The NY Times had a good overview this week on the outcry created by the new Wikiscanner site, which traces and posts the source of changes to Wikipedia, our favorite online encyclopedia. The site matches edits on Wikipedia with the computer network where the change originated – so now it’s much easier for all to see who has posted what edit. The scanner has brought to light some interesting examples of companies trying to correct or shape entries under the cover of darkness. Given the potential abuses and errors inherent in the Wikipedia model, nobody would argue against the right to post corrections and clarifications – particularly for organizations featured in the listing. But what has raised the ire of pundits is the companies in question did not identify the changes as theirs – the origin of the edits only came to light thanks to wikiscanner. And some of the edits highlighted in the article were dubious at best, more akin to spin and censorship than helpful clarification. Thankfully, it appears the most egregrious edits were removed soon after they were posted, thanks to the in-house Wiki team.
There are two important lessons here: one tactical and one philosophical. On the former, frustrated organizations should use the public forum available on Wikipedia – or even contact the editors – if they feel there are factual innaccuracies in posts related to their business. But more importantly, companies should know by now that one of the core tenets of the Web is transparency – anybody posting or editing content should identify themselves and be accountable for their comments. This is critical to the credibility of the process – and the information.
From my perspective, the end result of this open-source editing is usually better information. The collective input of the global online community combined with measured input from organizations featured in specific listings usually results in a pretty balanced, useful product. The process isn’t perfect, but I’ll take this over unfiltered corporate propaganda.