<CPOV> Wikipedia coverage in mass media

Felipe Ortega jfelipe at libresoft.es
Tue Jun 15 17:45:31 CEST 2010

Hello, all.

My apologies for the extension of this message. Sometimes, I feel that,
like D. Knuth, "I've never learnt how to be brief".

Somehow anticipating part of my contribution for CPoV reader, I'd like
to comment on some of my annotations over the past months, regarding the
coverage of Wikipedia-related news in mass media (Spain and worldwide).

The first example case is the notorious coverage in Fox News of the
Wikimedia Commons images, and its aftermath [1], [2], [3], last April.
Since then, it has been suggested by some media that there is a clear
campaign from several big news corporations to undermine Wikipedia and
WMF credibility, specially since these corporations opted for a closed
model for accessing their content online [4]. This model has received
strong critics [5], and I concur with the opinion that it doesn't fit at
all with the new business model imposed by eletronic media,
collaborative online communities and the Internet.

This won't go beyond a classic media war for influence control, unless
for its side-effects regarding scientific studies and results. I already
mentioned how the original press release from my thesis was turned
upside down, with no more that changing "edit trends in Wikipedia remain
stable" for "Wikipedia stagnates" or "Wikipedia stalls" in the

The same can be said for the WSJ article summarizing some results from
different scientific studies, including mine [6]. The article was
published in late Novembre 2009, colliding with the start of WMF
fundraising campaign (coincidence?). The decision of aggregating the
figures in the tail of the graph to compose the final version of the
headlines was made without consulting any of us.

The most recent case has been a study just published by the "Colegio
Libre de Emeritos" in Spain, entitled "Wikipedia: un estudio
comparado" ("Wikipedia: a comparative study"). The 50-page document
(sorry, only available in Spanish) peforms a very informal and
subjective comparison of several articles taken from the English, German
and Spanish Wikipedias (IMHO, with a notable lack of any kind of
scientific method for either the selection of articles or the evaluation

The most important headline extracted from the study is: "The Spanish
Wikipedia is the worst Wikipedia available today", fundamented on some
dubious conclusions and comparison criteria (for each example offered,
we can also find several counter-examples showing the opposite).

Some newspapers, well-known in Spain for showing a draconian support of
payment models for accessing news and content, have used this result to
make the headline: "Wikipedia collapses" (extrapolating to all
Wikipedias in all languages, and clearly showing, from their point of
view, that this model is not valid or even useful). Besides, still on
others you can find "Spanish Wikipedia is the worst in Europe" or
"Spanish Wikipedia, the worst in the world" (despite the fact that the
study only covers 3 versions, EN, DE, ES, and there exist many more
European Wikipedias). I wonder if some will go further, nominating
Spanish Wikipedia for the "worst in the galaxy".

Thus, to recap some of my conclusions:

a) It is very positive to see such a broad interest and coverage of
Wikipedia-related topics in mass media.

b) However, we live in an networked world, in which information is the
main asset for many business models.

c) News corporations defending payment models for info access have
identified strong competitors in Wikipedia and similar projects focusing
on production of open knowledge and content.

d) These closed models, however, are destined to fail as the
preferential attachment process favors open content over closed sources,
specially in search engines.

e) Researchers must be aware of this general environment when they
release or interpret any study covered in mass media.

A final note. The last study also insist in the "suspicious trend of
Wikipedia entries being favoured by Google search results". This is not
a complot, but a well-known phenomenon already covered (though a bit
informally) in some previous studies [8].

Again, this comment leaves out the natural explanation for this fact,
the preferential attachment model governing the Internet and search
engines, and the fact that people tend to find open resources more
useful that closed sources behind payment access barriers.

Unless mass media understand the new rules imposed by the cyberspace,
and adapt themselves to profit from the benefits in this ecosystem, I'm
afraid we will continue to witness this kind of paradox in the following



José Felipe Ortega Soto          | Project Manager
Tel: (+34)-914 888 105           | 
Fax: (+34)-916 647 494           | GSyC/Libresoft - U. Rey Juan Carlos
jfelipe _at_libresoft_dot_es     | Edif. Departamental II - Office 106
http://libresoft.es/             | c/Tulipán s/n 28933 Móstoles (Madrid)

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