Wikipedia's influence grows
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.
- 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:
- Have a presence on the platform. Create a Wikipedia account, do not attempt to edit anonymously.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Tone is important. Recommend edits, don't demand them, and show that you understand how these conversations are supposed to go.
- Do your homework. Review the Talk pages of similar companies or competitors to see how they've handled edits in the past.
- 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.