Mikhail Gruznov: We do not understand what is happening on Wikipedia
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This is a complete or partial translation of the article "Михаил Грузнов: Мы не понимаем, что происходит в Википедии", from the русский language Wikinews, published under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.
|This is a complete or partial translation of the article "Михаил Грузнов: Мы не понимаем, что происходит в Википедии", from the русский language Wikinews, published under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.|
Friday, August 2, 2019
Wikinews (hereinafter WN) talks to Mikhail Gruznov, a Russian wikipedian who nearly 14 years has worked in the project; he used to work as administrator, pioneered the Wikipedia lawful paid-contribution, and has made the paid editing his profession.
Mikhail caused a political scandal that could affect the presence of Wikipedia in Russia. According to «Meduza», on July 2, he initiated the blocking of a group of 12 users that he identified, which introduced edits to the encyclopedia in the interests of the Kremlin. In addition, a month later, four media related to Yevgeny Prigozhin were included in the spam-blacklist, as reported by «Kommersant» on August 5. This also happened thanks to Gruznov, and Mikhail's actions led to attacks on him and Wikipedia in the Russian media. «URA.Ru» accused Gruznov of creating fake articles about Russia. Wikipedia was called the “propaganda tool from the USA”. According to «Novye Izvestia», on August 6 the head of the Russian Union of Journalists Vladimir Solovyov proposed to create a national analogue of Wikipedia.
Dmitry Rozhkov, an experienced wikipedia has interviewed Mikhail on behalf of Wikinews.
Dmitry Rozhkov: Hello, Mikhail.
Mikhail Gruznov: Hi.
- About ‘group of twelve‘
DR: You gave several interviews in the wake of the story about the ‘group of twelve’. Were they short originally or were they shortened after editing?
MG: It is only because some details are unnecessary for people who are not familiar with the Wikipedia's inside information, as such details obscure.
DR: We will not go into particulars, but would like to clarify some details. Please tell us when and how it happened that you detected this group. Was it untargeted or did you understand that there could be such activity in Wikipedia. Did you try to detect them?
MG: No, I did not do it on purpose. I even does not have the technical facility for such a search. I just noticed some doubtful edits in the articles about governors. Like many others, I have some articles about key governors and the government officials on the monitoring list, and the same about some members of the opposition. And, suddenly, at the end of February, I noticed a newbie with a massive (Oldfishkeeper — WN) contribution in the articles about governors. And, his contributions, let me say it, as I first thought about them, - were amusing. He described hobbies of governors in many details and in a bit childish way. I thought, ‘why not’ and forgot it.
DR: What happened next?
MG: Then there was an episode after which everything became clear to me. It was the war inside the article about Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at the ‘Anti-Corruption Foundation‘. I found a group of members whose contributions were coordinated and it looked suspicious. All of them registered in the project during the period from October to January. So, I began to analyze their contributions and it became clear that their views of life looked as if they were synchronized. They all liked public officials and disliked the opposition members. And, what is most important – they move in groups. And, there are two ‘old’ members, registered long ago, who provide patrolling to those users. And at some moment, I guessed that they all worked as a group. Especially, it became obvious when they started almost simultaneously submit their status applications. They intersperse targeted edits with neutral ones to obtain the wiki experience and pretend for formal statuses. What is most threatening is that nobody considered applications of the members of the group with the sufficient thoroughness. Nobody understood who were them really and what was their contribution. And, they easily could have become patrollers if someone would enter the application page and totalize. But, it happened that nobody of administrators entered the page and 20 or 25 applications piled.
DR: So, you have prepared the request and applied it to the check users. To what extent did the check result prove your expectation? According to it, only one “old” member, the supposed Nesterovich (Zergeist2/S.Felix) was banned and his relation to this group was not established. What they did was to restore his ban at which his account should have been.
MG: There are several layers here. First, I made all the tables, collected data for the request and started to think what to do next. I could have filed the request to the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom). But, I thought that preliminarily it is necessary to understand if there was formal evidence that this group was linked. This would make the arbiter's work easier. It is clear that check users does not evaluate the contribution content. Generally speaking, it makes no difference to them what a user writes in the article. They just check if the accounts are linked among each other or with an earlier banned user. The fact that Zergeist2 is banned is coincidence, as his account was banned because it was linked with a user banned earlier.
