One 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:
So Wikipedia believes anybody should be able to edit an encyclopedia of the world, but not their own name? @jimmy_wales: process is broken!
— Anil Dash (@anildash) September 2, 2013
I chimed in with an idea I’ve long wanted to see, a “Right Of Reply” section within the Wikipedia article:
@anildash @jimmy_wales all Wikipedia needs is a section of the page where the verified subject has a right of reply to whatever they want — Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 2, 2013
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:
@gojomo @dannysullivan Realistically you already have a right of reply. Just participate on the Talk page. — Steven Walling (@StevenWalling) September 3, 2013
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:
@dannysullivan Orgs like TW, FB, GOOG have way more money and manpower to throw at it, and they still fail all the time. — Steven Walling (@StevenWalling) September 3, 2013
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:
@dannysullivan Improving usability and friendliness of discussion pages is a key project for us this year, FYI. https://t.co/Ira8G7THoK
— Steven Walling (@StevenWalling) September 3, 2013
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.