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Why the Wikipedia Enterprise 2.0 Debate is Irrelevant

The ongoing almost finished debate about the deleted Enterprise 2.0 article in Wikipedia is quite educational, at least for someone like me, who uses Wikipedia a lot but don’t contribute myself. Not that we had that insight originally; the entry was first wiped out without a discussion and it took Ross Mayfield’s clout to resuscitate it for debate, albeit semi-sentenced for deletion.

The key learning for me is that Wikipedia is governed by far more rules than I would have expected. Like it or not, I can rationalize that any organization, organism, collective initiative..etc. of this magnitude will sooner or later develop self-defense mechanisms, and for Wikipedia these are the (sometimes rigid) rules and an army of Praetorians … I mean Deletionists.

The key arguments for deleting the Enterprise 2.0 article are that it’s not notable enough, is neologism , original research which is not verifiable by reading reliable sources. (links point to Wikipedia policies)

Notability is a rather dubious requirement – that is if we consider Wikipedia *The* encyclopedia, which is what I think it has become for millions of readers. The “Sum of Human Knowledge” (see ad on right) is constantly increasing, forcing paper-based encyclopedias to be selective/restrictive for obvious reasons. Wikipedia does not have such physical limits, and has an army of volunteer editors, so why be restrictive? “When in doubt – look it up” is still what I think encyclopedias are all about, and that approach is what propelled Wikipedia to the No. 1 spot leaving the Britannica in the dust.

Neologism doesn’t belong in Wikipedia”: as several commenters pointed out, the term neologism itself is a neologism:-) But let’s get real: considering the body of knowledge already covered in Wikipedia, an increasing ratio of new articles will by definition be neologism. An overly exclusionary approach by Wikipedia administrators will relegate it from being *The* encyclopedia to being just one, in fact likely still #1 of many, giving way to the Refupedias so eloquently defined by my fellow Irregular (and I might add, subject matter expert on this debate) Niel Robertson.

While I question the principles behind the notability and no-neologism rule, I understand that the debate on deleting an actual submission is not the appropriate forum to discuss the validity of Wikipedia rules.

Yet I am surprised by the sharp contrast in the two side’s approach: defenders of the article, mostly domain experts in enterprise software but Wikipedia-newbies discuss the merits of the article itself, while the deletionist side avoids such conversation strictly focusing on adherence to policy only. In fact it’s this part of the discussion that convinced me we’re not seeing a constructive debate (side note: why isn’t there a Wikipedia entry on this?), instead the most active deletionists are pre-determined to kill the article, and are shutting down reasonable arguments / citations in a rather dogmatic manner.

The trio of no original research, verifiability and reliable sources should be more or less self-explanatory, and one would think references to “Enterprise 2.0″ in respected publications like MIT’s Sloan Management Review and Business Week certainly meet these requirements. Not really. Our Praetorian Deletionist discards both:

“The problem is only readers that have access to this journal can verify the information. It must be available to anyone (by heading to the library, searching online, or stopping by a book store)”

“Journals that the general public can not easily access are not valid sources. Period. That is wikipedia policy.”

Wow. Not accessible… well, I don’t see any restrictions on these subscription pages:

In fact the individual article is available for $6.50, but (don’t tell anyone!) it can also be found as a free PDF file on the web. Now, I am not claiming these publications have as wide circulation as the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Time Magazine, Newsweek – all papers that our gatekeeper finds acceptable – but why should they? We’re not talking about architecture, medicine or gardening – for the cross-section of business and technology it’s hard to find more authoritative source than the SMR or HBR.

All other citations the “defending team” comes up with are refused, for formal reasons, without looking at content.

Business Week: “the article itself is not about the term “Enterprise 2.0″, but about “Web 2.0″ “. In fact “Web 2.0 in the Enterprise” is what the entire article is about, and that is indeed Enterprise 2.0, but the Wikipedian here does not understand the content, he is just looking for a verbatim match.