DR: That is it.
MG: I think that the checking by check users is the first step and necessary preparation for filing the request at the Arbitration Committee that shall consider the merits of the contribution.
DR: Look, what we have now. The check users said nothing definite about the two ‘old’ accounts. One account is banned on the grounds having no relevance to the purpose of your request. What remains is a group of 7 or 8 users and only 4 or 5 of them registered practically at the same time and generally speaking, they can belong to one person or different persons linked so closely that they can be considered as one. Thus, it is just a small-time crook, not a full-scale conspiracy.
MG: Obviously, check users cannot prove the existence of conspiracy. It is not their competence. As I have said, it is only the first step. Frankly speaking, I did not expect that this step would attract such attention. If you remember, some wikipedians, Sergey Rublyov and Krasotkin, posted on Facebook the news about this request. And, afterwards, it was impossible to stop this news wave. And, media was preparing…
DR: …to a sensation.
MG: Yes, to issue the material as soon as the check users submit a result.
DR: Well, what is the intermediate result concerning this group, we’ll call like that, today. Could you verbalize it in some form?
MG: Firstly, we understand that there is some ‘smoke’, and, actually, it is dealt with a group. Secondly, if you consider the content of their contribution, i.e. each of their edits, it becomes clear that the entire group acted according to a plan and gradually implemented this plan. The main result of the check is that their activity ceased. All the planned work of this botnet (I call it like that for convenience), performed for 9 months was in vain. Everybody paid attention to the edits about governors and the opposition. It is not easy to clean the articles from this rubbish, but, at least, the community is aware of the problem now.
DR: What will be your further steps?
MG: Now I am preparing a claim at the Arbitration Committee. I am going to prove that the activity of this botnet was destructive, grounding on the edits content analysis. Besides, on the basis of the source assessment and the subsequent request to put them on spam-list, I will demand banning the pool of media related to RIA FAN. They are often called as ’prigozhinskie’, and this botnet also often refers to them.
DR: Can we say that the untimely leakage of the information in media spoiled your game?
MG: No, it rather took some of my attention for the necessity to provide comments and comments to the comments. In general, everything is according to the plan.
DR: Will the request at the Arbitration Committee contain newly established facts or maybe new actors? Are you going to do the entire analytical work alone or will you leave something for arbiters?
MG: I have got already some results. I will repack the already announced material, focusing on the non-banned accounts.
DR: Does it mean that you will insist on your original version without any corrections?
MG: By all means. Flint1972 and Zergeist2 are the two most threatening botnet users. I will comment on the contribution of Zergeist2 to deter his unbanning to the maximum extent.
DR: By the way, I also was studying the contribution of Flint1972 and at some moment, I thought that it was also written by Nesterovich. Firstly, his birth year is 1972 . Secondly, his account appeared two or three months after the Nesterovich account banning date. And Zergeist2 appeared after two or three years (there was Zergeist account too). I doubt if Nesterovich did not do the editing during that time. So, there should be one more account and Flint1972 can match. But, later I saw that the edits by these two accounts are done almost simultaneously, so they belonged to different people.
MG: Maybe, it is worth doing the linguistic analysis, but it a comprehensive work, takes long time, and I do not have the appropriate tools. I would think that it is done by different people, but they are hired to create and supervise this pool.
DR: These are the brave conclusions you do.
MG: Obviously, we cannot know it for sure. It is my hypothesis.
DR: As far as I understand, those facts you have included in the request to check users are not all. You did not provide your edit-by-edit reasoning. As you were delving into the subject, you possibly became more and more convinced that there was a big conspiracy. However, now I clearly see the much smaller conspiracy of four or six users. A global conspiracy with the devised facility of two or three more persons still is not obvious to me. But, surely, I do not have such ‘delving’ experience of yours.
