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Dieser Text auf deutsch: Die Grenzen der Bezahlung

Name of applicant: Dirk Ingo Franke

  • Other supporters:
  • Username (if available): southpark
  • Place of residence: Berlin
  • E-mail address:
  • Project name: The Limits of Writing Articles for Financial Gain
  • Total budget (itemized list in appendix) €81,270

Brief description of your project

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“Professional writing” by authors who compose and edit Wikipedia articles for financial gain rather than out of idealism is one of the main challenges currently facing Wikipedia.

This practice poses a threat to the quality of Wikipedia articles and to the community’s reputation and moral integrity. Professional writers thus create a climate of mistrust and suspicion.

Nonetheless, professional writers and their contracting entities may possess skills and resources that could benefit Wikipedia. These might include specialist knowledge, access to archives, or the ability to write about complex topics in a comprehensible way.

Contributions by professional writers are inevitable in an open-source project like Wikipedia.

My project is intended to run for one year. Its goal is to create appropriate methods and tools for successfully addressing the difficult subject of contributions by professional writers over the long term. I want to give the community the means to tackle the threat posed by professional writers as effectively as possible.

Upon conclusion of my project, the following should be in place: • Clear and generally agreed rules for Wikipedians, freelancers, contracting entities, GLAMs, Wikimedia chapters on the acceptable limits of professional writing on Wikipedia • Tools that Wikipedians can make use of to deal with improper editing in an effective manner that avoids frustration • Tools and rules that well-intentioned professional writers and contracting entities can use to carry out their work according to Wikipedia’s policies and principles • Tools that Wikipedians, Wikimedia chapters, etc. can use to stop editors who are merely trying to exploit Wikipedia The project will be developed interactively, with regular progress reports. The findings will be documented and communicated in a comprehensible, future-proof manner.

What goal is your idea intended to achieve?

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It is a simple fact that professional writers are producing articles for Wikipedia; we cannot ignore this. The project is intended to explore ways and establish means for minimizing the damage caused by professional contributions, but also for maximizing their potential.

At the end of the project, I hope to have achieved the following goals:

  • (1) To gain comprehensive knowledge of the scale of professional contributions to the German-language Wikipedia site; to make reliable forecasts on the future extent of professional contributions; and to establish clearly defined parameters for comparing these forecasts with actual developments
  • (2) To document existing formal and informal rules for dealing with professional contributions on the German-language Wikipedia site
  • (3) To gain at least an overview of the extent of professional writing on the English-language site and to document the written rules
  • (4) To host at least two workshops: a preparatory meeting of Wikipedians who regularly have to deal with this problem (recent changes control, support team, quality assurance); and a meeting between interested Wikipedians and professional writers
  • (5) To host a series of eight different events in Germany, Austria and Switzerland featuring open debates on the issue of professional contributions to Wikipedia
  • (6) To establish useful and useable contacts with PR agencies, companies, etc. with whom we can exchange information and experiences over the long term
  • (7) To trigger an intensive, wide-ranging search for consensus on how to deal with professional writers in the future
  • (8) To gain knowledge of the German community’s attitude towards professional contributions and to ensure its views are heard in the international arena
  • (9) To make concrete written proposals, based on the findings of the above, for improvements to Wikipedia rules, chapter planning, funding guidelines, etc.
  • (10) To make recommendations for various groups such as PR agencies, GLAM partners, and PR specialists in companies on how and how much they can work with Wikipedia
  • (11) To create resources for Wikipedians working in problematic areas of Wikipedia in order to help them with day-to-day monitoring in these areas
  • (12) To start work on setting up a permanent mechanism or clearing office for mediating between professional writers and the communities; and to provide the support team with model answers that allow it to respond to queries in contentious areas in accordance with the agreed rules.

How would your idea improve, change or advance Wikimedia projects?

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Current situation

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“Professional writing” by authors who edit Wikipedia articles for financial gain rather than out of idealism, is one of the main challenges currently facing Wikipedia. There have been contributions by professional writers for as long as Wikipedia has existed – and as the importance of Wikipedia grows, their number is bound to increase.

Professional writers pose a threat to the quality of Wikipedia articles and to the community’s reputation and moral integrity. Professional writers create a climate of mistrust and suspicion. They will always be suspected of manipulating content and of pursuing their own agenda rather than acting with the goals of Wikipedia in mind and adhering to its standards. Since it is only rarely possible to prove whether or not someone is actually acting on behalf of a third party, suspicions and allegations are the rule in contentious areas. Nonetheless, professional writers and/or their contracting entities may possess skills and resources that could benefit Wikipedia. These include specialist knowledge, access to archives and the ability to write about complex topics in a comprehensible way.

