“Should I write an article on Wikipedia?” Blogher as case study

I noticed last week that there was no Wikipedia entry for Blogher, the women-centric blogging conference, blog aggregator and now VC funded company.  Shocked, I twittered that this was the case and my buddy Jeremy Pepper replied asking whether he should write an article.  

This was the second time in a month someone has asked me a question about whether they should be the person to write an article in Wikipedia so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts here.  A Blogher article in particular makes an interesting case study.

Wikipedia has great Search Engine Optimization, can be a good traffic generator and is a good reference source.  People like to have an entry in Wikipedia for their projects for a variety of reasons.  In this case, there ought to be a Wikipedia page about Blogher just so that people can go to this widely trusted source to learn about the project. Who should start writing that page, though?

In general – here are a few things I think are important when considering whether you ought to be the person to write about something in Wikipedia.

1. Conflicts of interest: If you have an antagonistic relationship with something, you probably ought not write about it.  If you have a financial interest in that subject’s success, I am of the belief that it may be ok for you to write about it so long as you practice…
2. Disclosure: Make sure your user page identifies who you are and what you do for a living.  Being open makes a world of difference.
3. Value add: In addition to a neutral point of view, make sure your post adds important value to the Wikipedia community by being truly informative.  Also, the more you have contributed to Wikipedia in general the more any specific contribution will be respected.  
4. Time invested: In some cases, like if a PR agent is writing about their client, I would recommend that in addition to disclosing the fact that you are a PR agent on your user profile page, you should also consider editing the article live in Wikipedia.  Multiple edits over time, even if from the same user, demonstrate time spent on the article in Wikipedia and help demonstrate respect for the platform.

To answer Jeremy’s question about Blogher I first searched in Technorati for his name and the word Blogher, to see what his relationship with the group was like.  He had written some supportive blog posts about the event, which received favorable comments from some people I understand to be leaders in the Blogher community.  I know that Blogher is generally supportive of participation by men.  I also did a google search for this query: site:http://blogher.org “for wikipedia.”  I found one forum thread about the fact that there is no Wikipedia article for Blogher.  The conversation seemed supportive of the idea, people were just wondering who should write it and how it should be done.  The thread seemed to taper off without any clear answers for that question.  That lead me to believe that there wasn’t any clear reason why the Blogher community did not want an article about Blogher in Wikipedia.

I suggested that Jeremy write one up and post it while logged into a Wikipedia account that was clearly tied to him personally.  That way people could see who was responsible and contact him to discuss it if they wanted to. He hasn’t written that article yet, but that’s ok. Eventually someone will write it and I think this is a good opportunity to talk about these questions.

If he does write this article, here’s how I suggest this and other articles begin.  In addition to maintaining a “neutral point of view” and sticking to the facts, it’s important that an article be long enough to satisfy the community of Wikipedians who dislike very short articles.  I’ve had articles be deleted because they weren’t substantive enough.

Since Blogher is an active online community there’s an opportunity to make sure that participants there know that a new Wikipedia entry about them has been posted.  Emailing them or posting to the Blogher forum could be good ways to let them know. Once they know about the article, they will have a chance to edit it as they see fit and help watch in case this new article gets nominated for deletion, as does happen frequently.

Finally, I’d suggest that if you add a new entry to Wikipedia that you check back daily for the first week after posting it to see if any conversation about the article has been posted or if the article has been nominated for deletion.  You can subscribe to the RSS feed for your entry’s history, but there doesn’t appear to be any way to track by RSS whether your article has been nominated for deletion.

If it is nominated for deletion, there will be a discussion and vote.  In that case, you can let people know and provide the URL for the voting page so they can participate in the conversation and respond to any concerns that the Wikipedia community may have.

Those are some of my thoughts about writing articles on Wikipedia.  There’s no guarantee of success in Wikipedia, but if you make a good-faith effort to contribute value to the community (with any interests of your own weighing less heavily than the interests of the community) then odds are good.  You’ll learn more about online social media from the experience of engaging, so in most cases I say yes – write that article.  

I’m going to email a link to this post over to one of my Wiki-loving buddies and see if we can flesh out answers to these questions all the more.

Kanter and Stein: Two New Interviews on the Changing Web

This weekend I posted interviews with two long time non profit technology profesionals: Beth Kanter, a tech consultant and trainer, and Michael Stein, owner of a software company for non profit groups, over at Net Squared. Here’s a couple of highlights, I hope they’ll convince you to go check out the full interviews and the Net Squared experience.

