who called the case "heinous" and continued: "[you should] be transparent about who you are and who you work for. Wiki-PR acted in gross violation of this basic community expectation, and I regret that volunteer administrators will have to clean up after them."
The Wiki-PR saga attracted further international coverage from such publications as Boing Boing (US), Calcalist (Israel), Der Standard (Austria), Heise (Germany) and Kaldata (Bulgaria).
An experimental request to purchase Wiki-PR's Wikipedia service, which the Signpost emailed through the company's standard website facility more than a week ago, has gone unanswered.
- This article has been updated to reflect the following changes: two Wikipedia pages, Emad Rahim and File:Emad Rahim.jpg, were deleted after publication.
Election of featured list delegates
This week, a vote to select two new delegates for the featured list candidates process has started. The nominations period of the elections closed on 14 October, and saw six Wikipedians, all familiar with the featured lists process, put their names on the table. Only two will be chosen to join the current team when elections end on 31 October.
Six candidates put forward their names:
- Crisco 1492, an administrator and writer on Indonesian topics, who is very familiar with featured articles and lists. He has successfully taken 14 lists to featured status. Crisco, who currently lives in Indonesia, has been a Wikipedian for over eight years.
- Status, a user from Canada and writer of music-related topics. A Wikipedian for over five years, he has taken 12 lists up to featured status, many in collaboration with other editors.
- SchroCat, a user from the UK who mostly writes on articles about the arts. SchroCat, whose real name is Gavin, has collected thirteen featured lists, and is an active participant in the FLC process.
- PresN, a 26-year-old software development engineer from Seattle who mostly edits video game-related topics. He has been an administrator for three years, and has collected 35 featured lists since he began editing in 2006.
- Vensatry, an editor from India who has been a Wikipedian for more than three years. He has collected 17 featured lists, mostly on cricket and Indian cinema.
- Vibhijain, a student from India and a Wikipedian for two years. He has collected eight featured lists, mostly about cricket.
Featured list candidates (commonly referred to as FLC) is a consensus-based process where users evaluate the quality of lists against the featured list criteria and thus support or oppose the list to reach featured status. Before supporting or opposing a list, reviewers usually hold a lengthy and detailed discussion with the nominator, usually the major contributor, to address all issues a list could have before becoming featured. The process was established in 2005 and has produced more than 3,000 featured lists since then.
The responsibility to evaluate consensus and, accordingly, promote nominations lies on the shoulders of the directors and the delegates. They are also tasked with keeping order and maintenance of all FLC pages and subpages, as well as taking care of the lists nominated to have their featured status removed (known as Featured list removal candidates, or FLRC), and to report new featured lists to the community, among others. The director also has the responsibility of scheduling Today's featured lists, which appear every Monday on the Main Page.
2013's elections mark the second time such an event has been held at FLC. Usually, new delegates are appointed individually after a short community consultation held on the FLC talk page, and after approval of current delegates and directors. However, after the recent resignations of Dabomb87 and The Rambling Man, and the unavailability of current delegate NapHit (who is on a long-term trip to Australia), the FLC team has experienced a need for new hands.
The first delegate elections were held in 2009, and resulted in Dabomb87 and Giants2008 being promoted to directors. At that time, Matthewedwards, The Rambling Man and iMatthew were the only editors serving as delegates/directors. As of today, Giants2008 and Hahc21 are covering the FLC duties, but a shortage might arise if either go inactive.
The main reason for the 2013 elections, according to Hahc21, is to avoid a shortage of delegates and guarantee that the FLC process is kept as smooth as possible.
- Wikipedia Library newsletter: The first edition of Books and Bytes, the Wikipedia Library project's newsletter, has been published.
- CERN releases photos: CERN, the organization that oversees the world's largest particle physics laboratory, has announced that it has released its first collection of photographs under a CC-by-SA license, meaning that they can be distributed freely as long as they attribute CERN and do not try to distribute the work under a different license. The release specifically mentions the benefits to Wikipedia, through the additions of director-general portraits and Higgs discovery plots from its ATLAS and CMS projects to Higgs boson.
- Propose-a-Wikipedia-article Project: Institution members of the Metropolitan New York Library Council have been invited to choose several articles that are important to them, such as Margaret Fuller, The Raven, or Report of 1800, and submit them to the council's Wikipedian-in-Residence, Dorothy Howard. She will select several submissions and improve the related Wikipedia article with "references to appropriate sources, collection highlights, and public domain images".
- Jay Walsh: The Wikimedia Foundation's senior director of communications has announced his departure from the position, though he will remain with the organization at least through the end of 2013. Walsh was originally hired in January 2008.
- Open position: The National Library of Switzerland is looking for a German-speaker who can act as a liaison between the Wikipedia community and the institution.
- In the media
- Praekelt to release free Wikipedia access interface: Humanipo ("Home to African Tech") reported that "mobile technology incubator Praekelt Foundation has partnered with the Wikimedia Foundation to offer a free Wikipedia access interface, to be released in Kenya next week."
- Columnist attacks med school’s homework to edit Wikipedia: The University of Richmond Collegian published a critical comment on the idea of medicine students editing Wikipedia for course credit.
- Ada Lovelace Day: The Ada Lovelace Day editing initiative to close the gender gap attracted widespread coverage in such publications as The Guardian, The Mary Sue, Mashable, The Atlantic, PBS, The New York Times and many others.
- "Wikipedia sued": Akron Legal News featured an update on the suit brought by lawyer Susan Burke, seeking to identify anonymous editors who she believes defamed her in Wikipedia.
- War of words on Wikipedia: CBC News reported on a Canadian soldier's desertion case that also involved a number of Wikipedia edits.
- Portland edit-a-thon: The Portland Mercury covered an edit-a-thon hosted by the Portland Art Museum's Crumpacker Library.
- Wikipedia in Indian languages on mobile phones: SciDev.net reported on initiatives to make Indian-language versions of Wikipedia more widely accessible to Indian mobile phone users.
- Where do Wikipedia donations go?: The Daily Dot followed the opinion piece previously published by Andrew Orlowski at The Register, in reporting on Sue Gardner's recent comments on funds usage. The piece was also featured on Mashable.
Check back for the next Signpost