Should You Write Your Own Wikipedia Entry?

Update: Considering Virgil Griffith’s Wikipedia Scanner, which shows which companies have edited their own entries by comparing edits to IP addresses there’s even more reason to leave the editing of your entry to others. Here’s the Wired story, “See Who’s Editing Wikipedia.”

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It’s not unheard of for me to disagree with my friend Marshall Kirkpatrick. However, it’s usually he who is encouraging more restraint. In this case, Marshall suggested, in a recent post, that someone who wants to write an entry on a subject that they are connected with should do so, so long as they make it clear what their relationship is to the subject. In this case, I have to disagree, at least when it comes to writing, or materially altering, an entry about yourself, your organization or your company.

While working for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, someone noticed that the entry for the festival was incomplete. I suggested that we ask for volunteers, people who are interested in the festival but do not work for it, to augment that entry. I further suggested that we provide any volunteers who come forward with whatever information they felt they needed but then leave them to it. My feeling was that if they wrote something untrue, we could contact them for a correction or, worse come to worse, we could make the correction ourselves, but only as a last resort. The festival’s leadership disagreed. Their intent was to actively guide the work of these “volunteers,” to tell them what needed to be written and how they should write it and if that leadership did not approve, they would change the entry themselves. I disagreed strongly with this approach of gaming Wikipedia and it was one of the elements that lead to my parting ways with them.

Here’s my thinking: Considering the innate skepticism of readers, based both on the problems in journalism (both overt problems, such as the outright lies published by people like Stephen Glass and Jason Blair, and the implied shortcomings, such as alleged ideological biases) as well as problems with authorship and self-authorship in Wikipedia itself (Wales, Curry, Segenthaler), it is better to take no direct action regarding your own entry. If you author, or alter, your own entry, that entry will always be regarded with skepticism by readers and you will open yourself up to charges of cynical gaming of the medium. Why take the chance when there are alternatives open to you?

That’s why I disagree with Marshall and advise any person, organization or company to neither author nor alter their own Wikipedia entry.

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