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Microsoft in a Pickle over Wikipedia Posts
[January 26, 2007]

Microsoft in a Pickle over Wikipedia Posts

TMCnet Contributing Editor
Microsoft (News - Alert) found itself amidst a raging controversy after it was disclosed that it offered a payment to a blogger to change technical articles about the company on Wikipedia, the community-produced Web encyclopedia site. Apparently, Microsoft was unhappy with certain articles about the company on Wikipedia and wanted to change them. It offered some monetary compensation to a blogger by name Rick Jelliffe to rectify the errors in the entries.

Wikipedia is the largest online encyclopedia and is maintained by volunteers around the world. Although it’s a great source of information for knowledge seekers, many of the entries are known to contain inaccuracies. Efforts are always made to correct these inaccuracies but with such a huge database, which can be tweaked around by anyone and everyone, mistakes are bound to happen. Also, Wikipedia prevents public-relations firms, campaign workers and anyone else perceived as having a conflict of interest from posting fluff or slanting entries. Paying writers or anyone to write favorable entries in the encyclopedia is considered unethical.

But apparently Microsoft has done exactly that.

So what was it that irritated Microsoft so much? Microsoft was apparently not pleased about some articles concerning an open source document standard and its own competing format. According to published reports, Microsoft believes the articles were written by people from IBM (News - Alert), one of Microsoft’s bitter rivals. Apparently Microsoft tried to contact the Wikipedia editors to present them its side of story. After trying for a while and getting no response from Wikipedia, Microsoft decided to take action.

Although the amount to be paid to Rick Jelliffe was not finalized, it was certain that some monetary transaction would have happened if the said ‘corrections’ took place.

Even if it was a mistake, weren’t there other ways to correct this? Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales believes that Microsoft could have simply published a white paper in its own site and then linked to it in Wikipedia discussion forums. But even that response from Wikipedia appears inadequate because since the discussion about Microsoft is taking place in one of the most famous encyclopedias in the world, Microsoft deserves a right to tell their sides of story before readers form an opinion about the whole issue. More than 90% of the computer users in the world use Microsoft operating systems and any damage to the company’s reputation could prove to be catastrophic.

Yet, Microsoft’s rather strange decision to offer monetary compensation to a little known Australian blogger seems out of the place for such a reputed company. It could have used many other, more respectable ways and got the job done.

Launched on January 15, 2001, Wikipedia is a multilingual, Web-based, free-content encyclopedia project. Wikipedia is mostly edited by volunteers and anyone can edit its web pages. It was created by Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales. Over the years, Wikipedia has risen in its popularity and there have been users who use this online encyclopedia on a regular basis. Along with its popularity, Wikipedia has had its share of controversies too. Doubts have been cast over the accuracy and impartiality of the content posted.

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Raju Shanbhag is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

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