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Draft Guidelines: Editing Wikipedia

Page history last edited by michelle springer 13 years, 6 months ago




Government Social Media

The Social Media Subcouncil is currently requesting feedback on guidelines for how government agencies should edit Wikipedia articles.


Please review the initial writeup below and provide your input, either by directly editing the guidelines or by commenting at the bottom of the page. Either way, you'll need to request access to the wiki.





Wikipedia invites anyone to edit its articles, with the most enthusiastic invitations issued to those knowledgeable in particular topics. Those invitations are tempered by policies cautioning against conflicts of interest and spam. Be transparent and make edits from named accounts, write with a neutral point of view, operate within Wikipedia conventions and community norms. 



Table of contents: 

  • Summary
  • Arguments Pro and Against Editing WP:  Benefits and Risks
  • Guidelines
  • Resources and Tools
  • Background: What are Agencies/Institutions Doing? 
  • Managing Time
  • Governance
  • Relevant Wikipedia Policies, Guidelines and Community Practices



Before you begin, be aware of arguments for and against editing Wikipedia:



  • Wikipedia is Where Information Seekers Are  

Although the quality and the accuracy of the articles on Wikipedia are a matter of debate and there has been no shortage of criticism of this resource, Wikipedia is one of the most popular Web sites on the Internet. It regularly appears among the top results of a topical Web search, regardless of the search engine used. The Pew Internet and the American Life Project “Data Memo” at http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Wikipedia07.pdf (April 2007), reported a number of findings asserting that Wikipedia has a remarkable reach compared to other Web sites. A sampling of statistics quoted from the report:  

• “36% of online American adults consult Wikipedia”

• “50% of those with at least a college degree consult the site, compared with 22% of those with a high school diploma”

• "… on a typical day in the winter of 2007, 8% of online Americans consulted Wikipedia."


·        Engagement in Wikipedia Will Improve Access to Government Information

Engagement in Wikipedia is a particularly effective way to convey information about the government and government agencies to audiences looking for information as it coveys information at the point of need.


·        Information about Federal Agencies is Already Present in Wikipedia

Substantial information about government agencies and institutions appears is already in Wikipedia. Interacting directly provides access to content that others may not have discovered, and enhances the accuracy of Wikipedia information about the government's agencies and institutions. Use the tools listed below and your agency metrics to determine the links to your agency website that are already present; see what Wikipedia is already saysing about your agency.




·      There’s No Control; A Wikipedia Article Can Change at any Time

The fundamental structure of Wikipedia is that articles can change at any time. Theoretically, an agency could invest time and resources to add content and links to Wikipedia, only to have that work edited, “reverted” to an earlier version, or deleted by subsequent users. This is a real risk. Agencies may choose to limit their initial engagement to a pilot project where resource investment can be evaluated. That evaluation would include a determination if the content added remained visible over time or was removed.


·       Institutionally Authorized Participation May Not be Weclomed by the Community

Wikipedia’s community form of governance adds another layer of complication. Wikipedia’s openness is tempered by policies, but enforcement can diverge depending on the views of various administrators. (One obvious pitfall to be avoided is a prolonged no-win discussion with a WP administrator questioning a contribution). However, these interactions should be avoided if the agency adheres to WP policies and community norms (discussed in more detail below) .


  • Wikipedia Is Not Always Reliable or Authoritative

Because Wikipedia is created and edited by anyone with an interest in writing or editing an article, its authority remains a matter of debate.  There are contingents that view engagement in mediums that provide unreliable information as undercutting the authority on an institution.


  • Wikipedia Involvement is Too Time-Consuming In an Era of Limited Staff Resources

Like other social media, Wikipedia can be a time-drain. Of course, the amount of time spent on Wikipedia as subject to control. The degree of staff involvement can be governed by agency priorities, subject to supervisory and managerial oversight. It takes little time or effort to add an external link to a Wikipedia article, slightly more time to edit an article or to add an embedded reference to an agency resource. Most of the effort expended will come with identifying what resources to feature, what Wikipedia articles to target, and how best to integrate agency content into existing articles. Moreover, this project need not be comprehensive to be effective.




