Pretty much as soon as I got my Wikipedia blog post up on Friday Roo Reynolds, who looks after social media at BBC Vision (which is what they used to call Television), posted on his own blog some guidance he’s written for Wikipedia wannabes at the BBC. His guidance was originally available on an internal BBC wiki but Roo thinks there’s no harm having it available to the rest of the world on his blog.
We had a chat about this today and discussed turning it into a more formal document and posting it at the BBC’s Future Media Standards & Guidelines web site. Roo might consider that but, since it’s now visible to the world there’s probably no need for the time being.
It might be more interesting – and certainly more useful to other organisations who want to make a positive contribution to the Wikipedia project – to package Roo’s guidance and publish it under a creative commons licence so that it can be used and extended by others. That’s exactly the kind of openness I’m talking about here.
Nick Reynolds, BBC Internet blog editor, also chipped in with some words on this topic written earlier in the year. Nick says “Wikipedia’s values are the BBC’s values”. I agree with him, with some reservations. In particular, Wikipedia’s values are not necessarily those of the BBC because Wikipedia’s values are not necessarily very clear at all. And they’re certainly not locked down and defined in a forest of foundation documents like a Royal Charter and dozens of policies and guidelines.
And, to finish, I think it’s definitely worth linking to the opinions of an interesting Wikipedia dissident, Carl Hewitt, information scientist, who thinks that Wikipedia’s dictatorial structure and deliberate exclusion of all but ‘conventional wisdom’ makes it essentially corrupt. He says that Wikipedia is “an infoCommune and not an encyclopaedia” and wants reform.
Hewitt’s a bit kooky but objections like his are going to keep coming up—and they’re going to get more coherent and better organised—as long as Wikipedia is run essentially by an individual (Jimmy Wales) and his circle of pals. This is exactly why I want the BBC involved: not with an eye to taking it over or changing its direction or even, conversely, as a statement of support for Wales and his eccentric system of governance but as an engaged contributor and an opinionated stakeholder, alongside thousands of others.
Wikipedia has already become the backbone of the semantic web and the number-one resource for learners on the Internet. For the BBC to stand aside from the evolution of the biggest public service knowledge store in history would be a real abdication of its network-era responsibilities. Wikipedia needs the BBC, and not just at arm’s length via the API but up close, in the database, as a contributor and co-builder.