Contributions by professional writers are inevitable in an open-source project like Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia community developed a basic set of procedures and instruments to deal with this problem in the years 2004/2005. However, the framework conditions and nature of professional writing in Wikipedia have changed drastically over the past few years.

Currently existing types of professional writing on Wikipedia

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There are currently many different types of professional writers contributing to Wikipedia.

One type are writers who compose or edit their own biographical entries. This is the oldest form of professional writing on Wikipedia; it has existed since the site’s earliest days and is probably still the most common form today.

Another type are employees, press officers, agents, PR managers, etc. who contribute or edit articles on behalf of their employer about the company, individual products or other topics of relevance to the company. Companies also commission PR agencies, journalists, bloggers etc. for this purpose.

A further type are experienced, established Wikipedians who are doing friends a favor or earning themselves some extra income. For some time now, the ability to edit successfully within Wikipedia has had its own market value. This value is increasing – and this is something that could have serious consequences for the Wikipedia community.

“Wikipedians in Residence” have a special status. These Wikipedians spend some time (usually several months) at a cultural institution as Wikipedia experts. Most employment contracts forbid them from directly editing Wikipedia articles themselves. But the rules governing this are different across the globe, and there are a vast number of gray areas. And, although Wikipedians in Residence are banned from editing articles themselves, the institutions in question do tend to expect results of their work. Sometimes they expect that the activities of these Wikipedians lead to the creation and editing of articles directly relating to the institution’s activities, even if this work is not actually carried out by the Wikipedians in Residence themselves.

Dysfunctionalities in the approach to date

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The way that the problem has been tackled to date exhibits many dysfunctionalities and has led to frustration on all sides. There is constant conflict between professional contributors and those responsible for input and quality control at Wikipedia. Conflicts arise, for example, in dealings with new contributors and in discussions on whether a specific article should be deleted.

Quality controllers at Wikipedia are under constant pressure to curb at least the worst excesses of manipulative editing. Around 90 percent of the articles up for deletion are ones that have been edited by contributors who have a potential or probable conflict of interests. This can often lead to frustration on all sides, and to controllers feeling that they are not receiving adequate support.

Despite best efforts, many of the edits do end up in the main namespace, giving a bad impression of Wikipedia’s quality and reliability. This devalues Wikipedia in the eyes of Internet users and frustrates active contributors.

Improper editing violates Wikipedia’s “neutral point-of-view” principle. It distorts reality, gives inappropriate weight to specific topics and can spread rumors and untruths. In some cases such editing can actively damage somebody’s reputation. Even editors who are trying to follow Wikipedia’s rules can sometimes cause considerable extra effort for the community. They often unknowingly break rules relating to composition and formulation, writing content in a manner that does not comply with Wikipedia’s standards.

When such manipulations become public, people start questioning the integrity of the Wikipedia community, and the frustration spirals. Even well-intentioned potential contracting entities can easily get confused by Wikipedia’s rules and informal conventions. This is particularly true in the case of GLAM collaborations. The road to long-term successful collaboration is dotted with numerous pitfalls and unforeseen problems that can seriously threaten such partnerships.

At the moment it is easier to carry out malicious manipulations that it is to produce good editing that stays within the rules.

Status quo upon project completion

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By the time the project comes to an end, the following should be in place:

  • Clear rules for Wikipedians, freelancers, contracting entities, GLAMs, Wikimedia clubs, etc. on the acceptable limits of professional writing on Wikipedia
  • A toolkit of methods Wikipedians can use to deal with improper editing in an effective manner that avoids frustration
  • Rules and tools that well-intentioned professional writers and contracting entities can adopt when producing articles so that they comply with Wikipedia’s standards
  • Tools that Wikipedians, Wikimedia chapters, etc. can use to stop editors who are merely trying to exploit Wikipedia

Public perceptions

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In the meantime the public, too, has become aware of the conflicts and problems that professional contributions can cause. Various investigative journalists have written articles on the issue, and in the past three years there have been three big public scandals relating to Wikipedia manipulations.

First, there was the WikiWatch scandal about the German-language Wikipedia site. An institute had fixed articles on behalf of a client while giving Wikipedia the impression it was conducting independent research.