Discussing the parralels between Web 1.0 and 2.0, Beth said:

Nonprofits would say in 1994 – the World Wide What? In 1995, they would say — it’s hype. A few early adopters set up simple home pages, but around 97 more and more nonprofits started to put up pages. Then nonprofits moved to the second generation sites – more professional graphics, interactivity, etc. Webmaster became a professional position and there were web specific graphic designers. I think it (Web2.0 for lack of better phrase) is here to stay. There’s still a lot of wild west ideas, but things like flickr and del.ico.us are not going to go away, I think. We had a lot of failures in early days of the Internet in adopting email and web pages, but there were valuable lessons learned. The early failures — while some point to these as reasons why nonprofits should ignore web2.0 — the early failures are important because they pave the way for more widespread adoption.

Here’s my favorite part of Michael’s interview:


Our clients with the most active websites are adding, in addition to their brochure-ish stuff, various forms of non-profit e-commerce – register for our meetings, make a donation, buy our publications.

But they are not providing information services, which is what all the blogging – wiki – rss stuff boils down to.


Why should they?


In order to raise their visibility in the larger community that exists around their issues. In effect, for the same reason they have static pages about who they are.

I also put this little pop up box in the interview with Michael, it makes me think I should do more things like this.

If you’d like to subscribe to Beth’s blog, Michael’s blog and the feed for interviews at Net Squared – you can do so with this OPML file: nonprofitfeeds1.xml (I explained OPML files in this post. )

I have to sign off and take the next two days off, but when I get back I’ll post a podcast interview I got to do with Doug Kaye of ITConversations.

From the Garden to the Law Library: Web 2.0 Applied

I just posted two new interviews over at NetSquared. The first was with Abby Rosenheck from Urban Sprouts, a SF school gardens project with a blog. I think she offers a great explanation of the support-building function a blog can play, especially for a small organization.

The second was with legal blawger Dennis Kennedy. We talked about a whole lot things, but the discussion about OPML was most exciting to me because I’m on an OPML kick these past 24 hours. We also talked about blogging, RSS, wikis, legal research and the law.

Edu Wikis Gain Cred

Tim Stahmer has a good introduction to wikis in the newest issue of Technology and Learning magazine, titled “Think Outside the Blog.” (login or ttjo54@netscape.net and bugmenot via BugMeNot.com)

A couple of particularly interesting points from the article include:

  • Wiki power is described in the positive – a wiki is something that lets authorized users contribute content. I think focusing on contribution instead of changability when opening the conversation could be a good first step.
  • On Wikipedia: “The most famous example of a wiki is Wikipedia…Although Wikipedia’s success has been tarnished a little by vandalism, some misinformation, and fights over certain controversial topics, the wiki concept – an open site maintained by its users – has been a hit.”
  • Highlighted benefits include: the ability to write and research collaboratively and concurrently without the limitation of having to always schedule face-to-face time, the presence of the content in the larger context of the web – thus enabling participation and visibility via parents, other schools and the general public.
  • The article says that wikis are currently in use for school planning and interaction with parents, offering updates more continuously than printed newsletters and in some cases serving as a school’s entire web site.

The article then presents three options for schools interested in setting up a wiki:

  • Hosting your wiki on a wiki farm, examples provided include Wikicities, Wikispaces and PBWiki – all 3 great recomendations. I’m especially excited that PBWiki, the wonderful host of BlogSafer.org (anonymous blogging guides for people living under repressive governments) got a mention here.
  • Installing wiki software on your own server space, or asking your Internet Service Provider if they have wiki software ready to run (the article says wikis are popular enough that many ISPs now offer this).
  • Setting up a wiki behind the school’s firewall for security reasons. The author points to a narrative of his own set up of MediaWiki, the software behind Wikipedia and Wikicties, on a Mac with OS X. Other good options to look at include PMWiki and Kwiki, though those may be less user friendly for absolute newbies.

I am really happy to see this article appear in print. It’s a whole lot better than the episode of CSI I saw last night about a blogger involved in a murder! In order for these powerful new tools to be used to their potential, they need to be taken seriously and be discussed in detail in a variety of settings.