ZDNetBlogs” by Dan Farber or Dion Hinchcliffe are rejected for being blogs, and self-referencing, being about the deletion process, not the original term. Once again, this is a rigid, dogmatic argument: true, the deletion debate is referenced in the articles, but it was just the trigger, the authors (recognized subject matter experts) explicitly discuss the validity of Enterprise 2.0. Ross Mayfield then cites further articles, including one by Dion Hinchliffe, ZDNet specifically referencing Enterprise 2.0: “Fortunately, the title of McAfee’s piece says the important part” – and that title is: Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration . Not accepted, after all it’s just a blog.

I can’t leave Wikipedia’s exclusion of blogs as reliable source without a comment. Tehcnorati is tracking over 50 million blogs, and we know it does not track everything, so who knows what the total number is: 70M? 100M? How can they all be lumped in one, “unreliable” category? As non-PC it may be, I have to side with Robert Scoble here, there is a slight difference between content-light (LiveJournal) diaries and professional blogs by industry experts. The ZDNet blogs mentioned above really shouldn’t be personal blogs, they are professional publications. And by whose standards should the HBS Faculty Blog, bearing the logo of Harvard Business School not be considered a reliable source, in fact an authority on matters of business and technology?

The concept of authority is not unknown to Wikipedia, just check the following excerpt from the guidelines on reliable sources:

“Advanced degrees give authority in the topic of the degree.”

“Use sources who have postgraduate degrees or demonstrable published expertise in the field they are discussing. The more reputable ones are affiliated with academic institutions.”

Guidelines or not, Mr. Deletionist has his own view about Harvard Prof. McAfee:

“While I respect your knowledge and status as an Associate Professor, I take a dim view of a person who coins a term also being the person that is the main editor and follower of that term’s wikipedia article.” (for the record Prof. McAfee did not edit the disputed Wikipedia article at all)

Oh, well… instead of talking about Wikipedia, let’s focus on why this whole debate is irrelevant. Because “Enterprise 2.0″ is really just a label. Opponents call it “marketing buzzword”. So what? Labels, Marketing buzzwords can be quite helpful:

  • In the beginning of this post I spent 2 paragraphs detailing my point of view on Notability and Neologism, when I could ave simply referred to a “label”: I am an Inclusionalist. (I believe in editing rather than killing posts)
  • In the very early 90’s I was implementing SAP systems (yes, guilty of being a domain expert). The concept of an integrated cross-functional enterprise system was rather unusual, it took lot of “evangelism” to spread the idea. A few years later Erik Keller and team at Gartner coined the term ERP, and it is the industry definition ever since.
  • Here’s a fairly lengthy explanation of how a web application can look and feel like a desktop application. (alert: it’s a blog!). The post is from January 2005. A year later the term Ajax was coined, and now the author of this article could save half a page and just say: Ajax.

Perhaps the above examples make the point: in business and technology, marketing “labels” are typically coined to describe an already existing phenomenon. Enterprise 2.0 as a term my be relatively knew, but it’s not some theoretical concept a bored professor is trying to sell the world. It’s a disruptive change, a confluence of technological, social and business changes in how corporations conduct business using new IT tools. No Wikipedia gatekeepers can prevent this seismic shift. Let’s move on, do our work, and in less than 6 months Enterprise 2.0 will find its way back to Wikipedia.

Update (9/1): The debate is now closed, Enterprise 2.0 stays in wikipedia.

Related posts:

(Note: this is just a partial list, pros and cons from domain experts – all this representing zero value, per wikipedia policy, since they are blog posts.)

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    One of the things I found interesting about the “debate” in the blogosphere was that one of the Wikipedia editors visited at least two blogs (including mine, which was one of the first to comment on the deletion) and seemed to say that the act of deletion was a normal part of the discourse involved in Wikipedia production, and that all you had to do if you disagreed with the deletion was resubmit and improve the article. (I’m paraphrasing the editor’s comments; they can be found at the bottom of this page: http://www.ddmcd.com/dead_or_missing.html.)