The Bell Pottinger scandal attracted a lot of attention in the English-speaking world. To the disgust of Wikipedians, this public relations and marketing company offered its clients the service of “sorting” (i.e. fixing) Wikipedia articles.

Then, in September 2012, the GibraltarpediA story made international news. This case was particularly problematic as it involved a PR agency owner, long-standing Wikipedians and a trustee of Wikimedia UK working together intensively in an unexplored gray area of Wikimedia regulation. I intend my project to lay the foundations for more constructive interaction between the various groups involved. I want it to initiate dialogue between the various groups and allow the protagonists to get to know one another better. It should also provide concepts that facilitate constructive, trouble-free interaction between professional writers and quality controllers.

The project meets the funding guidelines of the Community Project Budget:

  • It promotes the creation of free knowledge as it removes one of the main areas of conflict concerning Wikipedia. (Point 1 of the Funding Guidelines)
  • It aims to clarify how basic rules can be applied in a time of constantly shifting demands. (Point 2 of the Funding Guidelines)
  • Although it clearly cannot be a priority for Wikipedia to deliberately target and enlist professional writers, the project also fulfills Point 4 on the preferential treatment of projects that make use of the site more attractive for underrepresented groups of users and authors. Professional writers are a much more diverse group than the members of the Wikipedia community.
  • The Wikimedia chapter is not currently engaged in any initiatives directly related to this theme; nor will it be in the foreseeable future (Points 3 and 5). The topic is politically charged and morally controversial. A certain degree of organizational independence from Wikimedia institutions is unavoidable in this case.

The project fits in with the objectives set down by the Wikimedia Germany general assembly:

“The basis for the long-term activities of Wikimedia Germany remains the visions and goals laid down in Kompass2020.”

The project supports the chapter’s Vision 9 as laid down in Kompass2020: “The community finds, uses and appreciates the backing and support of the chapter.” It does this by using CPB funding to tackle one of the most serious long-term problems facing Wikimedia, one that has a direct negative impact on the community. It is also relevant to both Vision 7 (“Wikimedia content is high quality, well founded and unparalleled”) and Vision 10 (“The community is open to everyone who is able and willing to participate.”). After all, the project is intended to answer precisely the question of how the community can remain as open as possible under current and future conditions without compromising on quality.

How will you measure goal achievement?

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As an open website with a global reach, Wikipedia is always going to have a problem with professional writing. My project will not resolve the problem, but it will make a significant contribution to finding more satisfactory ways of dealing with the problem, and will minimize the harm and maximize the benefits of professional writing.

Whether the project can actually establish constructive methods for dealing with professional writing will only be revealed in the long term. But achievement of the goals set out above can be measured on the basis of a simple yes/no matrix.

A series of yes/no questions enable us to check whether Goals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11 and 12 have been achieved. Goals 7 and 8 are more complex. It is easy to find out whether a search for consensus has taken place within Wikipedia on the issue of professional contributions. It is more difficult to establish whether this search for consensus was “intensive and wide-ranging.” To help me tackle this problem I hope to gain the support of Wikimedia Germany’s Evaluation Unit, as Wikimedia Germany also faces this kind of difficulty in measuring achievement.

The same applies to the goal of making sure the German community’s views on professional writing are heard in the international arena. Here, I can only measure whether a view was repeatedly expressed and incorporated into discussions. In this regard I hope to gain the support of Wikimedia Germany’s International Affairs Unit since it has set itself the goal of opening up communication channels between the German community and the international movement. Although achievement of these two goals is difficult to measure, I consider the way they are currently formulated to be essential. Speaking in order to be heard is different to speaking in order to be noticed. Only the former can make a real change in the long term.

Who is the target group for your idea within the Wikimedia world?

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The project aims to initiate discussion between various groups who have already met in relation to Wikipedia under less auspicious circumstances. Another target group is volunteers working with Wikipedia and on Wikipedia projects. These include German-speaking Wikipedians working in input control and quality assurance and German-speaking volunteers working in the Wikipedia support team. This group also includes people who are working voluntarily on various GLAM partnerships or who would like to do so. It also includes volunteers who are active on an international level and are trying to reach international agreement on the issue here.

Another group are paid contributors whose involvement has been expressly agreed on by the community. These, of course, include full-time employees of the various Wikipedia and Wikimedia chapters. They also include employees of GLAM partners or desired GLAM partners. Then there are the paid contributors whose involvement is usually not desired but is unavoidable. This group includes in particular PR agencies, contracting entities, professional writers, etc.