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Blogsafer.org: A Wiki For Bloggers Under Fire

I’ve been working for a year or so as a technical adviser for the Committee to Protect Bloggers, a group that raises awareness of people around the world facing state repression for the contents of their blogs. The Committee is on hiatus right now due to insufficient funding, but the director Curt Hopkins has also been working on an Anonymous Blogging campaign funded by a group called Spirit of America. I was hired by that campaign to put up a wiki containing 5 guides on blogging anonymously at Blogsafer.org.

The idea is that as wiki documents, the guides should be tended to by a community of interest, evolving over time to reflect changing conditions. And for all you wiki doubters out there, no – there is not overwhelming concern about said repressive governments editing the wiki to include bad advice and making people easier to identify. All previous versions of the documents are viewable in the archives and readers are prompted to not take any one page on face value without looking at change history, previous versions, etc.

From the press release:

Spirit of America has launched the BlogSafer wiki, available at http://www.blogsafer.org. BlogSafer contains a series of guides on how to blog under difficult conditions in countries that discourage free speech.

LOS ANGELES, California – January 7, 2006 – Spirit of America’s BlogSafer wiki hosts a series of targeted guides to anonymous blogging, each of which outline steps a blogger in a repressive regime can take, and tools to use, to avoid identification and arrest. These range from common sense actions such as not providing identifying details on a blog to the technical, such as the use of proxy servers.

“A repressive regime trying to still free speech first goes after and shuts down independent print and broadcast media,” said Curt Hopkins, project director of Spirit of America’s Anonymous Blogging Campaign. “Once that is done, it turns its attentions to online news sites. As these outlets disappear, dissent migrates to blogs, which are increasing geometrically in number and are simple to set up and operate.”

In past several years at least 30 people have been arrested, many of whom have been tortured, for criticizing their governments. This trend is likely to increase in the coming year.

The five guides that are currently on the wiki serve bloggers in the following countries:

* Iran (in Persian)
* China (Chinese)
* Saudi Arabia (in Arabic—also useful for other Arabic-speaking regimes such as Bahrain, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia)
* Malaysia (in English—also applicable to neighboring Indonesia and Singapore)
* Zimbabwe (in English—applicable to English-speaking Africans as well as aid workers)

These countries were chosen because they are representative of the kinds of repressive tactics that have been used in the past several years against bloggers. These include filtering, interrogation, torture and imprisonment.

I thought readers here might find this of interest. Big thanks to David at PBWiki for all his help with the project.

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Wow! Wikipedia=Edit This World

So Wikipedia has faced a lot of criticism lately (most of which is silly in my opinion as it presumes that readers ignore the page history in wikis) but continues to prove its worth in many ways.

But the point of this point is to reference a discussion going on elsewhere.

This is a long story to summarize, but I’m going to try:

Kick-ass anti-sexist technologist and blogger Shelley Powers was discussing with Rogers Cadenhead the fact that Wikipedia includes many biographical entries on male bloggers and other technologists, but far fewer women. (“Ladies, Wikipedia is Ours“)

In response, Cadenhead does something really cool (the original inspiration for this post, to be honest) and posts a biographical entry of Susan Mernit, super-technologist, member of the inspirational consulting firm 5iveMedia Group. You can see Mernit’s blog here.

Meanwhile Powers also requested in her original post that someone create a Wikipedia entry for her. Sure enough, Shelley Powers on Wikipedia got a “vote to delete” in a hurry. Within 2 fast days there was so much discussion (overwhelmingly supportive of her inclusion) that the “vote to delete page” on her entry was frozen and archived. That one’s for posterity, you’d better believe. Some people (very few) said Powers’ entry wasn’t of legitimate encyclopedic interest. But she, amongst other things, contributed to a book called Essential Blogging 3 years ago. And she’s still going nuts, blogging about a lot of things both technical and political at Burning Bird.

My take-aways:

  • Wikipedia is media that you can change, and if social justice is important to you – you can change it in ways that still meet the requirement of Neutral Point of View.
  • There’s not enough biographical entries about women in Wikipedia. Anyone can write more.
  • I’m going to make sure I’m subscribed to the feeds of all 3 of the bloggers discussed above.
  • I’m going to tag several of the pages above WebJustice2.0. (Check out that tagstream. Items submitted are slow and subscribers to the feed are way down this month. Is the idea not going to fly?)

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