How Wikipedia Could Improve Its Facts With Verification & “Right To Reply” Box

wikipedia-logoOne of the most annoying things about Wikipedia is that the subjects of its articles aren’t allowed to contribute directly to those articles. The idea is that this protects the neutrality of the content. There’s some sense to that. But Wikipedia could easily let those subjects participate in what I’d call a “Right To Reply” box, which would be a huge improvement.

Subject Participation Not Welcomed

This has been on my mind for some time, but I’m doing a post now because of a recent Twitter conversation that was sparked by Anil Dash, where he found the Wikipedia process was broken because anyone other than the subject is able to do edits:

I chimed in with an idea I’ve long wanted to see, a “Right Of Reply” section within the Wikipedia article:

The Right Of Reply Box

In my vision, every Wikipedia page has a section that can be claimed by the subject, if the subject is a person or company.

For example, say author Philip Roth wanted to comment in on his own Wikipedia page. Maybe at the end of that page, there’s an area called “Right Of Reply” where he could easily add anything he wanted. Maybe you limit that to 1,000 words or to a percentage of the overall Wikipedia page.

I chose Philip Roth as an example, because a year ago, in order to get a Wikipedia page fixed, he found it easier to simply write an article for The New Yorker. It’s one of those absurd things where Wikipedia will cite some third-party report, which in turn might cite the first party, but Wikipedia itself won’t allow the first party to directly contribute. It’s dumb.

The Right Of Reply box would fix that. Wikipedia editors could choose to cite out of that box if they want, or not. But at least the subjects themselves would have an easy participation route.

Talk Pages Aren’t The Solution

Why not use the Wikipedia “Talk” pages, as Wikimedia product manager Steven Walling suggested to me:

The problem is that the Talk pages aren’t friendly to Wikipedia outsiders. My post from 2011 explains this more: The Closed, Unfriendly World Of Wikipedia.

Verification Can Be Done

That leads to the issue of verification. How do people get to “claim” their Wikipedia page? My thought is that if Twitter, Google and Facebook can all do it, Wikipedia can find a way. That caused Walling to say that those companies have more resources, and even then, they don’t get it right:

Sure. But then again, Wikipedia is full of mistakes, all the time. If the attitude was that everything had to be 100% perfect from the start, Wikipedia wouldn’t exist. Plus, it’s not that hard.

For one thing, leverage the other services. Let’s take William Shatner, who has a Wikipedia page. He also has a verified Twitter account. How about a mechanism where he can tweet from that account to his Wikipedia page, in order to claim it.

Also, Wikipedia itself links to subject websites all the time. Let those sites install a claim code similar to how Google allows publishers to claim their sites in Google Webmaster Central. If Wikipedia sees the code, then the organization or subject can claim the Right Of Reply box on their pages.

Apparently, Wikipedia does wants to make things friendly to newcomers, Walling told me:

Personally, I’d hope to see a Right Of Reply area as part of those changes. However you do them, the point is that the subject can add details they feel make sense, directly, without having to figure out the arcane and strange world of the Wikipedia — or hoping that some third-party talking to them percolates into the page.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features & Analysis | Top News | Wikipedia


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Jeff Rutherford

    Great idea Danny. And good to hear that improving usability is a big project for Wikipedia this year. As you know, and pointed out in your earlier story, Wikipedia is so bizarre and opaque for the average person to understand, much less edit or contribute to. It’s in their interest to make the process much easier.

  • Gordon Mohr

    Such a right-of-reply could essentially be just a single headline/link, to an offsite resource provided by the subject – the equivalent of a single well-labelled AdWords ad. I don’t think verification is an insurmountable problem: living people who are notable enough to warrant an article are also relatively identifiable/contactable by multiple reliable means.

  • Aaron Bradley

    I’m not on board. Why should named personal entities have any special editing rights when it comes to their entries? They’re at least as likely to misrepresent themselves as other editors, and of course as interested (rather than disinterested) parties, they conceivably have more impetus to do so.

    That they have an “area” to talk about themselves, rather than being provided with exceptional editing privileges still introduces bias into the page, and lead to people leaning on unverified facts provided by verified persons rather than the more rigorous standards of the entry itself.

    And in the world of corporations-as-people would one then allow – or be compelled to allow – named corporate entities to have their say on pages related to them?

    The headline of this piece speaks of Wikipedia improving “Its Facts,” while the first paragraph speaks of subjects not being able to edit or contribute to their own entries being “annoying”: the lede is correct, while the headline makes an association between facts and authorial editing that simply doesn’t exist. That the subject of an article makes a contribution to that article doesn’t mean that contribution is a “fact,” and we have ample examples of subjects (with varying degrees of success) trying to edit with their Wikipedia pages to put themselves in a more favorable light.

