What exactly are Wikipedia’s guidelines relating to conflict of interest and professional editing? Looking at their policy pages, it actually seems to bear little resemblence to some of the comments floating around. From what I can gather, here is a summary:
- Defamation can be removed at any time by anyone
- Being paid to edit is not, of itself, a conflict of interest. That is stated nowhere.
- Being paid to edit with the sole intention of improving the employer’s image is a conflict of interest.
- This is because, in Wikipedia terms, the conflict of interest comes not from the payment but from the aspect of self-promotion.
- Nevertheless, being paid to edit however does give an appearance of a conflict of interest (but not for unrelated material) and so is strongly discouraged.
- Editors should declare conflicts of interest on their User page, which allows edits to be paid extra attention for neutrality.
- The guidelines include guidance for how to proceed if you have or appear to have a conflict of interest, with a section on professional editors. The guidance specifically concerns itself with bias for and against the employer company.
- If you have a conflict of interest, avoid editing, participating in discussions, or even linking from your company to Wikipedia (i.e. using it to market your company.)
- If the rules prevent you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore them.
This seems quite reasonable and workable.
So the question for me becomes, has MS asked me to edit material relating to Microsoft? That would be a conflict of interest.
And the answer is, no. The material in question was in relation to Open XML, not Microsoft. Now I can understand if a ban on a company also meant a ban on articles on its products: they are only one step removed. But a file format is two steps removed. And a file format standardized by a formal standards organization (Ecma) including other organizations like Novell and British Library is three steps removed. And by the time it comes to ISO, it is four steps removed.
So I believe that the Wikipedia guidelines mean there is no conflict of interest created by me accepting an editing job from Microsoft to neutrally edit articles that are not about Microsoft, and not about their products, but about technical aspects of an Ecma standard that is before ISO. One a similar vein, an IBM person can edit an article on ODF but not on IBM or Lotus or some particular software. Tim Bray can edit an article on XML but not Sun or their hardware products.
The appearance of a conflict of interest means that disclosure and scrupulous attention to the Neutral Point of View come into play. Now, I certainly welcome correction from Wikipedians on this (chapter and verse from you please, spirit of cooperation from me!)
But it is interesting that at least on the face of what the Wikipedia guidelines say, the entire premise of all the newspaper articles is actually wrong. We are not talking about a conflict of interest that is banned, we are talking about, at the most, the potential of an appearance of a conflict of interest for which there are non-absolute guidelines.
I wonder if we will see any newspapers or press printing retractions apologizing to me. It is what I would like. They have published my name far and wide in connection with shady allegations. A headline like “Microsoft sounds out guy to improve entries as allowed by Wikipedia rules and says it is no secret and the guy discusses it in a blog but still hasn’t done any edits and hasn’t talked money yet” is not much of a headline is it. If you look at the AP article at CNN when setting up Jimmy Wales’ comments “paying for copy is a no-no.” But they are not paying for copy, they are paying for me to improve technical material on a prospective ISO standard (that they and others would be using.)