Battleground Wikipedia

There’s been a discussion over the last few days over a Microsoft employee offering to pay an Australian blogger named Rick Jelliffe to edit certain Wikipedia pages relating to Open Office standards, including this page. Jelliffe writes about the offer here.

Doug Mahugh at Microsoft freely admitted to doing this in a comment to a Slashdot article on the matter. According to another source, a Microsoft spokesperson also chimed in, saying that they believed the article were heavily written by people at IBM, a rival standard supporter, and that Microsoft had gotten nowhere flagging mistakes to Wikipedia’s volunteer editors. However, the discussion area of the Wikipedia page in question does not show any Microsoft involvement.

Microsoft clearly didn’t feel comfortable making direct changes to article about their technology, and frankly they can’t really be blamed for that. Editing an article about yourself is considered a conflict of interest by many in the Wikipedia community, and people are routinely trashed for doing so.

According to this article, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said “We were very disappointed to hear that Microsoft was taking that approach.” In email correspondence with Wales this evening, his only comment was that he has “seen no evidence” that Microsoft tried first to work this out in the discussion area.

It’s clear that the only way to safely clear the record on Wikipedia when you are involved party is in the discussion area of a page. Paying others to make direct changes isn’t smart, even if you tell them they are free to write their unbiased opinions (as happened in this case). And making direct changes yourself is likely to get you in hot water, too.

Update: A Microsoft employee, who took issue with this blog post, vandalized the TechCrunch Wikipedia entry and wrote about it on his blog.