Wikipedia: A Corporate Hub?

On: September 24, 2009
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About Simeona Petkova
My name is Simeona Petkova and I am a second year Research Master student at UVA's Media Studies Faculty. I have my BA in Journalism and MA in Electronic Broadcasting from Sofia University. New Media (quite broad, isn't it?) has become a main field of my current academic interest and through this blog i will share topics that are or have evolved to be important for me.


Few years ago, Dutch snowboarders tried to create an entry in Wikipedia for BigAirBAG, a Dutch brand of air cushion that can be used to absorb the impact while landing freestyle snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking, BMX, etc. tricks. The entry was deleted after an editor noted that the company is not registered in USA and its name is too ‘ordinary’. It was also a product and products should not be placed in an encyclopedia. Intrigued by this response, I have queried Wikipedia for popular snowboarding companies and products. Burton Snowboards, Lib Technologies, Vans and others have their wiki pages and the most worrying is that their entries are strikingly promotional. For example, Burton Snowboards’ page has 16 references, 8 of which are the commercial web pages of its sub-brands.


Further intrigued, I created my own wiki entry for Bigairbag that seemed to have complied with Wikipedia’s requirements: based on third party references, neutral point of view, avoiding promotion, etc. My entry was staged for speedy deletion five minutes after I have posted it, nominated as ‘promotional’. After putting it on {holdon} and explaining why I think it should be kept (my references are third parties, the product is about safety and safety is of public interest, etc.), the entry was quickly deleted under G11 ‘exclusively promotional’ and without carrying out any discussion with me. Did a ‘human editor’ read the entry or it was evaluated not by its content/references but by the information already provided by the bot (recovering previously deleted page, featuring ‘company’, first edit of an user)?  Moreover, after I staged it for re-deletion, I was informed that the editor who deleted it will be back at 28th of September to re-consider his deletion. Few hours later, I tried to post the same entry under different IP, account, spacing the words in the title (Big air bag) and replacing the word ‘company’ with ‘enterprise’. So far the Big air bag page is in the English Wikipedia with no comments, remarks or banners from its editors! For couple of hours one and the same entry (with minor edits) has been evaluated from ‘promotional threat’ to ‘compliant with the editorial principles’.

Of course this case provokes many questions about the ‘gate keeping’ practices and editorial decisions in the English Wikipedia. Do the editors read an entry marked by the bot ‘for speedy deletion’? Why one and the same editor deletes and carries out the re-deletion assessment? Does a page without a bot ‘alarm’ get its content evaluated? The majority of the references in the Burton Snowboards entry are ‘self-published sources’ and there are no banners warning  for this. Maybe the main question that must be asked here is: do brands/companies and products have to have a place in an encyclopedia and how should the existing entries be researched? Where is the fine line between informing and promoting and have the numerous Wikipedia standards ensured that in practice? I would suggest researching the brand/company/product entries in Wikipedia through evaluation of their ‘reference links’. If the hyper textual variant of the reference becomes ‘native’ to the content verification of   a wiki entry, by evaluating it, we can see if it feeds back to the corporate platform or to a third ‘reliable’ party. And then calculate how much of the entry is based on corporate and how much on third party sources. In the case of the Burton Snowboards’ entry, 50% of their Wikipedia page is based upon their corporate websites.

Most of the authors contributing to The Spam Book (2009) conceive Internet as a capitalistic platform where few hubs have concentrated most of its links and its traffic. Has the temptation for relevancy and immediacy of generating content turned Wikipedia in one of the Web’s corporate hubs?

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