Posts about wikipedia

Wiki life

“Everyone brings their crumbs of knowledge to the task and if they don’t, we’re the lesser for it.” I love that line about encouraging more people to bring more knowledge to Wikipedia, from a conversation yesterday with Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Gardner had just presented the results of a gargantuan, one-year-long strategy project made with about 1k Wikipedians in a few dozen languages producing 26k pages and a lot of good ideas, including expert review of articles; offline, distributed use of Wikipedia; and the wiki-based university, where research and knowledge aren’t lost.

Gardner says they started the project with the knowledge that there would be “a high likelihood of failure.” It was possible, though unlikely, that no one would have come to the party. It was more likely, I’d say, that it would be taken over by fringe interests and nutty ideas. The foundation had to invest in success, hiring a facilitator who understood the dangers and a consultant who gave the project “a bedrock of information.”

There’s a lesson there — a lesson in all of this — for companies and government agencies learning how to do their business in public. It’s possible to collaborate at scale even on strategy. It’s risky. It needs care and feeding. But it can and should be done if you want to work in public, collaboratively, with your constituents, as they will expect.

Among the priorities that came out of the project are expanding and deepening Wikipedia in its developing markets and bringing diversity to its developed markets. Gardner quoted Clay Shirky — it’s a law, you know; we social media people are required to do it once a day — separating “let it happen” from “make it happen” projects; the English-language Wikipedia is the former, Hindi the latter. Again, there’s a lesson there for other enterprises: When you can create a platform that lets it happen, do; but also invest in what’s needed and make that happen.

Wikimedia then has to understand the motives of people who will help in either kind of task. They’ve found that people share their effort on Wikipedia in high-minded support of making the world a better place and they’re more likely to do so because Wikipedia is independent of other interests. They also want to show off their mastery. If you’re a news organization, allowing comments on your articles reaches neither of these motives. Helping people improve their own communities would.

The result for Wikipedia is astounding. All the work of these volunteers in nonmonetary exchanges of effort have created an asset worth an estimated $5 billion with impact on the industry that is probably greater than that. The foundation calculated the value of the effort that goes into just editing of Wikipedia – not research or writing – and after ascribing a low per-hour labor value to the work, they were amazed that it added up to $700 million a year. There’s the economic premise Clay Shirky’s (now I’ve met my quota) Cognitive Surplus: Given the time, opportunity, tools, support, and desire, we can create countless Wikipedias of incalculable worth.

So how does one apply these lessons to government and companies? I asked Gardner whether the Wikimedia Foundation would consult or build platforms for others. She said it’s tempting but it’s not their job. I’d like to do research via CUNY on the lessons that Wikipedia and other such collaborative enterprises can teach journalism. Other sectors would be wise to watch and rethink how they operate — and strategize.

The first reflex of open-government folks, I think, would be to bring this experience to policy-setting. That’s OK, but difficult. I see opportunity to create the means for citizens to take over some tasks of government. Recently — for my book, Public Parts — I interviewed Beth Noveck, head of Obama’s open-government initiative, and she raised another example I liked: The Social Security web site needs to present content in other languages. If users could translate Facebook collaboratively, couldn’t citizens translate the site and its information? For that matter, couldn’t they also translate the English into English, making bureaucratese understandable from a nonofficial distance? Of course, we could. We need someone like the Wikimedia Foundation to invest the effort to help us make it happen.

Companies, too, could use this thinking to, for example, get input into product design. Look at Dell: Customers have, since the start of the web, helped each other with service. Since the start of Dell Idea Storm, they’ve given Dell ideas. There’s a huge middle ground in design and manufacturing that could be helped by customers if they had the platform to do it. No, I’m not expecting to see computers designed by democratically run committee or looking like Wikipedia (now that would be Dell Hell) but I do think that customers could help improve any product if companies have the structure and investment, like Wikimedia, to listen. I also interviewed Local Motors‘ Jay Rogers for the book and he will describe just such a process.

The point, in the end, is that Wikimedia by its DNA operates in public and benefits accrue — not just as product and engagement and promotion and distribution but also as strategy. That’s the next step in creating the truly public company or organization.

One more observation: Among the top 50 web entities, Wikipedia stands alone as a the only public service enterprise there. It has gathered not just content but also people, the Wikipedians who create that content and now worked together on their shared strategy. As we discuss issues that matter to us as a new society, there are lessons in the Wikimedia Foundation’s work an structure. What can more of us do together to protect the high-minded purpose and possibility of our internet?

Nose, face, cut, spite: Blocking Google

There’s been a swine flu of stupidity spreading about the Murdoch meme of blocking Google from indexing a site’s content (to which Google always replies that you’ve always been able to do that with robots.txt – so go ahead if you want). I love that The Reach Group (TRG), a German consulting company, has quantified just how damaging that would be to Google: hardly at all.

TRG took the content of the 1,000 domains controlled by the 148 German publishers that signed the so-called Hamburg Declaration (a veiled shot at Google) and analyzed how critical they are to Google search results. TRG asked the question: “How empty would the first 10 Google search results be if one could no longer find anything from the 148 German publishers?”

It’s quite another matter if Wikipedia were not there. It appears on 13% of first-page results. That is, one entity – Wikipedia – is on the treasured first page almost three times as often as all of Germany’s top publishers. How does one say this in German? Yow.