MG: Yes, I have considered each of their edits: the way they do the edits, how they patrol after each other. I see that some accounts specialize only on negative adding, others are interested only in editing articles about governors, and there are those combining the first and the second. That is why, I did not hesitate even a second when I published the request. Maybe, all this is not so obvious to an outside observer who luckily did not delve into the issue. We’ll see. I hope that the arbiters’ decision will make it clear to the community. As I have already said, the main result is achieved, their destructive activity is stopped. Besides, it will be difficult to create a new botnet from scratch.
DR: Okay, we will wait then for development of the story of the ‘group of twelve’.
- About deputies and Dissernet
DR: Do you believe that there is only one botnet in ruWiki?
MG: Yes, it is one in this very pool of articles. But if we take, for example, articles about deputes of the State Duma, which is 450 pages, I can see quite a number of the systemic spin doctors there.
DR: Does a spin-doctor promote one Duma deputy?
MG: Some spins promote many deputies. But, this is another pool not linked to the revealed group.
DR: Are you planning to go into this issue?
MG: I have the idea to undertake this investigation, but it is a quite massive work. It requires the analysis of all articles about the deputies. So, I will do a smaller research concerning Dissernet. Basing on edits in the articles about deputies and governor, I see their sharp reaction to the statements that they stole their theses and engaged users try to delete this information.
DR: Is it always necessary to save this information in articles? As a statement of Dissernet can be deemed an original source why do we think that it is an undoubtedly reliable source. Why are you sure that it has passed WP:WEIGHT?
MG: Firstly, Dissernet is formed by acknowledged scientists. By now, nobody has proved that Dissernet is wrong or at least contains many mistakes. All accusations addressed to the Dissernet have no grounds. Besides, much material from Dissernet concerning higher politicians appears in mass media as republishing.
DR: I would not say that Dissernet is never wrong. There is always a portion of ZoLUS remained without satisfaction. It occurs that revealed violations are admitted to be noncritical, while Dissernet presents them all as terrible offenders. In any case, there is much of the show in the Dissernet activity, despite of the great job it is doing.
MG: As far as I remember, Dissernet does not evaluate the thesis content or the scientific value of works. Its attitude includes a good deal of formality. It pays attention at borrowings from the earlier published works, the borrowings volume. Basing on this data, Dissernet states that the thesis is not unique. What it must be! This allows anyone to make further conclusions independently. In any case, it would be interesting to know how many attempts to delete the information about the Dissernet researches were.
DR: I only mean that, possibly, the individual attitude should be used at posting such materials. And you have to be more careful with wordings for the unsatisfied ZoLUSes, and doubly careful if it is yet to be considered.
MG: Sure. We should rely on WP:LIVE. This is the underlying rule however ignored by many experienced users. They often include in articles their convincement not supported by reliable secondary sources. I will try to be correct and accurate.
DR: Does it mean that you are planning to do it?
MG: Yes, I say, each potential research takes time. Actually, lots of time…
- About monitoring of Wikipedia
DR: Well, going back to the deputies’ spin-doctors. There are lots of them, possibly, several hundreds, each one promotes at least one deputy and it is not necessarily they are linked to each other. If you detect some of them, others will appear. It is not efficient to spend time on it. The problem should be solved in-system.
MG: And this is the problem caused by absence of the effective monitoring system. We can monitor new articles. We can monitor fresh edits. We can monitor separate articles. However, all the said does not allow watching the entire picture. As long as we do not have such tools, the situation at which a group can root in its standpoint will be undetectable.
DR: What shall we do then?
MG: I have got some ideas about how create such system. It would help detecting not only new destructive users but can be also helpful at monitoring the community health.
DR: Is the problem of the community health is up-to-date? And, how far can it be discussed without involvement of abstract notions?
MG: The matter is that, now, we do not know digitally what is going on at Wikipedia at all. Any speculation about health or ill health, about how to make the Wikipedia better …
DR: How did you drive to the conclusion on the ill health then? Did you do any research?
MG: From time to time, I look at the list of active editors. The number of them has long ago set on about ten thousand users who did at least one edit. We are entirely unable to understand how many out of these ten thousand users are active ones and how many bots are
DR: You can just look at the statistics, including the ‘activity’ criterion, so many edits per month….
