It’s with regret that I direct your attention to this blog post from ReadWriteWeb (RWW). To sum it up: RWW, one of the 20 most visited blogs on the planet, has been on Wikipedia’s spam blacklist for something approaching a year.

Naturally, RWW founder and editor Richard MacManus was a bit miffed to learn of this. And like any netizen passionate about his work, he took steps to get the error corrected.

But the approach he took went horribly awry.

Apparently, Richard didn’t put much effort into determining what issues were at play. As a result, he began from a fundamentally flawed premise, which any regular Wikipedia editor could have pointed out to him: he confused the blacklist, a technical tool intended to combat the massive quantities of spam that get posted to Wikipedia articles, with Wikipedia’s general policy and guideline relating to verifiability and reliable sources. It’s true that citations to blogs are often discouraged, but that’s not because they’re blogs; it’s because most blogs don’t have a sufficient claim to being accurate and reliable. (Case in point, Richard’s post, which was apparently not run by anyone knowledgeable about Wikipedia.)

In short: there is no Wikipedia policy or guideline that rules out blogs or user-generated content from being cited on Wikipedia. The relevant policy and guideline outline some general considerations, but they make no outright prohibition on blogs.

What’s more, like all of Wikipedia, the guideline is open to influence. It’s ironic that someone who chooses to pontificate about the norms of a Web 2.0 world should fail so spectacularly to understand that constructive suggestions are the best (and often only) way to accomplish change in a community like Wikipedia.

I’m disappointed that the initial post set the stage for a bunch of ill-informed and non-constructive blog comments. I support Richard’s central contention that RWW should be removed from the blacklist, but his form of advocacy is damaging the public’s understanding of Wikipedia, and in my view reflects very poorly on ReadWriteWeb (a site that I generally admire).

Below is a comment I attempted to post in the thread, which hasn’t yet made it through moderation:

Richard,

I’m a longtime Wikipedia editor (and friend of Steven’s, which is how I became aware of this).

I am sympathetic to your concern, and have a general suggestion about your approach.

You are dealing with two issues which, from Wikipedia’s perspective, are fundamentally different and mostly unrelated to one another. I would suggest you ponder this distinction as you refine your request.

The first is the spam blacklist. The blacklist is intended as a defense against malicious spam, nothing more. It is not a reflection of Wikipedia’s editorial approach. So, the easy case to make is that RWW is a responsible site, and should not be included on the blacklist. I suggest you focus your energy there.

The question of whether blogs are allowable as reliable sources on Wikipedia is much more involved, and debating it on a general level will be an exercise in frustration. No, it is not applied consistently; and yes, many Wikipedia editors have poor understandings of the relevant policy and guideline.

The important thing about the policy and guideline is that they allow for a fair amount of editorial discretion in determining whether a specific blog or blog post may be acceptable as a source for a specific article. So, getting RWW removed from the blacklist is a crucial first step to allowing Wikipedia editors to engage meaningfully in that debate on individual articles.

If you DO want to influence the policy (and I don’t think that’s the best approach for you), I would strongly encourage you to find ways to frame your criticism in specific suggestions, for example: “WE (not “you”) should adjust this paragraph of this policy, to read as follows….”

Wikipedia’s volunteer editors hear numerous offhand criticisms of policy and guidelines, that reflect little understanding of their history and value, and offer no substantive suggestions. Associating yourself with that approach is the last thing you want to do.

Best of luck — I like RWW and hope to see more of your work in the future, whether via Wikipedia or elsewhere!

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