Updated Apr 27, 2023 - Technology

Wikipedia's influence grows

Data: Wikipedia, Axios research; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites across the globe, but how the nonprofit, community-driven online encyclopedia operates is still a mystery to most.

Why it matters: The content found on Wikipedia is becoming even more important as new generative artificial intelligence tools are being trained on data from the site.

Details: According to a report by The Washington Post, these tools focused on three key websites "patents.google.com No. 1, which contains text from patents issued around the world; wikipedia.org No. 2, the free online encyclopedia; and scribd.com No. 3, a subscription-only digital library."

The big picture: Even prior to the rise of generative AI, Wikipedia was a central tool for online discovery. Google any event or person and the Wikipedia page is likely the first site you see and visit.

By the numbers: According to Wikistats, the data gathering function within the Wikimedia organization, Wikipedia saw 26 billion total page views in March alone.

  • In the last year, the site received 279 billion unique views, which is a 22% increase year over year.
  • Top pages include ChatGPT, HBO's hit "The Last of Us" and Lisa Marie Presley.

Zoom in: Page views typically see a spike around the news of the day — like Jon Rahm winning the Masters or "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" smashing box office records.

  • Key advice: If a client or company is in the news, communication and PR teams should make sure that the Wiki page is up to date, because it'll inevitably see a surge in views.

Yes, but: Editing Wiki pages has become such a headache that clients are hiring digital reputation firms to help.

  • "Wikipedia is very central to how companies, brands and public figures are seen online," Sam Michelson, CEO of digital reputation firm Five Blocks, told Axios. "You must have a presence on Wikipedia, and you must be able to correct or update your presence there — which is easier said than done."

State of play: Editing or updating a Wiki page can be an epic saga of anonymous negotiations — but it can be done, as long as you understand how to appropriately engage with the Wikipedia editor community.

  • Because Wikipedia is open for editing, it is a ripe place for imposing flowery brand language or spin, which makes editors skeptical of PR professionals and corporate communicators.

What they're saying: According to Michelson, the community is made up of "very dedicated librarian types who take pride in curating sourced information."

  • "Wikipedia has its own rules and customs. If you're a foreigner walking into Wikipedia making demands, you can resemble the stereotypical American who walks into the place and demands a beer without first taking off your shoes and bowing to the elders."

Between the lines: That's not to say that edits are impossible to make or that you have to be in a certain club to make them. In fact, over 49 million edits were made in March alone.

According to former and current editors Axios spoke to, here's how:

  1. Have a presence on the platform. Create a Wikipedia account, do not attempt to edit anonymously.
  2. Review Talk pages. Each Wiki page has a Talk page — a virtual backroom where edits are proposed and debated. These pages help newcomers better understand what is required for editing and what a typical request looks like.
  3. Always disclose conflicts of interest. Before making an edit, introduce yourself and disclose that you are associated with the page in question — something like "My name is X and I work for Y and I'd like to recommend the following updates." If you do not disclose, editors could slap a banner at the top of your page saying the page was tampered with by a biased source, or the page could be removed altogether.
  4. Sourcing is a must. Every edit must be cited by a secondary source — and no, your company website or personal records don't count. (See an extreme example here).
  5. Tone is important. Recommend edits, don't demand them, and show that you understand how these conversations are supposed to go.
  6. Do your homework. Review the Talk pages of similar companies or competitors to see how they've handled edits in the past.
  7. Set alerts. Wikipedia allows for users to set up watchlists and be notified if there's activity on a certain page.

The bottom line: It's a cumbersome process, but making sure this information is accurate and up to date will be increasingly important for companies, brands and public figures as generative AI becomes the norm.

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