MG: It is rather mechanistic, I would like to do a more rigorous research. Besides, it is strange that the Wikimedia Foundation does not provide any review with this regard. I have always thought that they have enough money to issue such reviews about health of local sections, at least for the major ones. Until we understand what is going on, we, in fact, cannot take informed decisions. The number of articles is growing every year and they exist unlike the editors. But, it also is also has the reverse side of the medal; fewer editors edit the ever-increasing number of articles. Even keeping the stable state of articles consumes the community resources. This is not to mention the fact that a good part of articles describe current matters and outdates every day. I can judge it by my articles. Take the article about museum. What, seems, can change there? Look, they planned to erect a new building for the museum, then, they refused from this plan, as a result the article needs updating and we have no authors to do it.
DR: Can automation be used to solve this problem? The increasing number of bots and smart bots, Wikidata can generate articles independently.
MG: Only partly. However, I think that the radiant future will come and the artificial intelligence , based on data arrays will be able to generаte a stub, if not an article, that did not exist before.
DR: It has been implemented already; we have some test articles. If you look at the code, you will see the reference to Wikidata and the script collects standard phrases to make a stub.
MG: Yes, but Wikidata has its own dark side in this case. If you want to add something to the article about your village, generated by the script using the wikidata information only, it will not be that easy, at least it is more difficult to do now than it was before when you just pressed ‘edit’ or ‘edit code’.
DR: Perhaps, it could be solved. For instance, create a template of author additions under the wikidata template and teach the artificial intelligence to combine these data into an article. We have already a similar thing in Wikinews: the news feed is formed automatically from headlines and anyone can manually add the text under a selected headline to describe this piece of news.
MG: Yes, it is possible. However, I think the effort put is not sufficient for this radiant future to come. Here I would put the blame on the Wikimedia Foundation, because they have money.
DR: I agree, money is allocated, but they assign it to projects like overcoming ‘gender gap‘. Its effectiveness for five years is about one percent, which is within the limits of statistical error.
MG: I prone to think that they have money plenty for everything. I remind a story occurred at a conference. I cannot remember now the name of the participant who coded the addition of the Open Street Map (OSM) to the cards. The Foundation pinched money; they did not pay several thousand dollars for the software application making all these things faster. It is a beggarly amount for the Foundation, while it would have produced the great positive impact on the community. After all the cards were done, but for many years before the cards appeared, volunteers had been taking screenshots manually in OSM and loading them to Wikimedia commons. In other words, we mix cement with spades instead of using the cement machine. If resources could be disengaged, we would use them for creating content.
DR: Could you work out the technical assignment for a system that would monitor the possible correction of users’ activities for a period?
MG: I believe, I could.
- About lack of resources
DR: Which other resources can be disengaged?
MG: On having reviewing the established vicious practices. Article about significant topics on ruWiki are sent by unknown reason on WP:KU, on which we have overflow of work that keeps growing.
DR: Perhaps, here the community need to demonstrate the element of will. There is a trend to improve articles only under the threat of deletion. It a common place, that a user starts to edit his article when he sees the threat of losing it, while all users feel their involvement in all articles, even if they did not write them. However, as the time goes on, this attitude works worse and worse and articles on significant topics are not only on the deletion list, but are deleted. It should be noted, that many articles for deletion are not bad. Besides, there is the rule WP:NOTNEWS which is another decease of the project. The rule is considered as a kind of guidelines like the original investigation ban WP:ORIGINAL or similar.
MG: NOTNEWS is strangely understood. In my opinion, this rule is not about current content of article, it is about topic. If a topic appears once or twice on the wave of ‘hipe’ to be never covered in media again, it is probably of no cyclopedia significance. However, some users think instead, that we may not use the news source. Of course, we should object it, as the wrong understanding of rules results in deletion of significant topics and repulsion of the experienced editors and newcomers.
DR: I agree, sometimes it seems that those who grounds the article deletion according to the rule have read it only till the shortcut. They think that NOTNEWS is their associative array linked to this word, while the rule contains another word.