Respect Wikipedia Policies, Guidelines and Conventions


Like any wiki, Wikipedia (WP) users can create new content, change the organization of existing content, and edit almost all site content, including the contributions of others. Over time, the WP community has developed a maze of policies, procedures and community norms that if not respected and followed are likely to result in content being flagged for review, deleted, or reverted. Agencies must respect the policies and procedures of WP.  When an individual invests time and effort to make changes to WP, it is counterproductive to have those changes reverted or deleted because the editing did not adhere to WP policies, guidelines and style. This underscores the point that agencies chances of success are much greater if the persons participating are experienced WP editors who can avoid obvious pitfalls and prolonged no-win discussions between administrators and contributors.


Create an Account/ Be Transparent


Wikipedia preferred practice is for participants to create an account before writing or editing articles, rather than working anonymously.  Additionally, WP’s stated preference is that contributors create a user page for their account to provide information about their interests and activities in WP. User pages provide context that builds trust, and also allow administrators to leave messages within Wikipedia to the contributor to explain why his edit was reverted or flagged, and permit the contributor to explain the rationale behind his/her activities if questioned. If a contributor has no user page, the account name appears as a red link on the history page where they make edits. These red links may signal a “single purpose account”( 19“Wikipedia: Single-purpose account.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 26 November 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:SPA>) and for various reasons, these accounts may attract scrutiny by administrators, particularly if their sole activity is to add external links.


Respect Neutral Point of View and Conflict of Interest Policies


One of the key tenets of Wikipedia policy is a neutral point of view when writing or editing content. This fundamental WP policy and principle works in concert with the “Conflict of Interest” community guideline, which strongly cautions against participants writing or editing articles relating to organizations with which they may have a personal relationship. Agency staff editing or contributing articles directly related to that agency and its programs would clearly fall under this policy. This does not mean that agency staff cannot contribute to these pages, but to operate within the community strictures, the contribution must be via a relevant talk/discussion page or an independent third party. For example, if agency staff find errors in an article about the agency, they should post an entry with the correct information to the relevant discussion/talk page for that article, rather than directly making the edit. If this does not result in a timely correction, then there are various ways to contact relevant third party communities within WP to request the change. Additionally, if the agency proposes to place articles about agency programs in Wikipedia, it must carefully scrutinize these articles to ensure that they reflect a neutral point of view and cite independent sources for verification. Finally, to comply with WP guidelines, the agency should submit such articles to an independent party without connection to the agency, (there are may WikiProject groups that could helpful), for their approval and posting.  Failure to follow these policies may result in articles flagged for possible bias."  "Editing in the interests of public relations is particularly frowned upon. This includes, but is not limited to, edits made by public relations departments of corporations or governmental entities; or of other public or private for-profit or not-for-profit organizations; or by professional editors paid to edit a Wikipedia article with the sole intent of improving that organization's image" (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Your_company#cite_note-0).


Again, review the WP conflict of interest policy which give guidance on how to participate within Wikipedia guidelines <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Your_company#Editors_who_may_have_a_conflict_of_interest>. For example, the policy states that members of an organization should not create a shared organizational account and should not include the name of the organization in the account name. It is recommended but not required for such editors to declare their affiliation on their user page. 


Some in the WP community view repeated additions of external links as “external link spamming,” and as staff from libraries and other institutions began to engage in this activity, debates and essays appeared on this topic in various WP discussion and noticeboard pages. While acknowledging the positive effect experts can have on WP, WP participants have expressed apprehension that when these staff solely focus on providing external links to the primary sources within their own institution, they violate the conflict of interest guideline, even if that institution is a “Reliable Source” as defined by WP. Those concerned about institutional WP projects asserted:


• That institution activities on WP are not altruistic (and therefore violate conflict of interest norms). Web site metrics support budget justifications, and if WP activity is solely to affect those metrics, then the institution “profits” from the activity.


• That Wikipedia is not just a list of links; WP does not improve when editors do not add content to the articles or add the links as sources within the body of the articles.


