Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Microsoft Tries to Doctor Wikipedia

The short history of this story is this: Microsoft does not like the Wikipedia entry on Open XML. Since Wikipedia logs changes with information that can identify the source of the change, Microsoft decides that it would be a better idea to pay someone else to make their changes. Classy.

Doug Mahugh, a technical expert for the Microsoft format, Office Open XML, has identified himself as the Microsoft employee who contacted Jelliffe requesting his services.

In a comment posted on the popular Slashdot technology website, Mahugh published what he said was an excerpt from an email to Jelliffe, detailing “what I asked Rick to do”.

“Wikipedia has an entry on Open XML that has a lot of slanted language, and we'd like for them to make it more objective but we feel that it would be best if a non-Microsoft person were the source of any corrections,” reads the email Mahugh apparently wrote to Jelliffe.

“Would you have any interest or availability to do some of this kind of work? Your reputation as a leading voice in the XML community would carry a lot of credibility, so your name came up in a discussion of the Wikipedia situation today."

Wales said the proper course would have been for Microsoft to write or commission a "white paper'' on the subject with its interpretation of the facts, post it to an outside website and then link to it in the Wikipedia articles' discussion forums.

"It seems like a much better, transparent, straightforward way,'' Wales said. (Quotes from The Age)

Maybe this post is a wee bit snarky, but this is what happens when I blog from the airport prior to 6am without enough green tea :-)


ravenII said...

what worries me is what we have not found out yet.

Internet Esquire said...

As I wrote in a recent blog post, I've never understood the logic behind Wikipedia's conflict of interest rules, and this particular incident is reminiscent of the sort of humbug that one would expect from the faithful members of the Inner Party at ODP/dMOZ. Sure, there's a potential conflict of interest when someone is paid to contribute content to a website that is built primarily by volunteers, but it's rather naive for Wikipedians to assume that this sort of thing doesn't happen all the time. Indeed, the articles that Jelliffe was supposed to review and edit were allegedly written by people working for IBM.

llywrch said...

First, out of fairness to Microsoft (something that I never thought I would ever write) Jaliffe hasn't made any edits to Wikipedia -- he hasn't even accepted the contract (which he said would pay him for about 3 days of work). So far, all he has done is revealed that Microsoft has offered him the job & asked for feedback.

The best Jaliffe could do now, if he accepted the work, is to write out his proposed drafts of the articles, but them up as temporary pages on Wikipedia & tell folks to copy over everything they could use. The Wikipedians who are interested in this subject are already preparing to revert that reads the least bit friendly to Microsoft.

To Internet Esquire, two points:
(1) The material on the Conflict of Interest page is considered a guideline, not a rule. And it is still in flux -- which is why it may not make sense. If you don't understand it, feel free to post a question on the Talk page.

(2) Say, someone posted in the comments section to your post the same link to their blog that they posted in the comments to my recent post on this matter. Think someone is desperate for clicks? (Besides me, that is. :)


navaburo said...

More information is available on the Talk Page for the Office Open XML article; just scroll down to the two sections on(/by?) Microsoft.

Discussion there seems to focus on interpreting Wikipedia's Conflict of Interest policy. An interesting read.