MG: Yes, it is understandable and not so complicated. As a result we have long queues because ’For deletion’ is used instead of ’For improvement’. An article may be pending for a year or two at this template.
DR: I repeat, in my opinion it is the matter of will. I doubt whether it should be settled by means of requests to the Arbcom or complaints against the actions of overzealous ‘deleters’. Perhaps, a well-prepared poll will be helpful in this case, as, probably, it will confirm what is already written in the rule NOTNEWS and will put stress on the correct use.
MG: Yes, the rule can be supplemented upon results of such poll with the clarification that the rule must not be understood in a wrong way, that the rule is often understood like that, which is not correct. In sum, it would save the enormous number of person-years, while keeping media and news sources as the main ones for describing events in Wikipedia.
DR: Now practically any article about a new event is nominated for deleting, even it is quite clear that the event will figure in history, for example, a terrorist attack in a European country with hundreds victims. Moreover, users sometimes delete the non-event articles because they are linked to NOTNEWS, for example biographies, though they have nothing to do with the rule. I also can remember the long lasting attacks on ’Current events’ (In the news - WP) after it appeared on the headline ruWiki.
MG: It seems to me that partially this can be the reaction to imperfect articles about nowadays, as some people, I suppose, feel physical discomfort at seeing them posted. It seems to them that such articles would rather not exist.
DR: Or they would not like to see such articles at all. In my view, some users tend to get barriered from the outer world, isolate Wikipedia so that it would describe only ‘eternal issues’, what was described many times and many years ago.
MG: It could be like that. But I always ask: what is wrong if Wikipedia contains a hundred articles about terrorist attacks? We are not limited by number of articles. We do not spend paper on printing articles. We have no terms to which we are supposed to deliver a number of selected articles. On the contrary, we delete articles and demotivate users who are interested in these topics. After all, they could be writing afterwards not only about terrorist attacks. Some users consider Wikipedia as a supervalue and believe that an ordinary editor strives for staying in the community at all costs. But in fact, Wikipedia every day competes for person's attention with his job, family, unpaid loans, other thousand things. A person can be sitting with friends in a café, or have a nice walk. But, the person selects exhaustive search to make an article on some topic. Then the person is said ‘we will delete your contribution’ and he/she leaves.
DR: Yes, as a rule, he or she leaves quietly. A number of users have many positive contributions and they can leave demonstratively. This is a notable case for the community with requests not to leave etc. However, the common reaction is that the most of users cease editing.
MG: And we even do not know by what reasons. And, nobody does measurements. Suppose, one hundred newbies created non-advertising and known-useful edits in June. We do not check how many of them ‘survived’ in July, how many ceased their activity in August. We do not try to know why it happened; they did not have enough time, or they did not like something in Wikipedia, or they would like to change something, or there was something repelling them. I am saying this to return to the issue that we do not understand what the community is at actual practice. I have heard the opinion that if a user leaves Wikipedia, he or she was not prepared for it. But, why should he or she struggle?
DR: It is absolutely not clear why he or she should be tolerant in the aggressive environment.
MG: Particularly, when there are so many ways to apply ones creativity. One can post texts on external platforms or invest in personal resources, doing it now is easy like it never was before. We must do everything to make people select Wikipedia.
DR: But alas.
MG: Yes, a gender gap is a consequence of the inconvenient staying in the community. I think that if the community atmosphere improves regardless men or women, the women share will increase naturally. Instead, we are trying to cure a consequence of a complex decease. Banning Fram in English Wikipedia is one of many markers of the unhealthy atmosphere in the community. Fram is an active editor, at the same time he is ‘toxic’ with regard to many ones. And it is a big question how to measure his contribution objectively at the hamburg score. By the way, Russian mass media did not cover this story; it was discussed only on forums.
DR: Let us tell what the deal was.
MG: In two words; usually the decision about banning violators is taken inside the community. It is done by administrator in easy cases and by Arbcom in complicated ones. But in this case, a special committee of the Wikimedia Foundation arrived and banned the administrator for a year. Then the scandal went on the rise, because the foundation did not explain why they did it. The foundation only said general words about harassment without giving details. When one of the administrators unbanned Fram, the Foundation banned him again. This resulted in a huge conflict. The last time when I checked the information about it, almost twenty administrators withdrew as a sign of protest. The scandal went out far beyond the Wikipedia project and BuzzFeed’ published a vast article, which I translated in Russian and posted.
