Jonathan Langton

Web 2.0 FAIL – Wikipedia rejects educational Creative Commons content

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FULL DISCLOSURE:  Jonathan Langton is currently employed full-time as Project Manager, Multimedia Content Development in the Learning Innovation department of IE Business School.

The Learning Innovation department of IE Business School maintains a rich catalogue of interactive, multimedia content, including cases, technical notes and simulations.  These materials, developed by IE professors, form an important of IE’s online and on-campus courses, however the majority of this content is also freely available on the internet under a Creative Commons licence.

In researching material related to the content they produce, Learning Innovation’s project managers often encounter Wikipedia articles among the first search results returned from the internet.  From time to time these Wikipedia articles refer to other academic articles or website that prove to be highly useful and more in depth than the summary treatment that Wikipedia usually, and quite rightly, provides.  Recently one such project manager realised that some of IE Business School’s multimedia teaching materials is highly relevant to certain specific Wikipedia entries and could provide a valuable resource to those accessing those articles.

A selection of interactive technical notes were selected, in English and Spanish, for inclusion in the “External Links” section of Wikipedia articles in five specific subjects.  In less than twenty minutes the first of the links was removed by a Wikipedia moderator.  The other six, English and Spanish, were removed soon after, almost as soon as they were uploaded.

Since one might assume that there would be little objection to openly available, free, creative commons content from a well regarded business school, no attempt was made to hide that the addition of these links was coming from within the institution.  What was added, to those specifically articles selected for which the linked content was highly relevant, was a single line of text in the “External Link” section stating “[name of technical note] – an interactive technical note by [IE Business School]”.  The name of the technical note was an external link to the multimedia material while the name of the business school linked internally to the Wikipedia article about the school.

Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder, has himself admitted that editing Wikipedia needs to be simpler.  If one ever feels sufficiently motivated to make additions, modifications or editions to Wikipedia one is first confronted with a vast amount of guidelines, regulations and prohibitions on things from content and style to something as apparently trivial as selecting a user name.  One wonders if those who donated to Jimbo’s recent appeal for funds to support his platform fully appreciated the type of organisation they are sustaining.

The objections, explained with relation to a section called “Links normally to be avoided” in a document about external links in Wikipedia, were as follows.

1.  Any site that does not provide a unique resource beyond what the article would contain if it became a featured article.

More regulations, guidelines and procedures can be found for featured articles, but this rule, the first, is fairly subjective and interpretation of this type of guideline is a contentious point among those Wikipedia has spurned.  As interactive teaching content, the material from IE being linked to would appear to be unique from the “purely” “factual” material normally found in Wikipedia articles.

4.  Links mainly intended to promote a website, including online petitions.
5.  Links to web pages that primarily exist to sell products or services, or to web pages with objectionable amounts of advertising.

These two restriction appear to be very similar in their intention, however neither, specifically, treats the situation at hand.  The external links provided did not link to web pages that promote IE Business School or it’s courses, despite how easy it would have been to do given that those sites do exist.  The link to the school was to the Wikipedia article which, although disputed for its neutrality, is not a commercial solicitation and can be edited by any conscientious user.  The technical notes linked to are the exact same ones that are provided to IE students, to whom a commercial solicitation by IE would be pointless.  The technical notes do include the logo of the school and the logo does link to the main website, however even under Creative Commons licensing the creator is entitled to be recognised as such and brand their work.

The text of these two regulations does provide links to other articles on “linkspamming” and conflicts of interest, but to visit them is to disappear once again down the rabbit hole of the Wikipedia canon.

8.  Direct links to documents that require external applications or plug-ins (such as Flash or Java) to view the content, unless the article is about such file formats.

This regulation was cited in response to the above argument that the interactive, flash-based nature of the linked material is, in fact, unique content beyond what Wikipedia can display.  However even the vociferous attacks mounted by powerful Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, against Adobe Flash has not succeeded in keeping the software off even the relatively closed Apple iOS platform.  Clearly this particular rule is arcane and in need of revision.

Single purpose account.

This title was the accusative term directed toward the account used for making the edits to the various Wikipedia articles, however it should be noted that there have not been any discernible consequences of that.  Delving once more deeper into the Wikipedia cascade of terms and definitions it is revealed that the conditions for this appellation are that an account has made few edits to articles within a specific field of interest.  Given that the vast majority of the population, whom Jimbo would solicit to improve his platform, are not experts in vast numbers of disparate fields, as the Wikipedia moderators would appear to be, and need time to develop their usage history, this definition would cover a huge number of would be contributors and it would seem that a very relaxed interpretation is essential on this point.

Interpretation

This is the important part.  Most of the vast documentation from Wikipedia is couched in terms of guidelines, advice and recommendations.  However it would seem that some moderators interpret everything as gospel and, certainly in this case, are not particularly interested in considering the merits of the specific situation.

Conflict of Interest

More complicated definitions are available here.  While it is obvious that there are many who would abuse Wikipedia for their own purposes, an application of the defined principles that basically amounts to contributors being unable to upload or link to their own material, regardless of its quality, must surely be an impediment to the improvement of the content of the platform.

Wikipedia has found its place in the Web 2.0 Hall of Fame and, although occasionally referred to as a repository of the collective stupidity of humanity, for the passive user seeking superficial information, and approaching with caution, it is quite satisfactory.  However, once one attempts to really embrace the active, user-generated ethos of Web 2.0, Wikipedia can leave one wondering just how much quality content cannot find its way onto the platform as the custodians and contributors of that material find themselves quickly turned away when dipping a toe in those waters.  If you are curious, click on the “Discussion” tab next time you are reading an article Wikipedia and see what contributors have had to say about the moderators and the edits.

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