The Wikipedia flap has finally died down, as this graphic of Technorati search results shows. The same trend appears (albeit with larger numbers) on searches for Microsoft/Wikipedia, Jelliffe, and other related phrases.
It has been an interesting experience, but I’m so far behind on everything else now that I can’t see when I’m going to have time to get a good night’s sleep for a while. I’m off to India Monday for a busy week there, then I’ll be presenting at TechReady the week after that, and the list goes on and on. I was already buried with work before this 72-hour tornado ripped through my week, and now the backlog is even bigger and the time to handle it even shorter.
One thing I won’t be able to do is spend any more time in the various debates I’ve been in the middle of the last few days. I’ve heard many opinions and learned from some of them, and I’ve said what I have to say. Others have more insightful things to say about Wikipedia and standards than I do anyway.
But since I have friends who have asked how I’m doing and what I think about the situation, I’m going to go over a few conclusions and thoughts here. If you’ve sent me an email of support I haven’t responded to, this is my response. And if you want to debate any of this, there are blogs standing by as indicated in the graphic above, and that’s the place to do it. I’ve only deleted one comment ever on my blog (a nasty racist one), but I’m going to have a pretty heavy hand moderating this post, because this place is for my friends and family.
Speaking of friends, I feel like I have more friends than I started the week with, including people I’ve worked with or known casually who took the time to write a brief note of support, as well as people I’ve never met who took the time to write. I’ve met some new co-workers at Microsoft (via email), and they’ve all been helpful and supportive and professional. Thank you to all of you.
I don’t like the way Rick Jelliffe has been dragged through the mud by some people. It’s bizarre: I’m the one who suggested the deal, so the bashing of me makes some sense — if you are outraged at what I did, then I’d expect you to bash me. But all Rick did was publicly describe what I had asked him to do, and ask the public what they thought of it. That’s all he did. He didn’t edit a Wikipedia entry or anything else. He just said “hey, Microsoft asked me to do this, what do you all think?”
Well, I guess he knows what people think about the idea now. The aggression of the comments on some of the threads is hilarious. Some people seem to feel such power when hiding behind a keyboard (or a steering wheel, for that matter). Phrases like “evil” and “bribery” roll off their fingers without any consideration of how silly people look while foaming at the mouth.
Now, I can understand (if not condone) why companies with huge investments in a specific file format might be frightened by the concept of Rick participating in the file-format debate and therefore attack him: he has lots of experience and expertise in this area, and a tendency to say exactly what he thinks. But I don’t understand why there have been so many personal attacks from people who don’t even have a dog in this race.
In my opinion, Rick probably catches some heat for being the funniest person in the conversation. That can be very upsetting to other aspiring comedians.
It’s ironic that the Wikipedia entry on Rick has been corrupted as a result of this week’s fiasco. Somebody decided to add a link to Microsoft ‘tried to doctor Wikipedia’, a very amateurish and unprofessional writeup of the story. For example, the article includes a butchered copy of my offer to Rick that deliberately omits this section:
“Feel free to say anything at all on your blog about the process, about our communication with you on matters related to Open XML, or anything else. We don’t need to “approve” anything you have to say, our goal is simply to get more informed voices into the debate … feel free to state your own opinion.”
So now that that nonsense is on his Wikipedia page, Rick can’t edit it, and maybe somebody else will add a more positive link. But the garbage will still be there, and I’m reminded of the concept that you can’t always get to the truth by averaging extreme positions; sometimes one extreme is true and the other is BS. This is the fundamental problem with the concept of Wikipedia, in my opinion: how can you prevent corporate interests from turning definitions into trash-TV-style debates?
The criticism of me in this matter seems to mostly fall under the argument that it’s simply not appropriate to ever pay anyone to do something like edit a Wikipedia entry. Even if Wikipedia’s conflict of interest policy doesn’t actually say so, it seems some people can just feel it in their gut. Like pornography, they know it when they see it.
I’m not convinced by that argument. I don’t look to Web 2.0 celebrities for ethical guidance (as they seem to have ethics that vary rather a lot depending on whose actions they’re judging), and I don’t agree that it’s better for a Wikipedia page to be wrong than to be edited by a person being paid to do so.
The argument I am open to, and the thing I most regret in all this, is that I didn’t fight harder for cleaning up the Office Open XML entry before we turned to somebody outside Microsoft. I’m not 100% convinced that would have worked, but I am convinced that having done so would eliminate some of the fiercest criticism now. I can make plenty of excuses about why it didn’t happen, but they’re just excuses and I wish I had pushed much harder. Live and learn — I’ll handle that differently next time.
I think there are two fundamental issues that drove all the talk about this situation: conflict of interest, and editorial guidelines. Well, there’s also the “hip to hate Microsoft” angle, but as Megan says, the whole “Microsoft is evil” thing is getting really, really old. Name a metric — professionalism, honesty, intelligence, fashion, enthusiasm for our products, personal hygiene, whatever — and I’ve seen a broader range of it at Microsoft than anywhere else I’ve worked. We are not controlled by a single master brain, regardless of what you’ve read about that.
Regarding conflict of interest, I’d love to see a statement from IBM that says “we have never directly or indirectly contributed to the definition of Microsoft Office Open XML on Wikipedia.” And if they have influenced that definition in any way, it would be nice to see the exact language of any communication about that activity, like the straightforward language I’ve shared with the world this week. We conducted ourselves with 100% transparency — the first step was to agree that we’d have no oversight of Rick’s work, and to publicize the plan.
Regarding editorial guidelines, I’ve worked for a publisher before (Consumer Guide) that published many product reviews in various categories, and we had simple editorial guidelines for things like handling of proper nouns. But on Wikipedia these things are left open to debate. Why?
Why not enforce the same editorial guidelines that most publishers use, and let people work within those parameters? It seems strange that something like the name of a specification, a proper noun, is determined on Wikipedia by debate and consensus. Regardless of how “open” that process is, it strikes me as a colossal waste of time that will never improve on the basic concept of using proper nouns properly. If everything from Reuters and the AP to high-school newspapers can respect common editorial guidelines, why can’t Wikipedia?
Evil guys have families, too
When I searched for who’s talking about me on Technorati as shown above, I was surprised to see a post entitled “My Uncle DID NOT screw wikipedia.” Thanks, Paul! I appreciate the support. (I won’t include a link to your site here, since there are very few cute teenage girls among my regular readers.)
My nephew Phil posted a comment on Paul’s site apparently making fun of me:
Once upon a time my friends and i were screwing with wikipedia. it was quite fun until wikipedia is like “NO! THAT IS SPAM! NOT REAL INFORMATION! DIIIIIIIIIE!!!” then it wasn’t fun anymore.
Gee, thanks Phil. I’ll watch for that “screwing with Wikipedia” quote on a future IBM press release entitled “Phil Mahugh acknowledges Uncle Doug had evil intentions.” Shhhh. 🙂
As I said on my work blog earlier this week, “I have confidence that most people are reasonable, and will reach reasonable conclusions from the facts.” That has clearly happened, as evidenced by articles like this one, this one, this one, and many others. Even a person claiming to be “the random nobody who posted this to Slashdot” posted a comment this morning on Rob Weir’s blog saying “… I would apologize to Rick. I misunderstood his original blog posting …”. Thanks for saying that, RN — I’d have handled this a bit differently based on what I know now, too.
As a final comment for those who’ve expressed concern at how I’m handling all the negative attention from some quarters: don’t worry, this was my favorite week at Microsoft to date. Next week has a tough act to follow.