DR: What will be the end of the story?
MG: It is not clear yet. It is wider than the ordinary ban of Fram. It is about the boundaries of autonomy of the English section, and about the degree of interference of the Foundation in its operation. Something like that happened, in my knowledge, only in the [[w:Chechen section, at the time when separatists settled there and, ultimately, people from meta came there.
DR: But still it was another story. Everything was transparent there. The meta people (stewards) - they are not the same as the Foundation people, moreover, a request was filed with regard to the Chechen section. Was the request filed in Fram’s case?
MG: The Foundation has failed to disclose the details, no open letters were posted. The Foundation appeared out of the blue, banned and left, without giving any details. And they thought that it would ‘work out’. Why does the Foundation, having so many wonderful people on its staff, i.e. three hundred people, with specialists in community among them, do such sudden movements? The community of volunteers is not ready to swallow the insult, as it often occurs at commercial structures at which people work for remuneration and have more reasons to tolerate it.
- About paid editing
DR: Well, for afters, turn to people working for remuneration (laugh). Let us talk about the lawfully paid contributions. Tell how you came to this idea.
MG: I started editing the Wikipedia when I was doing my first year at higher school (December 2005 — WN). I got passionately interested in it.
DR: What was it that attracted you?
MG: I liked the idea of creating a consistent picture out of the chaos of information. You can do analysis, write an article and then others can use your work results. They need not do this work repeatedly. You save someone’s time. In principle, today, it works too.
DR: What did you write about at that time?
MG: It seems that the first edit was about Uranus. Then I got acquainted with people from Piter’s social circuit who wrote about Saint Petersburg. Soon afterwards, I turned to metapedism and became administrator. Then, I saw that there are wikepedians and the outer world with PR people who sometimes try to communicate with wikipedia. But, this people speak different languages and they often talk about the same things. They do not understand each other, which leads to conflicts and all of them spend time. And, I thought that I could be the buffer speaking wikipedish with wikipedians and the language comprehensible to PR people with the latter.
DR: The language of marketing?
MG: Yes, and remove the most part of conflicts. In principle, at the output, we should have good articles and resources for the full-time engagement in Wikipedia. It is my hypothesis, it still remains in my mind and I am convinced in it. For example, a student can afford doing edits in Wikipedia, because he has free time. Then he finds it difficult because the job and other things occupy his time. However, if you earn on the Wikipedia-related services, you can be engaged in Wikipedia full-time and involve long-headed guys, who, otherwise, would work in some other place.
DR: This hypothesis is fine. What does the community think about it?
MG: The community, to put it mildly, was wary of this intension. At that moment there were no rules regulating paid editing. It was a kind of terra incognita.
DR: Nonetheless, you could be banned for the conflict of interests.
MG: Yes. Actually, the community then drove to the conclusion that for the sake of safety the people engaged in the paid editing would not have any rights at all. At some moment (June 2014 — WN) the Foundation issued the Policy of paid contributions, if I remember it right, as a response to the incident of hacked network of accounts linked to major PR agencies. In fact, the Wikimedia Foundation applied the attitude used for the US public administration.
DR: Was it, in your opinion, a forced measure?
MG: It was both forced and absolutely natural. In any case, it was inevitable. If Wikipedia were a small marginal resource, it could do without it. Like the state was forced to adopt the policies on lobbyism at some time, the wiki-world was forced to adopt it too. Naturally, this global policy was ported to the Russian language, and since then one can legally undertake the paid editing.
DR: Irregardless of somebody’s likes or dislikes.
MG: It is another matter that practices accepted at the Russian-speaking community do not allow people occupied de-facto in the paid editing to declare about themselves as lobbyists did. When you announce that you are a paid editor you become the easy meat for ideological opponents who does not support the idea that Wikipedia should have the paid contributions. You, broadly speaking, become persecuted. I face it all the time even when I work on the non-commercial projects. Some users write to those people, including charity foundations, asking whether I got something in return. It is persecution in its pure form.
