Wikipedia and the Kitchen & Bath Industry

Wikipedia is the successful online encyclopedia that has had an enormous impact on how people find information. Have you considered what your customers will find if they look for information about your company or your products on Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is the seventh most popular Web site globally, ranking behind only Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, Live and the Chinese language search engine Baidu. On an average day, 12% to 14% of all global Internet users will visit Wikipedia at least once.

A Wikipedia article will almost always show up at or near the top of Google search results for any keywords that correspond to an existing Wikipedia article. With over 3.5 million English language articles, and versions available in over 250 languages, its influence is truly global.

Anyone can edit Wikipedia, which leads some to the mistaken conclusion that it is unreliable. Actually, Wikipedia’s accuracy compares well to traditional printed encyclopedias, but it is vastly larger in coverage. Although anyone is free to participate, most of the writing and editing is done by a worldwide team of volunteers. Quality control is based on a set of policies and guidelines intended to improve the accuracy and usefulness of the encyclopedia and to speed the deletion of flawed articles.

About 18 months ago, I decided to join the team of Wikipedia editors, and since then, I’ve written 30 new articles and significantly expanded about 70 others. I’ve learned enough about Wikipedia’s policies to be able to offer advice about how to avoid pitfalls in editing to provide better information about companies and their products.

Wikipedia’s purpose is to provide neutral, factual information, not to advertise or promote anything. If a neutral, accurate article about your company is something you would find useful, then working on a Wikipedia article is worth considering.

Five Pillars

There are five basic principles of Wikipedia, commonly referred to as the “Five Pillars.”

  1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a forum for advertising or self-promotion. Accordingly, articles must be about notable topics and based on reliable sources, completely independent of the subject of the article. If you want to have an article about your company, begin by gathering articles about your company from newspapers, magazines and professional Web sites. Amateur blogs don’t qualify. You will need to prove that your company is notable by Wikipedia’s standards – not just your own. Major manufacturers should qualify easily, but dealers, distributors and fabricators may have a harder time.
  2. Wikipedia is written from the neutral point of view, representing in a balanced way what all reliable sources say about a topic. Experienced editors will remove or rewrite promotional language on sight. If a magazine article praises your company, it is acceptable to quote that praise, but you aren’t allowed to write the praise yourself.
  3. Wikipedia is free content. The text is licensed as freely available for re-use by anyone. Copyright infringements, even use of material from your own Web site or literature, are not tolerated, with very limited “fair use” exceptions. Copyrighted material must be freely licensed for use by others before adding it to Wikipedia.
  4. Wikipedia is a collaboration among legions of volunteer editors, based on respect and civility. If other editors ask questions, answer them. If your article is criticized, do your best to improve it in response to the criticism. Be aware that other editors may make changes. You don’t own a Wikipedia article just because you start it.
  5. Always focus on improving the encyclopedia. This doesn’t mean that the rules are irrelevant, but they should be thought of as guidelines leading toward the goal of improving the encyclopedia.

Industry Coverage

So, how well does Wikipedia cover the kitchen and bath industry? I made a list of 50 notable companies, brands and trade associations prominent in our industry, including major manufacturers of countertop materials, cabinets, appliances and plumbing fixtures. Then, I checked Wikipedia to see if I could find articles about these topics.

The good news is that 72% of those companies and groups already have Wikipedia articles. The bad news is that few of these articles are all that good. In particular, only 31% of these articles are properly referenced to independent reliable sources (your own Web site doesn’t count), so they are in danger of being eliminated or severely altered. Only 46% of these articles have the company or brand logo, and very few have photos of well-known products. Only a handful present an in-depth, well written overview of the subject.

The quality of Wikipedia articles related to countertop fabrication is mixed. There are decent articles called “Countertop,” “Surface Fabricator,” “Engineered Stone” and “Solid Surface.” “Formica” is a decent article, but “Corian” and “Zodiaq” are not very good at present. “Avonite” is a brief article, but there are no articles at all on “Wilsonart” or “CaesarStone.” “Silestone” redirects to “Countertop.” In my opinion, all of these articles can be improved.

Be aware that editors are discouraged from working on articles about their employers or personal financial interests, unless this relationship is openly disclosed. “Conflict of interest editing” is frowned upon, and usually detected through automated analysis of editing patterns. Even editors who disclose their conflicts openly are expected to defer to the judgment of disinterested editors to ensure neutrality. However, representatives of the subjects of articles are openly encouraged to discuss proposed improvements on the behind-the-scenes “talk page” that accompanies each article, and to upload images such as company logos and photos of representative products.

An attitude of “ownership” of articles is not allowed. If there’s an article about your company, it is subject to revision by any other editor acting in good faith and referencing reliable sources. The goal is to achieve consensus about the topic. If you can’t accept others editing an article you write, don’t bother writing it.

Understanding how Wikipedia operates behind the scenes can take a bit of study and experience, but any volunteer editor who gets involved with an open mind and commitment to improving the world’s most comprehensive encyclopedia is welcome. A new editor who takes a patient, calm attitude, and is willing to work on the basis of building consensus can improve a weak article or help create an excellent new article.

Lacking expertise in Wikipedia’s procedures, the best way to improve an article about a company you work for is to collaborate with an experienced and uninvolved editor. Paid editing is strongly discouraged on Wikipedia, but charitable donations as an incentive for successful editing are considered acceptable. I will assist any notable player in the kitchen and bath industry with a Wikipedia article, if a donation is made to the Wikimedia Foundation or the American Cancer Society. Contact me at JimHeaphy52@gmail.com if you are interested.

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