Since the success of this project demands a certain amount of public awareness beyond the inner circle of Wikipedians, the target group also includes journalists, bloggers, etc. who are interested in Internet issues in general and the manipulation of Wikipedia in particular. How do you intend to engage with your target group?

The groups that are active within the Wikimedia world already are relatively easy to engage with. I either know the individuals in question already or can find them quickly, and can approach them personally. I already have excellent personal contacts to many of these people. The most important thing in this regard is to motivate them to actively participate in the project.

It will be more difficult to establish contact with professional writers and their contracting entities. This group actively and consciously engages with Wikipedia; however, the manner in which they do this is not necessarily what Wikipedia would want. Their approach often leaves little room for two-way communication. Since professional writing services are regarded as problematic - not only at Wikipedia but within society as a whole - these people are often very keen to remain hidden and to conceal their activities.

I may be able to reach this group through PR work and press releases. Another way to engage with them might be via Wikipedia itself: Although the majority of professional writers wish to remain anonymous, there are still sufficient numbers who do make themselves known. This means, of course, that I will be able to contact them.

Many of the articles in question display editing approaches that clearly indicate they have been edited to order. Through my existing personal contacts I already have knowledge of other paid editors. Of use to me in this regard would be the assistance of the support team, which receives regular inquiries from authors working on behalf of someone else.

The relevant Internet forums and exchanges frequently contain offers for or from writers. I can therefore easily contact the people offering these services – although I accept that the likelihood of their responding is not very high.

I can also attempt more creative ways of finding and getting in contact with the writers concerned. One way to do this might be to launch a Wikipedia image cultivation pitch at relevant agencies with the help of a befriended company.

Another possibility would be to create a communication platform that allows professional writers to remain anonymous.

Describe which tools, technologies or resources you need to implement your project

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The project primarily requires time as well as both personal and online presence. It will require time for the project to make a name for itself and to establish contacts. It will require time to develop trust and to break down barriers that have existed for a long time. It will require personal and online presence to serve as a contact person in and outside the community. For the community, this mainly means having a contact person who is available in the evening and at the weekend; outside the community, it means being available during regular office hours. An extensive online presence is needed, as almost all crucial developments in the Wikipedia and Wikimedia universe occur online. However, personal presence is also necessary because measures to build up trust on sensitive issues work best via personal contact in almost all areas.

Apart from time and presence, the project also needs trains and planes. The topic is both complex and sensitive. Experience has shown that it is particularly important to discuss the topic face to face – and this means frequent travel.

The project requires an external workplace, as professional writing is a politically sensitive topic in the Wikimedia world. Wikimedia could provide space in its office, but this could create doubts about whether the project is independent from Wikimedia in organizational terms. The situation would change if the office were based in the Haus des Freien Wissens (House of Free Knowledge), which has been budgeted for 2013. Presumably it would be easier to have an office in this building. At any rate, the project needs office space and infrastructure. It also needs the usual materials for brochures and workshops.

Is your idea already being funded by other sources? If so, which sources are providing funding and how much funding are they providing?

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Will your idea continue after the funding period has ended?

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Yes. The aim of the project is to lay the foundations for productive long-term interaction between professional writers and project volunteers. Potentially, the idea and its implementation will continue for as long as there are open communities in the Internet.

Extensive PR during the project and continuation of the project in the form of speeches and conferences will presumably inspire other communities or Wikipedia/Wikimedia organizations in other countries to address this topic.

The aim of the project is to lay the foundations for a long-term clearing office, which will deal with this set of topics. The texts and documentation produced during the project will be used for many years to come.

How sustainable is your project?

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The project is entirely directed at the future. It addresses one of the major issues regarding the future of Wikipedia and other open Internet platforms. It creates the basis for ensuring that Wikipedia can continue to function under changing conditions in the future. The entire project’s mission is to find means and ways to shape the future.

Can other target groups, locations and projects use your idea? If so, which ones? And how can they do so?

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In principle, the project results can be used by every open community large enough to attract professional editors. The problem-solving approaches developed in the project can also be used by other open free knowledge projects that manage to become important to commercial organizations.