DR: Actually, it is not permitted at Wikipedia. When I was arbiter, there was a history with a user who addressed a complaint about another user to his job at non-commercial organization, trying to bring reputational damage beyond the Wikipedia boundaries. In punishment, his account was banned perpetually. Considering that you are working in Wikipedia full-time, it is what you do for your living... And the suspicions of those ones ‘inspecting’, as I understand, were ungrounded...
MG: Yes, of course. This disturbs people whom I work with. But, as I have a rather thick skin, and one cannot be different if one works at Wikipedia, I tolerate it as long as I can.
DR: I have heard from opponents of paid editing practically clear that the lawful paid editing is worse than the hidden one. Because it allegedly legitimizes or shifts the ’Overton window’ and everything like that. Well, you can see it by yourself, you have revealed the group of paid pushers, and instead of the gratitude to you for having done their job, these strugglers have posted the complaint against you on the forum.
MG: Perhaps, they are guided by the judgement: we turn a blind eye to the existence of the enormous 'black market' which we even do not try to evaluate by size, and trace a several users announcing themselves the paid editors whose contribution is on the surface. We do not have an instrument to assess the share of these editors on the market of paid editing, but I have a feeling that they are a drop in the ocean. Besides, it is extremely unlikely that paid editors steal topics, on which volunteers would like to write. Probably, their topics do not cross. When I worked pro bono on the review articles ’Homeless in Russia’ and ’Artificial abortions in Russia‘, I did not notice that somebody pretended to work on these topics.
DR: I have no doubt about it.
MG: We have too much work to do and so scarce authors who write the good texts, that we would arrange for persecution of each other.
DR: What is your forecast concerning development of the paid editing?
MG: I think that nothing will change in the nearest years. The registered-witch hunt will go on. It is repetition of the story about foreign agent law. They say, look, here is the law, register, just obtain the status of foreign agent and work. You obtain the status and actually cannot conduct the normal activity. The same is with Wiki.
DR: It comes that, law provokes you to violate law. How could we overcome this situation?
MG: The only way is to conduct a series of research to show the actual scale of this activity. Now, whatever topic we take, we do not have figures on it. This makes any discussion meaningless that comes down to defining winner as the loudest one. If we have figures, we will be able to prove our point of view and ask the opponent to provide figures too. Now, everything occurs by intuition, which is very strange, as it concerns a big project with the significant social importance.
DR: Wikipedia occurred as the evolutionary project and remains it now.
MG: The attitudes possible 10 years ago, when Wikipedia was smaller, are not too effective, to tell the truth. The community and the tools cannot develop as fast as Wikipedia does. They do not match its level of development. That is a problem.
DR: Wikipedia in any case is in a steady state. Can, even hypothetically, wide acceptance of the paid editing shift this balance and will a new equilibrium point be found? Roughly speaking, can one group of PR experts be balanced by another similar group to the overall satisfaction?
MG: Look we have a rule that should be obeyed. But, we are not motivated for obeying this rule and the punishment for non-compliance to this rule is not inevitable. The risk of being caught, for a PR expert who has failed to declare his conflict of interests, is not big.
DR: Nobody has the particular strive to catch him.
MG: Yes, if the risk were high and the punishment were inevitable …
DR: It would be significant for a user who has worked for his reputation and values it. If we are talking about a PR person who is interested in Wikipedia only for the sake of posting there one article promoting his company ... Well, if he fails the task, the company will substitute him with another person or will give up this idea, there are lots of ways get promoted.
MG: Both yes and no. Going back to the idea of monitoring, I say that it is a ‘l'idée fixe’ during the recent time. We do not accrue information about the articles used as the centers of attraction by PR experts. There are articles in which one or, maybe, ten affiliated editors not linked to each other were interested during a year period.
DR: Could it be that their management is more stubbornly supports the idea to promote via the Wikipedia article?
MG: Well, it could be an article not about company or person; but an article written on social topics or about the infrastructure issues.
