Is Wikipedia discriminating against tech firms?
There’s a worrying trend starting on Wikipedia to remove tech firms and their products if they’re niche, small or young. Teresa Cottam explains why this concerns her and why it’s another sign that all is not well at Wikipedia.
Don’t get me wrong I’m a big fan of Wikipedia and I’ve been using it for years, both contributing information and consuming it. Sure we all know it has its limitations and we’ve probably seen some pretty hilarious and/or annoyingly destructive edits, but on the whole it serves a very important function.
This is why I was very sad to read Yves de Montcheuil’s Twitter today that, as it turned out, for the third time someone had decided to mark his firm’s pages for deletion. Being nosy is part of my job as an analyst so I decided to look into this. When I read the comments page I discovered that someone has determined that Talend is a “non-notable tech business”. To quote the guy further: “Current version shows some essentially trivial announcements circulated in IT-related sources but the first looks like a recirculated press release and the second is in fact a blog. Other sources are all IT industry related, not enough to confer general notability. Not sure that claiming to be the first commercial open source vendor of data integration software is a sufficient claim of historical or technical importance”.
So I guess that puts us in our place. Blogging is somehow second-rate, tech press is “not enough to confer general notability”. And unless you’re Tim Berners-Lee then you’re probably not of sufficient stature to be included in Wikipedia according to the commentator.
As you will ascertain from my comments if you look at the Talk page, this makes me really cross on lots of levels. I sometimes have strong opinions, and you might not always agree with me. But a) I listen and am willing to be involved in a sensible debate and b) I put my name to my opinions and don’t hide behind pseudonyms. Here are a few more thoughts on why this is an issue:
- Wikipedia contains thousands of biogs of minor celebrities, but presumably that’s okay because they’ve been mentioned in mainstream press. Most are not of any “historical or technical importance” so should we be deleting these too?
- If a tech firm talks about itself or its products that’s seen as advertising; but the aforementioned Z-listers can market themselves to their hearts’ content. Hypocrisy?
- Tech press and blogs are dismissed as second rate to general press. In fact they serve different purposes. Part of my job is explaining technology and technology trends to journalists – so don’t tell me tech press is not worthy
- The global telecoms industry makes trillions, employs millions, underpins modern business and is deeply embedded in our daily lives. Our governments benefit from billions of pounds of tax revenues as a result of our hard labour. (Ok maybe some of us are working harder than others…) So I do get more than a little sick of people carrying on as though we work in a second-rate backwater of an industry. (NB I’m a card-carrying geek and proud of it – provided of course, and I don’t take this for granted, all you real geeks will accept me )
- The real value of Wikipedia is that you can find out information about people, companies and things that isn’t necessarily available elsewhere. Small, new vendors have trouble getting press coverage and if they’re going to be discriminated against in Wikipedia it’s just going to make it even harder for them to break through. All we’re going to hear about are firms that earn a certain amount of revenues every year, not the break-through firms and the visionaries. Sure such firms may not last long individually before getting eaten up, but their influence and vigour is important to our market
- Wikipedia is not the Encyclopaedia Britannica or Who’s Who. It serves a different function. We accept it might not always be 100% accurate but we trade that off against currency, novelty and niche insight. It takes an average of 25 years for a new edition of the Britannica to come out. So yes, the information inside may be well written, accurate and significant; but currency is not its strength. Who’s Who contains lists of minor UK nobility and MPs, but very little about influential technologists or scientists – meaning that vast swathes of folk I’m interested in aren’t acknowledged
- I can’t believe anyone can still be so dismissive of opensource technology. Look it might not be right for everything or everyone, or be useful in every environment, but you can’t pretend it isn’t there, isn’t being used and isn’t influential. Unless you’ve got your head permanently in the sand(box)
Wikipedia is a good example of a great idea on the verge of going wrong. You may have read about Wikipedia losing editors in response to changes to the editing process (which some find restrictive). And we all understand there’s a balance to be had between preventing wiki-vandalism and putting so many measures in place that contribution is restricted and the dynamic nature and vitality of Wikipedia is damaged. How they’re going to steer that middle course is beyond me frankly.
But please Wikipedia hear my plea: entries for companies and their products or services are very valuable and not automatically advertising copy; editors who start willy-nilly deleting company entries for no good reason should be retrained or removed; and the tech community – mild mannered and quietly spoken as we are (!) – would like to enjoy as much respect and coverage on Wikipedia as the latest surgically-enhanced Z-lister on a reality TV show.
…And you thought the Tornado (see above) was steaming… Thank you for listening guys – I feel so much better for having got that off my non-surgically-enhanced geeky chest.