Wikipedia’s tagline is “The Free Encyclopedia.” But that’s only if you don’t hire these two guys to create a page for you.
According to the New York Daily News, record producer Erez Safer and filmmaker Aaron Wertheimer have started a business that specializes in writing, researching and posting, complete with the required citations, Wikipedia entries about clients — for $300 each.
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The two guys from Brooklyn find customers through their site mywikipro.com. Once they’ve chosen a client — they don’t do this for everybody, mind you — Wertheimer then works on the articles from his own living room.
“A lot of people aren’t Wiki worthy,” Safer told the Daily News. While the two have turned down a number of clients because there wasn’t enough information about them to cite, they’ve already written a dozen articles and have 10 more in the works and another 100 requests. They’ve already created pages for recording artists, newspapers, and beverage companies. (You can see some of their pages here.)
Their business is designed to help people looking to promote their personal “brands” but who don’t know how to make their entries sound like encyclopedia articles. Once they’ve taken on a client, they’ll work for about two weeks writing and researching before the article is posted.
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While the duo seems to have hit on a smart business model, it does seem antithetical to the idea of Wikipedia as a free space that is built organically rather than for profit, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has spoken out about the issue, saying that it’s against Wikipedia’s policy for anyone to profit from the site.
“The idea of paid editing is generally frowned upon,” says Jay Walsh, a spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation, which is the non-profit organization that operates Wikipedia. “That being said, it’s a fairly open question.”
Wikipedians (those who write and edit for the online encyclopedia) have a number of criteria for what’s considered a legitimate article: It must be neutral; it must be notable enough to be an article; and it must be well-sourced with original research. The guys at mywikipro.com appear to be creating articles that meet much of Wikipedians’ policies. In fact, they’ve discovered that poor articles that read like promotional material are likely to get pulled from the site. If it’s more of a neutral piece that feels like a Wikipedia entry, it’ll likely stand.
“It’s a very small amount of content coming from those sorts of folks,” says Walsh, citing the 150,000 daily edits to the English version of Wikipedia alone. “But it raises an important conversation that will probably continue to unfold. Do we create a space for people of means to do this? Or do we simply stick to our policy of no paid editing?”
One reason the site doesn’t ban the practice outright may be that there’s not much that can be done about it. The practice of creating Wikipedia entries for hire has almost certainly been going on in secret for a long time. By being open about it, however, Safer and Wertheimer are surely challenging the ethos of Wiki world.