Diving into the Wikipedia Crowd Reply

Photo Courtesy of Pedro Moura Pinheiro at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedromourapinheiro/2559028008/ Photo Courtesy of Pedro Moura Pinheiro at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedromourapinheiro/2559028008/%5B/caption%5D

In my previous post, “Stepping Foot in Wikipedia“, I discussed my experiment to engage deeper with the WikiProject Medicine (WP:Med) community to learn the processes and cultural norms within Wikipedia and see if there is a place to build-out a framework for regionalized standard of care information. As promised, I’m here to follow-up on my journey.

The Culture

First and foremost, what a dynamic environment! The editors in Wikipedia are truly on a mission and their work ethic shows it. Observing interactions within the community, I found editors are less about making friends and more about getting the tasks at hand complete.

The community is a meritocracy where editors are rewarded with Barnstar badges for their contributions. These folks are building a global encyclopedia in the digital space and the building blocks consist of content backed by reliable secondary resources.

Your ability to be transparent with who you are and abide by the norms and rules of Wikipedia are very important first steps for rookies, especially if you’re working on behalf of a private organization. There have been prior instances where private organizations have been perceived to compromise the information in Wikipedia, as you’ll see below.

So if you’re working on behalf of a private organization be prepared to come across skeptics of your presence; editors are about increasing knowledge for the public good and are not there to meet a business objective.

The Learning

So what should a newbie need to know if he wanted to be a Wikipedia editor? First and foremost there’s a learning curve to understand how to use Wiki syntax. Fortunately, Wikipedia has found this to be a barrier for new editors and will be launching Visual Editor mode later this year.

For Wikipedians, conflict of interest is a concern that is taken very seriously. Wikipedia states the following as it relates to conflict of interest:

While editing in Wikipedia, an editor’s primary role is to be a Wikipedian. Any external relationship (any secondary role) may undermine that primary role, and when it does undermine it, or could reasonably be said to undermine it, that person has a conflict of interest.

If there’s any potential of editors perceiving that you may have a conflict of interest, the rules state to error on the side of caution and use the ‘Talk pages” of associated articles to communicate.

When in Wikipedia, you’re not alone. There are people, processes, and tools to help you. If you happen to be uncertain about something, the encyclopedia has a nice feedback and escalation process to help provide clarity to issues that may stem (see diagram below).

Feedback & Escalation Process

Feedback & Escalation Process

I started my journey by working within the English space of Wikipedia, specifically in WP:Med and found that the feedback processes came in handy.

To help demonstrate my regional standards of care idea, I constructed a mock-up article titled “Hypertension in Scotland” and vetted it past the community within a “sandbox” environment. Editors provided me insight on how they felt regionalized information should be formatted.

However I quickly realized this project was very low on the priority list. The launch of a recent initiative called for editors to bring existing articles to higher quality for potential PubMed indexing. In addition, recruiting editors within the community was a challenge for even well established Wikipedians.

It became apparent that resources and priorities were positioned toward reaching WP:Med’s ultimate goals, which are to get disease state articles to higher quality and translate these articles to other languages so the information could reach underserved regions of the world.

Although I hit a roadblock, I didn’t want my journey to stop here. Engaging with the WikiProject Council, I found that WP:Med was not a universal community across all language domains. Instead, other language domains had their own unique WP:Med community so I decided to engage with them.

Here’s what I learned: all other language domains are siloed from one another and not as active as the English domain community and different WP:Med have varying rules.

Also, some areas are more skeptical of my presence than others (see quote below from an administrator from the Italian WP:Med).

Sorry, but I am a little skeptic about this kind of cooperation. Even if there is no potential conflict of interests, I wouldn’t ask volunteer users to collect data for a pharmaceutical company. Furthermore, I don’t know if en.wiki has a specific policy about “commission-based” editing, which is not so well accepted by it.wiki’s community (but also by our policies, see it:WP:COMMISSIONE). Thank you anyway, I hope to see your contributions in the main namespace soon. —Doc.mari (talk) 19:48, 27 February 2013 (UTC)

I clarified with this editor that my intent was to help lead an effort to stimulate knowledge for all to consume, but it made me realize three things:

1) previous attempts by private organizations to engage must have left a bad taste in the minds of editors, 2) if private organizations did consume regionalized information downstream then this type of information could be viewed upon by some that I was trying to meet a business need, and 3) even by following what many editors feel is the best practice to engage within the community as a private organization, there still exists a risk for bad PR.

In summary, there’s potential for building out regionalized information but there are risks of perceived conflict of interest that pose challenges.

The Risks

It’s understandable that editors are skeptical of private organization involvement in Wikipedia based on prior incidences, where private organizations have broken the rules.

However, even in situations where private organizations follow the rules there still exists a risk for bad PR. For example, the bad PR that surfaced between BP and Wikipedia demonstrates that skepticism from the Wikipedia community can lead to negative connotations on an organization even after the intent for engagement has been vetted out.

Given the rules, its clear that I cannot edit Lilly product articles. However, what about articles on disease states where Lilly provides treatment options? The BP case suggests the risk of editing does exist even when edits are communicated through the Talk pages.

Additionally, as I considered recruiting other Wikipedians to edit, I found that some might interpret my efforts as “commision-based editing.” There is concern that my knowledge generation efforts might be to drive business objectives, as per the quote by Doc.Mari above.

The Opportunities

Where there are hurdles, there are opportunities. Here are some areas that would help reduce the risk for private organizations to engage in Wikipedia, and in this case, build out regionalized information:

  1. Work with Wikipedia leadership to align on a process to evaluate topics where private organizations may participate in Wikipedia
  2. Clarify and standardize how private organizations should behave when in Wikipedia
  3. For regionalized information to be incorporated there needs to be more global editor representation in the WP:Med English domain

Until bullet #1 has changed, private organizations should be aware there might be resistance by some editors in Wikipedia, who may perceive there to be a conflict of interest.  If a private organization wishes to engage, at least have a communication plan in place if you happen to come across an incident similar to BP.

The learning has given the Lilly COI team something to think about as we look for open models of work that generate clinical information. My learning could not have as fruitful without the help of experienced Wikipedians User:Ocaasi and User:Bluerasberry and am amazed by their work and the work of others who contribute diligently to the encyclopedia; you all rock!

Further details of my learning and potential opportunities can be found in a slide deck I created below. As we continue to investigate other models of work, I would be interested to know where you feel organizations could interact to learn and share regional standards of care information in the open.

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