Yesterday I read Why Wikipedia’s Policy to Blacklist Blogs is Outdated and Wrong – a story of Richard MacManus on a quest for removing his higly popular and respected ReadWriteWeb blog from Wikipedia’s spam blacklist. Luckily I don’t have to take sides on this because apparently the dispute has been resolved in Richard’s favor. But it got me thinking.
Clearly for Wikipedia to remain a trustworthy, spam-free and reliable encyclopedia there must be rules and must be people enforcing those rules. The definition for reliable rource on Wikipedia is:
“In general the most reliable sources are peer-reviewed journals and books published in university presses; university-level textbooks; magazines, journals, and books published by respected publishing houses; and mainstream newspapers. As a rule of thumb, the more people engaged in checking facts, analyzing legal issues, and scrutinizing the writing, the more reliable the publication. Material that is self-published, whether on paper or online, is generally not regarded as reliable, but see this section of Verifiability for exceptions.”
I would say, that 17th most popular blog clearly falls under “the more people engaged in checking facts […] the more reliable publication” category. The problem starts when somebody reads the first sentence as saying “there must be a big-ass media corporation/university doing the verification of the source for us”. So, maybe the policy is not as outdated as I initially thought, maybe it is just the way it is applied. So here is my social-network-powered approach to verification of reliability of a source. My intention is not to criticize Wikipedia administrators but rather show how social networks can be leveraged (see also the section on Human-Powered Search in my Social Media: What’s Hot? post). But Wikipedians, you might want to reconsider your policies at some point.
A self-published source is not an abstract – it is an individual writing a blog post. Usually you can read who this person is in an “About” section of the blog. Likely you can meet him/her on this or that social network and for this purpose I think Twitter is the best. If there is like a few thousand individuals following this guy, chances are he or she is quite reliable. Especially if you find among followers the people that you personally know and trust (or people you can find on Wikipedia). Of course there is no way to automatically tell how trustworthy the person is. Impersonations and hacks happen everywhere. But the networks heal themselves really fast and in many cases you can tell pretty quickly who is a good citizen. You can see how many times he/she gets retweeted. If this person writes posts from time to time, you can look for comments to see if the writing is controversial and how it is appreciated.
It could be difficult to put it in a policy today because the online society is fragmented into too many social graphs and the social media footprints of an individual are not that easy to track. But I think we are getting there. In order to benefit from it, you need to be a part of the network. One thing in this story I’m particularly uncomfortable with is that a group of anonymous administrators and editors was discussing reliability of the person who identifies himself under the real name. Is it that difficult guys to tell us who you are before you call somebody a spammer?
And this brings me to my last point. Richard said in his post:
“It’s also deeply ironic that Wikipedia – a poster child of the Web 2.0 revolution, the read/write user participation Web – fails to recognize the validity of “self-published” media.”
This is the reason why I object when people use “Web 2.0” and “social media” interchangeably. Web 2.0 is just a technical concept and finally a bunch of software components that enable creation of user-generated content. MediaWiki is one and there is plenty of other tools. You can plug them into your website. Yet they by themselves will not create this online community culture that Twitter or Facebook have. Social media is defined by the nature of the relationships between the individuals who have chosen to participate.