- About sponsors and philanthropists
DR: Here you have run before my question. Imagine, that the situation develops in the way that Wikipedia having lots of good articles about people and companies, written in compliance with the rules, and lots of the poor-quality articles written on general and humanitarian topics; will see the time when customers will be ready to pay not only for the topics of their direct interest but also those aimed at bringing benefits to public. Will this time come?
MG: I remember from my experience when customers ordered articles on general topics. But, it is not evident to people or companies. The idea should be offered to them.
DR: By the way, we have already long practiced the some kinds of paid editing in the interests of public, that is contests: ‘Sister cities’, ‘’The History of Russian Entrepreneurship’, ’Learn arts and crafts’.
MG: Yes, this is another model.
DR: Sponsors are ready to take part in such projects; they understand the contest idea and they bear lower costs as compared to those of direct order of articles, plus the positive newsworthy event.
MG: Yes, regarding various hard topic, I say, that sometimes it is easier to earn on some obvious issues, and afterwards write on my own on an important topic, because searching a sponsor can be the time-and-labor consuming process with unknown result and the possible negative gain. For example, who would buy the topic ‘Tuberculosis in Russia’?
DR: To some philanthropist, however our philanthropist traditions pended at the before-revolution understandings, in the ideal case. We understand it if a philanthropist builds a church or a hospital.
MG: Yes, let us build a church, as it is visible and tangible.
DR: Philanthropy at the information technology century, at least in Russia has yet to form.
MG: This is the problem ‘hen or egg’. Unless you explain systematically and for a long time that it could be done like this, money will not be invested. Besides, the topic ‘let us write on the socially important issue and give the money for it’ is not such an obvious one as ‘this is an afflicted child, please give the money for treatment’. The latter is a more comprehensible argument, this is why, the topics about sick children and churches raise more money than that donated on preservation of wooden architecture or more complicated concepts.
DR: And what if you address to NCO? They receive grants and part of them should be spent on informing and the public awareness campaigns.
MG: I take as a premise that it is better not to take money there. They are actually short of money for their own needs. I consider NCO as a source of expertise. Sometimes they ask to write about them, however in the most of cases we make a draft article and ask them to approve it. The article about ‘OVD-Info’ is the latest one of such kind. As I am subscribed to the monthly donation there, I thought it logical to make the article look better. I wrote a draft, posted it and received the feedback from them, edited the article and it is fine. If I asked money from them, perhaps it would work, but I consider such activity as noncommercial.
DR: And what about commercial companies?
MG: With regard to businesses, I agree that it is necessary to promote the idea about possible investing in articles describing the reality in which businesses exist. For example, oil and gas companies could be financing articles about oil and gas, about fields, technologies, etc.
DR: Here, it is not everything clear. Such things usually go through tenders. In case of direct payment based on rates per article, it is more expensive and it is difficult to promote on it. Moreover, it may result in the opposite effect; unknown moneybags buy up the free encyclopedia articles and none will mention that are articles are good indeed.
MG: I agree, another difficulty here is how to present it properly. To add it, there are more complicated concepts, and those of higher level, such as a better tourist attractiveness of cities.
DR: Yes, address it to authorities.
MG: They are even more difficult to explain that it is a beneficial issue. For example, take articles about Saint-Petersburg in English; some issues are described, some yet to be described. I suppose that foreigners vising Saint-Petersburg, and there are plenty of them, would be interested in general article about the city and its sightseeing places. In sum, this would be beneficial for the city. Whom would I sell it?
DR: Try to sell it to Beglov.
DR: Why not? You come within office hours; I want to sell you a new touring reality. The next year will see the doubled flow of tourists.
MG: The thing is that it is difficult to measure. There is no method to prove why this pair of Americans have come to Saint-Petersburg or Moscow this year. But, I feel that it is important with back brain. That is how we live with our back brain difficult to sell.
DR: A lot have been recorded by now, and I think it will be the most profound interview I ever recorded.
MG: Because we discussed the complicated topics verbalized practically for the first time.
DR: I am grateful to you for the talk. It was interesting.
MG: I hope it was.