This chart shows that sites of the Hamburg Declaration publishers have 5% share of a position on the first page of search results:


This chart shows that Wikipedia has 13% share of the No. 1 position in search results:


TRG further notes that Wikipedia represents only 0.01% of pages in the Google index – vs. 4.01% for German publishers – yet even so, Wikipedia pages clearly get more clicks and links and thus, Googlejuice.

RELATED: Jason Calicanis fantasizes about Microsoft paying The New York Times to leave Google’s index for Bing. Let me explain why that would never happen. 1. The Times is not stupid. 2. Times subsidiary – the only bright spot these days in the NYTimesCo’s P&L – gets 80% of its traffic and 50% of its revenue from Google. 3. See rule No. 1.

Michael Arrington then joined in the fantasy saying that News Corp. could change the balance by shifting to Bing, but ends his post with his own reality check: MySpace – increasingly a disaster in News Corp’s P&L – is attempting to negotiate its $300 million deal with Google.

Microsoft can suck up to European publishers all it wants – even adopting their ACAP “standard,” which no one in the search industry is saluting because, as Google often points out, it addresses the desires only of a small proportion of sites and it would end up aiding spammers – but it won’t make a damned bit of difference.

As Erick Schonfeld reports, also on TechCrunch, if turned off Google it would lose 25% of its web traffic. He quotes Hitwise, which says 15% comes from Google search, 12% from Google News – and 7% from Drudge (aggregator), and 2% from Real Clear Politics (aggregator). From HItwise:


But so what if News Corp does withdraw from Google? So what, indeed? Will other publishers join? No, they’ll celebrate the chance to grab more juice. If I saw any publishers pull out, I’d run at the chance to create topic pages to grab the little juice they have.

SEE ALSO: This analysis from The Internet Marketing Driver showing the importance of Google, Facebook, and Yahoo in driving audience to many sties. What they then do with that audience is then up to them. According to the imperatives of the link economy, it is up to he or she who gets the links to monetize them.

[Hat tip to friend Wolfgang Blau for twittering the TRG link. If I mistranslated, please corrected me.]

WWGD? – The videos (5)

And they never end: Here’s the fifth day of videos from the aborted v-book edition of What Would Google Do?:

First, a lesson in turning a challenge into an opportunity from the German publishers of the Wikipedia Lexicon:

This one’s probably not for you. It was intended as an appendix to the book to suggest ways for the unGoogley to get Googlier:

Ãœberpedia lives

In 2005, I suggested that an old-style publisher’s response to the crowdsourced publishing of Wikipedia should be to create a vetted version of it, to add value and publish the thing. Fred Wilson called it the Red Hat Wikipedia. I called it the Ãœberpedia.

Well, that’s just what is happening to the German Wikipedia thanks to Bertelsmann.

The idea is to use Wikipedia to capture the zeitgeist by selecting the most popular entries, Beate Varnhorn, the editor in charge of Bertelsmann’s reference works, said in an interview by telephone. “We think of it as an encyclopedic yearbook,” Dr. Varnhorn said, leaving open the possibility of new editions if the 2008 version is successful. . . .

Yet Bertelsmann says the project should not be judged as a re-creation in book form of what appears online, but rather as an attempt to harness the collective wisdom of Wikipedia’s users. “Most of the key words are related to current discussions,” Dr. Varnhorn said, whether the subject is the French first lady, Carla Sarkozy, “or a German best seller, a successful TV show or new electronic products — all key words you normally don’t find in a traditional encyclopedia.” . . .

Bertelsmann had a staff of 10 condense and verify the material found online, particularly the “most risky articles,” though Dr. Varnhorn spoke with respect of the amateur writers and editors on the site. “You find errors in the German Wikipedia, but they really try to keep errors as far away as possible.”

The material on the Wikipedia site can be used free under the terms of a license that, among other things, requires crediting Wikipedia as the source. Bertelsmann agreed to pay one euro per copy sold for use of the Wikipedia name, which will help support the site’s operation, according to Mr. Klempert.

But he added: “It is not about the money. It is a very good example of the power of free knowledge, so anyone is free to use the content and do interesting things with it. It’s a nice experiment to see if the Wikipedia content is good enough to sell books.”

Wikipedia and brands

Steve Rubel takes a list of the top 100 advertisers and then sees where Wikipedia articles about them come up in Google search results. Not surprisingly — once you think about it — these open articles come up high, in many cases in the first page of Google results. That is to say that these advertisers, who spend billions on their brands, are subject to the open judgments of the public. Of course, they have always been subject to the views of their customers — what is a brand but that? — only the internet and Wikipedia allow them to come together and share those views without commercial filters.

Steve cautions companies to be aware of what these articles say but not to try to manipulate them. Amen.

Someone just told me about a company that was planning to write a Wikipedia article about its ad slogan. I won’t say which company in hopes that they listened to the friendly and firm advice I gave to the person who told me about this: It is evil and stupid.

Life is spam.

: By the way, I note that my tag page for Dell comes up 11th on the Google search, on the second page. I’m glad it’s the tag page, versus just one post, for it includes the more positive things I have said about Dell lately; it is a fuller and more balanced view. This is a benefit of tag pages ending up as permalinks for topics. More tag magic.