    My response was that deletion and editing are not the same thing and, even though I did not agree with that Wikipedia editor’s comments, I would not delete his/her comments.

    Checking the newly resuscitated Enterprise 2.0 article in Wikipedia (courtesy of Ross Mayfield), I saw that that same editor had reviewed the deletion history and commented negatively in the article history about the manner in which at least two other editors had behaved in making the deletion.

    All of this has left a sour taste in my mouth since it seems that even if one is interested in submitting to Wikipedia, editors (some anonymously) can come along and delete a work in progress. Yes, there are warnings that any submission can be edited and deleted, but I have to ask myself whether contributing in such a randomly operating editorial environment is worth the effort, given the availability of alternative publishing and conversation media — such as blogs.

  2. I just think its ironic that no one questions whether or not its relevant to write a Wikipedia entry on a fictional character:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miles_Bennett_Dyson

    but people will debate for days and weeks on the “Relevance” of the Enterprise 2.0 entry.

    To me, this proves the IRRELEVANCY of the Wikipedia and that the people involved (that includes the participants and bloggers) spend too much time fighting ‘principled’ battles that are meaningless to the real world.

  3. In my experience, Wikipedia is a place where misogynistic cyberbullies go to harass independent artists and riot grrrls. Case in point: Jeanne Marie Spicuzza, a leading artist and tarot card reader, had her article yanked from Wikipedia for no apparent reason. And when her sister Mary Spicuzza, a print journalist, wrote an article about it, she was forced to resign for “violating journalistic ethics.” You can read about it here:

    http://www.sfweekly.com/2008-02-13/news/wikipedia-idiots-the-edit-wars-of-san-francisco/

    BTW, you can also read what happened according to the creep who sexually harassed Jeanne Marie on Wikipedia starting here::

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators'_noticeboard/IncidentArchive372#Attempted_Outing_of_Wikipedia_Editor_User:Griot_by_Tawdry_Tabloid_Journalist

    Remember: Information is only as good as its source. Garbage in; garbage out…

  4. I edited this story and I can assure you that Mary did not get fired for this story or any other. Mary decided to leave the paper to take a job with a local documentary filmmaker. She gave her notice before the Wikipedia story was published. She disclosed to me early in the reporting process her sister’s fights with Griot and her sister’s role is mentioned high up in our story. Bottom line: We stand by the story.

    Comment by Will Harper, Managing Editor, SF Weekly — February 26, 2008 @ 01:55PM

  5. Wow, this is the first time I read the SF Weekly article, but it appears to be fair and I can’t imagine why anybody would get fired over it.

  6. Ronaldo says:

    Mary Spicuzza didn’t get fired. She was asked to resign. Her article quoted her own niece’s — I should say, ONE of her own niece’s — many user names on Wikipedia without telling the reader that she was indeed quoting her own niece.

    That’s a big no on, at least according to my journalism professor.

  7. Problem with Ronaldo says:

    The above comment clearly lacks validity. There is no mention of a “niece,” and the managing editor clearly states that the author announced her departure for another position before the story ever went to print.

    I suspect that “Ronaldo,” who is very likely this “Griot” mentioned in the article, quite falsely believes that this blog, if not the whole of the Internet, is his personal Wikipedia page. His tactic reeks of declasse, as he uses blogs and their hosts to post his defamatory remarks. If he bears any shred of self-worth, would recognize his actions are both transparent and shameful.

  8. “reeks of declasse…”

    You’re suggesting this fellow is not from a high birth or station? That he gives off the foul odor of the streets? Of real life?

    You know it baby!

    Get yer blue nose out of the sky and embrace the hoi-polloi, girlfriend!

    It IS against journalistic ethics to quote any source without revealing your personal relationship with the source. And you know the author left by the back door, not the front. Why hide it? Shit, I was there.

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  1. [...] the workings of Wikipedia, and chronicled the debate, but in the end  concluded that  it was irrelevant: “Enterprise 2.0 as a term my be relatively knew, but it’s not some theoretical concept a [...]

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