• That the persons adding these links are adding them anonymously and not from named accounts. (Anonymous links give the appearance of spamming WP).


• That these institutions often add links to the top page of their Web site rather than deep links to sources, or the links may not be unique sources that add value (if all public libraries linked to the same non-unique content, duplicate non-value added links would flood WP).



 Resources and Tools 




Background:  What are agencies/institutions doing?


HHS/NIH  has issued "Guidelines for Participating in Wikipedia from NIH" (when accessed it said Last reveiwed, February 23, 2010) http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/ocpl/resources/wikipedia/index.htm.


The National Agricultural Library (NAL) embarked on a six-month pilot project to edit or amend articles relevant to NAL major programs and resources in such a way that NAL articles can then be cited as the source of the edit/amendment. This effort began in November 2007 and continued through April 2008.


Using Wikipedia to Extend Digital Collections” (Lally, A.M. and C.E. Dunford. “Using Wikipedia to Extend Digital Collections.” D-Lib Magazine, May/June 2007 ) reported on a 2006 project of University of Washington Library staff to place external links in WP to materials in the Library’s collections as a method of integrating their collections into the information workflow of their students.   In some cases, UW staff submitted original articles if there was no logical nexus with an existing WP article. The study reported that the project was a success, driving an increase in usage of UW materials. This article has been controversial with members of the Wikipedia community, some of whom have viewed the UW activity as a violation of WP conflict of interest policies.


Managing Time

Editing Wikipedia articles takes time.  The items below cover how to spend it wisely.


Choosing articles to edit

  • Avoid articles that are volitile and where efforts are unlikely to have lasting effect. Use http://www.wikirage.com to find these types of pages.


How often to check Wikipedia




This section covers how to organize and conduct oversight.


Who edits?


Who reviews?

Relevant Wikipedia Policies, Guidelines and Community Practices

All links below go to WP pages. Be aware that these pages change just like all other WP pages.


"5 Pillars" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"Category: Wikipedia official policy" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"Conflict of interest" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"External links" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"Neutral point of view" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"Policies and guidelines" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"Verifiability" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"Village Pump" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Note: Village Pump is the name of a set of discussion pages for technical issues, policies, and operations of Wikipedia.

"What Wikipedia is not" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.


"Category: Wikipedia guidelines" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"Advice for the cultural sector. "Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

"Etiquette" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"Spam" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"User page" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

"Wikipedia: Autobiography". Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia


"Citing sources" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"How to edit a page" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

"Manual of Style" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Comments (6)

Michael Hessling said

at 1:44 pm on Mar 31, 2009

It's one thing to have a suggested policy for editing other wikis, but what about our own wikis? Will we be setting up our own "rules of engagements" and "5 Pillars"?

Michael Hessling said

at 1:54 pm on Mar 31, 2009

Some guidelines, but they mirror the above: https://wiki.epa.gov/watershed/index.php/User_Guidelines

michelle springer said

at 2:32 pm on Apr 13, 2009

Unfortunately these need an EPA log in to view.

kerchkof.tracy@... said

at 9:37 am on Jul 30, 2009

Actually, anyone can log in to view, you just have to create an account (which isn't all that clear). We drafted our guidelines based on wikipedia's, because they are good guidelines.

Jed Sundwall said

at 7:42 pm on Apr 3, 2009

FYI, 60% of respondents to our survey on social media users' expectations of government agencies indicated that they would like to receive official government information outside of government sites. Of those respondents, 73% indicated that they'd like to receive official government information from Wikipedia—more than any other social media outlet we listed.

Keep in mind, that probably doesn't mean they want to find an awesome article about your agency! It means that the information, research, content, etc that your agency produces can and should be used to contribute to other topical articles.

You can see some slides featuring the results of our study at http://www.slideshare.net/jedsundwall/social-media-survey-results

I'm not just trying to hock my slides, I swear! Enjoy!

Jed Sundwall said

at 7:45 pm on Apr 3, 2009

BTW, this is a great set of guidelines. I would love to see more talented public servants trained to edit and support Wikipedia articles relevant to their expertise.

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