Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Paid editing

Well-intended William Pietri has proposed a ban on paid editing. I believe he not only fails to understand why people disagree with him, but that there a large number of Wikipedians in good standing who would accept a paycheck to contribute to Wikipedia -- as long as the agreement was on their terms.

First, I'd venture to say that the current, but unofficial, consensus towards paid editing is that it should not be done -- so Pietri's structure is unnecessary. I bet if you made an edit to an article and stated that you were paid to make the edit, it would be reverted rather quickly. Wikipedians are suspicious of any paid edits because this relationship implies that the employer dictates the content and intent of the edits -- which always is to make a given company or individual look good. So not only is Pietri's proposal unnecessary, it reaffirms the current bias against paid editing.

All of the discussion about allowing paid editing is simply proposing that the Wikipedia (and where appropriate, Wikimedia) communities to allow this practice.

Second, even if paid advertising were allowed, I and several others argue that the current rules and guidelines work well enough to combat the unwanted effect paid editing might have on Wikipedia. Bad edits do get reverted or removed -- even if this doesn't happen as fast as we'd like. Tendentious editors eventually run into strictures like the three-revert rule, civility, and general complaints of obnoxiousness. If it was discovered that this tendentious editor was receiving a paycheck while doing all of this, he'd be kicked off Wikipedia faster than an unpaid one. And an editor who is paid to present a bias, who gets himself barred from Wikipedia for doing this, has proven that he is not a valuable employee and will be fired; so it could be said that paid editors have more of a reason to follow the rules.

What would further help here is a Wikipedian code of ethics -- something that I've occasionally mentioned. The purpose of such a code would be to reassure other Wikipedians that the person is putting Wikipedia's best interests first.

A final point is that there is no way to enforce this rule: if someone is offered chunk of money to edit Wikipedia -- as in the recent example of Almeda College -- they will have further motivation to find a way to break the rules and cause trouble. It's a tribute to the ethics of the average Wikipedian that offers of paid editing haven't been made sooner.

There is a "teaching moment" (to use a neologism) when a corporation -- or a business group -- dangles a contract before a Wikipedian; instead of making an edit to an article, they can teach the corporation how to encourage Wikipedians to write about them -- or their products. The reason why many articles on Wikipedia aren't better is that it's difficult to find material that could be re-used on Wikipedia. Many articles on books, actors and celebrities, movies, and music will never reach Featured article status because there are no license-free images for that subject. I'm not suggesting that the entire work be made free of copyright (although if that did happen, I'd be happy): simply releasing an image or two under the GNU Free Documentation License or a very open Creative Commons license will be enough. And due to the fact that these images are free, these will be the ones redistributed -- not amateurish, copyright-infringing screen captures. Press packets are full of material studios and recording companies want to get out -- why not change the terms of re-use, and let their fans help with the promotion?

And as a last note to this theme, if I paid a Wikipedian to edit an article, I'd expect that, at the minimum, it became an A-class article. I can't imagine a project manager paying a contractor for anything less.

There are many other examples where a Wikipedian could help a corporation without ever writing one word on Wikipedia. Sometimes, it can just simply be explaining why a business should not have an article on Wikipedia -- and suggesting an alternative (like AboutUs.com) instead.

The principal argument for paid editing is that established editors (like yours truly) could make a living contributing to Wikipedia. Many professionals make a living from their craft, such as teachers, doctors and accountants. Several corporations hire programmers to contribute to community software projects like Linux and FreeBSD; so why not Wikipedia?

After all, established Wikipedians have a reputation and their edits (like it or not) have more plausibility than less established editors -- say an anonymous editor identified only by an IP address, or an editor who created an account less than six months ago. They also know how Wikipedia works, more or less -- and are more likely to make their contributions stick.

Another argument for is that many experts are employed in the private sector, and cannot edit in their field of expertise without being caught up in this rule. After all, does it matter that an article about a corporation became a Featured Article because of the efforts of a volunteer editor, that corporation's offer of a $100 gift certificate to their employees, or someone working in their corporate PR department? The Wikipedia community has experience dealing with publicity campaigns, and it would take a very sophisticated one to sneak bad material into Wikipedia without it being detected.

But I doubt things will change soon: for the foreseeable future, most paid editing will be in the form of unscrupulous businessmen like SEOs, who attempt to twist articles on Wikipedia to benefit them, are thwarted, then whine about their failure. The idea of ethical paid editing is just too radical for the average Wikipedian to be comfortable with. Yet I know its time will arrive.


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I have been working with organisations that paid for Wikipedia content. The only reason they needed to sponsor content was because Free NPOV encyclopaedic content is liberating.

Some EUR 40.000 was paid in this way. The project was done in such a way that the board was aware, it was managed by one of the better Wikipedians. The quality of the content is and was beyond any doubt as good as it gets.

You are completely and utterly wrong when you think that organisations only pay to make them look good.

I ask that you re-read my post a little more carefully. I did not say that improving their image was the only reason organizations -- either corporate, non-profit, or otherwise -- would pay someone to edit Wikipedia: it is just one example, & the one that is mentioned the most often.

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