The problem tackled here basically affects all Wikimedia projects with a very large readership. At the moment, this primarily concerns Wikipedia itself. However, it may also affect other projects in the future. For example, if Wikitravel, which is currently being developed, becomes a success, the problem addressed by the project will be even more urgent.

All other Wikimedia projects can use the project results that are directly related to Wikimedia. This includes the search for consensus on funding guidelines and the planned clearing office. Other aspects, such as the documentation on rules and actual developments can at least be used as examples.

Do you have experience of similar projects? If so, which ones?

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I have been active in German Wikipedia since January 2004. I became an administrator in February 2004. During the early years of Wikipedia, I was involved in drawing up a large part of the written and unwritten rules that will be discussed in this project. I am active in Wikipedia’s quality assurance on a regular basis. For several years now, I have spent much of my time explaining Wikipedia to external parties. All of my work for Wikipedia has been on a voluntary basis.

Researching, analyzing and processing results in and outside the Wikipedia and Wikimedia universe is second nature to me. For the past 15 years, I have contacted, motivated and brought together a very wide range of groups with differing attitudes and discerning members both online and offline. My professional experience includes organization for a small company and involvement with the politically sensitive arena of the European Parliament. I hope that I have achieved one of the essential requirements for the project during this period, namely great trust in my personal integrity.

Do you expect to receive support (apart from the funding you are applying for) from Wikimedia Deutschland while your idea is being implemented? If so, in what form?

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I would welcome the following from Wikimedia:

  • Occasional access to some of Wikimedia Deutschland’s communication channels such as the Wikimedia blog or Wikimedium.
  • Dialogue with all of the groups affected, as stated in the project aims. Wikimedia Deutschland is affected by the GLAM cooperation projects and its high visibility for public contacts. If would be good for the project if Wikimedia Deutschland took part in this dialogue.
  • A certain amount of guidance from Wikimedia Deutschland’s many experts on fields such as event management, evaluation, communication, international relations, etc. I do not want them to do my work for me, but I think that it would be negligent to completely ignore their knowledge and to fail to make use of their expertise.
  • It might make sense to organize stationery, software, web space, etc. in cooperation with Wikimedia Deutschland. The costs would then be charged to Wikimedia Deutschland’s budget.
  • Further administrative assistance from Wikimedia Deutschland depending on the complexity of the accounting for the individual costs.

How did you hear about this community project budget?

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I play a complex role in the Wikimedia world. I believe that I provided important inspiration for the CPB. I also voted for the CPB at a general assembly.

Appendix: Budget

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Staff costs: €35,400 Office expenses: €6,000 Travel expenses: €9,100 Expenses for organizing and running two workshops: €27,000 Expenses for organizing and running eight smaller events: €4,000 Other expenses: €6,000 5% reserve for unforeseen expenditure: €3,870 Calculation:

Total staff costs: €35,400 Staff costs for project manager: 12x2,700 = €32,400 Approx. a 75% position in Berlin plus much time spent travelling. Staff costs for external consultant: 20 hrs. x €100 = €2,000 Staff costs for temporary assistance: 200 hrs. x €10 = €2,000

Office expenses

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Office expenses: €4,800 Office: 12x300 = 3,600 (market rate as per CLUBOFFICE or betahaus for a single workstation over 12 months) Other office expenses: web space, software, business cards, telephone etc.: 12x€200 = €2,400

Travel expenses

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Total travel expenses: €10,600 Travel expenses D-Bahn: €3,990 (BahnCard 100, second class): Based on the calculation for three long-distance trips per month, Deutsche-Bahn, second class, BahnCard 50. Current price €118 (Berlin-Frankfurt-Berlin). 3x12x200 = €4,248 Other travel expenses within German-speaking countries (Austria, Switzerland, long-distance trips within Germany) = €510 3x12x€10 = €360 (travel expenses from rail station, Germany) 3x€50 = €150 (Assumption: Salzburg->Vienna, ÖBB second class) Wikimania attendance: €1,800 Wikimania attendance in Washington DC would be covered by a full scholarship of €1,500. Expenses for the Hong Kong conference including travel are somewhat higher. Overnight accommodation: 40x70 = €2,800

Workshop 1 (Wikipedians): €10,000 Workshop 2 (Wikipedians and external parties): €15,000 Workshops with experts/moderators: €2,000

Series of eight panel discussions: €4,000 Entertainment expenses: 20x50 = €1,000 Brochures: editing, designing, printing: €5,000 Reserve for unforeseen events: five percent of the total budget = €3,870