Idea of Paid Entries Roils Wikipedia

The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 24, 2007; 7:59 PM

BOSTON -- When a blogger revealed this week that Microsoft Corp. wanted to pay him to fix purported inaccuracies in technical articles on Wikipedia, the software company endured online slams and a rebuke from the Web encyclopedia's founder for behaving unethically.

The imbroglio will soon pass, but it raises a bigger question: Why is it so bad to pay someone to write something on Wikipedia?

The "free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" requires articles to have a "neutral point of view." But most contributors surely have some personal motivation to dive into a subject, whether it's adoration of "Star Trek" or a soft spot for geraniums.

What's to say contributors who get paid have a harder time sticking to the golden path of neutrality? And doesn't Wikipedia have a built-in defense mechanism _ the swarms of volunteer editors and moderators who can quickly obliterate public-relations fluff, vanity pages and other junk?

That is precisely what ran through Gregory Kohs' mind last year when he launched MyWikiBiz, a service that offered to write Wikipedia entries for businesses for $49 to $99.

A market researcher in West Chester, Pa., Kohs believed that the corporate world was underrepresented in the sprawling Web encyclopedia, which is dense with obscure topics.

"It is strange that a minor Pokemon character will get a 1,200-word article, but a Fortune 500 company will get ... maybe 100 words," he said.

Kohs, 38, said he was committed to having MyWikiBiz create only legitimate Wikipedia entries _ neutral, footnoted and just on companies or organizations with a sizable presence.

"I was not going to write an article for Joe's pizza shop at the corner of Main and Elm," he said. After all, Kohs was fine with Wikipedians editing his clients' entries however they saw fit, but he didn't want the articles to be taken down entirely for being irrelevant.

Kohs researched Wikipedia to see if his idea violated the site's communal spirit. He found what appeared to be an answer in his favor: Wikipedia's Reward Board.

The board is Wikipedia's internal forum for people who would like to see certain topics introduced or improved so they have a chance of achieving the rare status of "featured article," earned when editors consider an entry supremely well-written and fair.

Here's what got Kohs' attention: Offers for barter or even cash are common on the forum, and the person making the offer can remain anonymous. Indeed, on Wednesday, someone was ponying up $55 for whoever could get an article about Lithuania to reach featured status.

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