The BBC, Jamie Kane and Wikipedia
As one of the people involved with the BBC's Points of View messageboard I'm always fascinated by the way the BBC interacts with community sites, and over the weekend a story has developed which has been almost as intriguing as the game it has been about.
In a classic case of Wiki retribution, the entry on Wikipedia about Jamie Kane, from the BBC's interactive game of the same name, (at the time of writing I hasten to add) now contains "Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow", and has been completely rewritten to be about the game itself. That would surely not be the aim of a concerted viral marketing campaign, which the BBC was accused of when the article about the fictional character first appeared "as fact". [I add 'at the time of writing' because by this afternoon the article on Wikipedia had attracted over 80 edits in the space of just a couple of days as it was re-versioned and revisioned].
Firstly I think that the Jamie Kane/Wikipedia incident provides an interesting contrast with the BBC Three DOG debacle last week. I'm not sure whether this is because the BBC has responded 'better', or because of the particular nature of the interaction when it is blogs and a wiki discussion page doing the finger-pointing. This time the BBC have been able to use the 'right to reply' functionality that commenting on blogs and wikis gives you. I remember well that at the start of the year, when the BBC seemed besieged electronically, if not physically, by organised protest against the showing of the award-winning musical "Jerry Springer: The Opera" we didn't have one single place that the BBC could post a definitive reply. Likewise with BBC Three, the accusation was a diffuse group of people, rather than concentrated in two places on the web (Wikipedia itself and Boing Boing that formed the hub for blog responses to the story).
In the case of Jamie Kane, Rob Cooper got in touch with Boing Boing, to attempt to put the record straight:
I'm Rob, the Senior Producer on the Jamie Kane game. A couple of people have emailed the BBC asking for an official response to the Jamie Kane/Wikipedia thing. If you guys still have space for it, would you mind adding in the following, as there seems to be some confusion:
"Just to confirm, the BBC would never use Wikipedia as a marketing tool. The first posting was simply a case of a fan of the game getting into the spirit of alternative reality a little too much. The follow up posting was made by a fan of the game who happens to work for the BBC and was made without the knowledge of anyone in the Jamie Kane Team or BBC Marketing."
I was also interested in the way it demonstrated a growing maturity about Wikipedia as a platform for information. Firstly that a fictional character would attract the desire to create a 'factual' entry, and secondly with the way the community handled it. It emphasized what the LA Times had done so wrong a few weeks back, when their wiki editorial was defaced and they and the media industry threw their hands up and said "wikis don't work" - because they had used a wiki without having built the community to use a wiki. Wikipedia's strong community identified the cuckoo in their nest and effectively threw it out themselves, by being transparent about what had happened. Additionally by allowing a trusted community the keys to every page it decreases the potential response time to any misuse of the wiki.
No doubt there will be a raft of mainstream news media article picking up on this entry and claiming it proves that the Wikipedia isn't useful as an information resource. Wrong. It proves that anything in the Wikipedia should be examined beyond just that article to check its credibility. The 'history' function in wikis is a brilliant tool for tracing the evolution of an article, and if everyone looked at the history page before accepting it at face value (and in doing so, clearly see 99% of malicious entries), that'd be a great start. If everyone used other resources (not just Google, but that's be another good starting point) to check these articles, even better. The best outcomes to these sort of debates/controversies is to that [sic, for 'take'?] on board that all media and all resources are open to errors and manipulation. The wikipedia is much more public and much more immediate than many in this respect, but it is true of any resource. If users, readers and citizens everywhere took this example as a lesson to be critical of your sources no matter what they are or where they come from, the world would suffer far less misinformation. Critical thinking is healthy, it is desirable, and it makes for better democracies. The wikipedia thus has lessons for us all, far beyond their many excellent entries.