Wikipedia is always in the middle of some brouhaha or another, and last month was a double-header.
First up, gums were a-flappin’ over the encyclopedia’s decision to tag all links on its site “nofollow,” which will render those links invisible to search engines. Whether this is a good thing, a bad thing or just an unavoidable thing depends on who’s talking.
Wikipedia says it’s unavoidable because of the mischief caused on its site by spammers and search-engine optimization schemers.
Nick Carr was among the critics: “Wikipedia is adopting the policy to reduce spammers’ incentives to add spam links to the encyclopedia. I wonder, though, if it could also have the effect of reinforcing Wikipedia’s hegemony over search results.
The sources cited in Wikipedia, many of which are original sources, will no longer get credit for their appearance there, which should cause at least a little downward pressure in their own search rankings (hence providing a little more upward pressure, relatively speaking, for Wikipedia’s articles). Although the no-follow move is certainly understandable from a spam-fighting perspective, it turns Wikipedia into something of a black hole on the ‘Net. It sucks up vast quantities of link energy but never releases any.”
Wikipedia’s case seems the more compelling here. After all, its primary mission is to provide a reliably usable online encyclopedia, not to ensure an enduring balance of benefits between link givers and link receivers. If someone has a better idea for solving Wikipedia’s spam problem, then by all means let’s hear it.
That tempest was mild compared with the uproar that followed the revelation that Microsoft has the audacity to care about how it is depicted in Wikipedia.
It was quite a row. And Good Morning Silicon Valley’s John Paczkowski did an outstanding job of putting in their place all those who were lambasting Microsoft and standards expert Rick Jelliffe for the former hiring the latter to correct whatever Jelliffe judged to be inaccuracies in Wikipedia entries about Open Document Format and Microsoft Office Open XML. Paczkowski wrote:
“The company seems to have been honest and open about its intentions. It offered to hire an independent expert to suggest corrections in his area of expertise. Jelliffe obviously isn’t a Microsoft apologist. And ultimately any changes he might make to the entries at issue will be reviewed by Wikipedia’s editors and removed if they’re inaccurate. Given Microsoft’s position, what else was it supposed to do? Have Waggener Edstrom (Microsoft’s PR firm) make the corrections?”
That was exactly my take on the matter after reading Jelliffe’s post. The critics are letting their anti-Microsoft sentiments get in the way of giving this situation an intellectually honest weighing. Microsoft didn’t do anything wrong, unless you believe every WikiSubject is obligated to sit quietly while what it perceives to be untruths go unchallenged. And Jelliffe most certainly didn’t do anything wrong… unless you want to count inviting an inevitable round of baseless criticism.