    There’s absolutely a place for people to write about themselves online, and offer whatever spelling of their names or stories of their lives they want. Rather, places: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tubmlr and countless other social networks – and, of course any manner of self-hosted website they want. That Wikipedia does not support autobiographical entries is a strength, not a weakness.

  • Michael Martinez

    Wikipedia has been abused by (some of) its own administrators for years, who populate the articles with their own negative propaganda about people they don’t like. If you try to revert the edits you get into an edit war and the first person to revert will always lose the reversion war because of the 3-revert rule limit.

    The talk pages are just a nightmare to navigate and the screen names that people use on Wikipedia pretty much limit accountability for comments to the self-moderation of the Wikipedia community, which is a massive failure in crowd sourcing.

  • Michael Merritt

    The “right-to-reply” section would become nothing more than an advertisement for the person or company, or their area to rant about something on the page.

    The talk pages should be re-jiggered. Right now they’re simply another namespace using the same editing tools as the main namespace. There is a button to add a new section, but it’s out of the way. I think talk pages are one section that would do good formatted as an actual discussion section.

  • Aaron Bradley

    That in Wikipedia negative propaganda can be directed at people that administrators don’t like, or that the the 3-revert war rule in edit wars favors the first person to revert, or that that the talk pages feature poor navigation, or that allowable screen names support a lack of accountability are all arguments that those things are in need of reform.

    But you’ve not made the case that permitting verified persons to have exceptional authorial or editing privileges on a page about them is a solution to any of these ills.

  • Gregory Kohs

    The notion of a “right-to-reply” space on Wikipedia is a good one. But, as you can see from a couple of dim-witted comments here, typical Wikipedians believe that they have somehow perfected “neutral point of view” by setting up so many rules and restrictions that most editors do their biased, agenda-driven work from behind pseudonymous accounts and IP addresses. And Wikipedians want to keep it that way, because they feel like “they” “invented” that process, so it *must* be superior to letting named people speak for themselves, even in a limited space like a “right-to-reply” box.

  • Cindy Crawford Nelson

    You may like to hear that others agree with some of your thoughts here. Check out

  • Michael Martinez

    Let them rebut the lies and half-truths in an area of Wikipedia that cannot be abused by the people spreading the lies and half-truths. Wikipedia readers would still be free to choose between the allegations and the rebuttals.

    There is no way to fix a mechanism that was never designed to be fair. Wikipedia is based on flawed thinking. Danny’s proposal at least addresses one of the foundational flaws in the entire concept by giving equal time to those who have been wronged by both the contributors and the system.

  • Aaron Bradley

    If there is “no way to fix a mechanism that was never designed to be fair” then addressing “one of the foundational flaws in the entire concept” isn’t possible.

    And in any case, “giving equal time to those who have been wronged by both the contributors and the system” also means giving equal time to those that have been wronged neither by the contributors nor the system.

  • Michael Martinez

    The mechanism to which I refer is Wikipedia’s open editing policy. The foundational flaw to which I refer is Wikipedia’s rejection of authoritative contributions from knowledgeable experts (a flaw that co-founder Larry Sanger tried to address with Citizendium).

    Simply doing nothing only exacerbates the problem. The “equal time” policy Danny proposes is both meaningful and useful. It can only lead to an improvement in the quality of information at Wikipedia. As things stand now, all you can count on is more unfettered abuse by biased admins, with no hope of ever “fixing” that.

  • Markus Franz

    Maybe you didn’t know, but in German Wikipedia there’s something like verified accounts for companies. Take a look at the account of Microsoft Germany, for example:

  • Marcelo

    Terrible idea. This doesn’t interest me in the slightest. What is the point? Just take it to the talk page.

  • Mike Wood

    Great article. Unfortunately, having a “Right of Reply” will take away some control from the “Wiki gnomes” which they will never allow to happen.

  • Jonathan Hochman

    SEO’s love to hate Wikipedia because it kills so many of their SEO opportunities. Wikipedia already has a place where article subjects can comment: the article talk page. Any inaccuracies or additional facts can be pointed out. Secondarily, Wikipedia has an Open Ticket Response System (OTRS) where issues can be reported confidentially.

    Wikipedia has a Biography of Living People (BLP) policy that states how important it is to get facts write when writing biographies. If article has slander or just unreferenced info that’s wrong, the subject themselves is welcome to take it out. Seriously, BLP policy takes priority over the conflict of interest policy.

    If you’ve run into Wikipedia editors who are jerks, that’s a distinct problem. No matter what systems are put in place, jerks can still make trouble. The solution is to get help from decent people.

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