Category Archives: CAMELLE Digest

The Wikipedia’s Sins Revisited

Sam Vaknin, author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited” and Associate Editor of “Global Politician” gives an interview to Tiempo Magazine (Spain) in August 2009.

Q: A recent thesis published by a Spanish university states that the Wikipedia is changing some patterns and developing certain ways to increase the quality of the articles, mostly by enforcing discussion and organizational aspects… Do you still think that the Wikipedia is not an encyclopaedia?

A: The Wikipedia is the massive, structured blog of an online cult. The cult is dedicated to the agglomeration of information and disinformation (i.e. data) and its classification (in the form of articles). It also revolves around the personality of Jimmy Wales and his “disciples” and, in this sense, it is a personality cult and a pseudo-religion. The only thing the Wikipedia is not is an encyclopedia.

Encyclopedias are authored by people who are authorities in their respective fields; whose credentials are transparent and vetted by their peers; and who subject themselves to review by equally qualified people. The Wikipedia is authored and edited by faceless, anonymous writers and editors. The fact that they are registered means nothing as the vast majority of them still hide behind aliases and handles. Some of them have been proven to have confabulated biographies and fictitious self-imputed academic credentials.

Most Wikipedia articles sport references. But references to which material? Only experts know which books, articles, and essays are worth citing from! The truth is that the Wikipedians – many of them teenagers – cannot do the referencing and research that are the prerequisite to serious scholarship (unless you stretch these words to an absurd limit).

Research is not about hoarding facts. It is about identifying and applying context and about possessing a synoptic view of ostensibly unrelated data. The Wikipedians can’t tell hype from fact and fad from fixture. Many of them lack the perspectives that life, experience, exposure, and learning -structured, frontal, hierarchical learning – bring with them. Knowledge is not another democratic institution, it cannot be crowdsourced. It is hierarchical for good reason and the hierarchy is built on merit and the merit is founded on learning.

There is nothing new about the collaborative model that is the Wikipedia. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), first published in 1928, was the outcome of seventy years of combined efforts of 2,000 zealous and industrious volunteers. The difference between the Wikipedia and the OED, though, is that the latter appointed editors to oversee and tutor these teeming hordes of wannabe scholars. The Encyclopedia Britannica (and online encyclopedias such as Citizendium) are going this route.

Q: Your article ‘The Six Sins of the Wikipedia’ really became a reference since it was published 3 years ago. Anarchy was one of the sins you described in it. In fact, although the Wikipedia was called in the beginning a free and democratic project, after your report –and some other studies and books- Jimmy Wales and the directors stopped talking about democracy. Now they talk about the anarchy involved in all the process. Do you feel responsible for some of these changes?

A. My article has been read by hundreds of thousands of people and quoted widely in many online and offline media. Yet, it is not mentioned in the very long Wikipedia article which deals with criticisms of the Wikipedia. This shows you the true nature of the Wikipedia: censorship, petty grievances, bias, and one-upmanship are rife. Not exactly the hallmarks of an encyclopedia.

The Wikipedia is a veritable battlefield: many topics and personages are blacklisted and activist editors delete within minutes any mention of them. Another example: the Birther movement in the USA (people who challenge Barack Obama’s eligibility to become President based on his alleged birth place in Kenya). Though a fringe group, it is sufficiently prominent to have warranted repeated references in White House press conferences. Only the Wikipedia keeps ignoring it and deleting references to it in the Barack Obama article.

I do not believe that my article had any influence on the culture of the Wikipedia. Procedural matters are decided by a cabal headed by Jimmy Wales, whose grandiose cosmic-messianic vision of the Wikipedia shapes it. Wales reacts to criticism by tweaking and facelifting, not by offering fundamental changes of the model. This is because he truly adheres to the notions of creative anarchy, crowd wisdom, and emergent knowledge and because he doesn’t know the differences between data (raw material, some of it relevant) and knowledge (the finished product).

Q. There have been reported many errors in Wikipedia’s coverage of current news, mostly due to anonymous editors, partly fixed through the flagged edition system. Where’s the border between an encyclopedia and a website? Shouldn’t an encyclopaedia take some time to compile facts of events with some time to think and cool down the issue rather than “cover” an event?

A. Most print encyclopedias publish yearbooks. Perspective is important, but so are timeliness and coverage. The difference between the Wikipedia and other encyclopedias is that the cumulative knowledge base and authoritative authorship of the Britannica, for instance, endow even its yearbook with a modicum of timelessness. Wikipedia’s coverage, by comparison, is ephemeral and often misleading because the people who put it together are ignorant or prejudiced or both.

Q. How would you describe the Wikipedia in relation with other encyclopaedias?

A. I am an encyclopedia junkie. I collect work of reference, old and new. As far as I can judge, the Wikipedia’s coverage of the natural and exact sciences is pretty good. Its humanities articles are an unmitigated disaster, though: they are replete with nonsense, plagiarism, falsities, and propaganda. I know a bit about psychology, economics, philosophy, and the history of certain parts of the world. Articles dealing with these fields are utterly and sometimes dangerously unreliable.

Q. How is your relation with *Wikipedians*? Are you still one of their enemies?

A. I was invited to write a few articles for the Nupedia, the Wikipedia’s predecessor. When Larry Sanger, the Wikipedia’s true originator, started the Wikipedia, I was among the first to contribute to it and kept on contributing to it until 2003. I have never been an enemy of the Wikipedia. I am, however, against the cult that has developed around it and the fact that it misrepresents itself as an encyclopedia.

Q. Do you agree with your own points of view after three years?

A. Things have improved a lot since I have written the article. The Wikipedia is less chaotic; less anonymous; the articles more rigorously referenced. But these are cosmetic changes. In the essence, the six “sins” I identified way back still stand:

  1. The Wikipedia is opaque and encourages recklessness;
  2. The Wikipedia is anarchic and definitely not democratic;
  3. The Might is Right Editorial Principle (quantity of edits is valued over quality and relationships with other editors count more than knowledge);
  4. Wikipedia is against real knowledge because it is against experts and academic “elites”;
  5. The Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia and misrepresents itself as such;
  6. The Wikipedia is rife with libel and violations of copyrights.

Q. Do you regret of any of the six sins now that some things are changing in the WikipediaBusiness Management Articles, like the prohibition for anonymous users to edit?

A. There is no prohibition on anonymous users to edit. All the Wikipedia users are anonymous to this very day. The prohibition is on unregistered users to edit. Users need to have an account and to wait three days before they can contribute new articles or make major edits. User identities are still unknown as all of them hide behind aliases and handles.

I am sorry that Wales didn’t have the guts to go all the way and implement a model similar to the Citizendium and the Britannica: qualified editors to review the contributions and edits of the teeming masses and make sure that the Wikipedia is not the bloody and confusing mess that it is now.

Further information

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, and international affairs. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, Global Politician, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101. His website is:

Wikipedia – Using a Social Search Site to Drive Traffic to Your Website

Will social search sites such as Wikipedia, StumbleUpon, and Digg eventually become a viable alternative to Search Engines, to help drive traffic to your website? The fact of the matter is that nothing will ever replace or compete with the value behind search engine marketing.

If you dedicate the time, the resources, and you have the know-how, obtaining quality Search Engine listings can be invaluable. Nothing is better for a website operator than a “free” ad that generates traffic on an ongoing basis. If you are lucky enough to get a top listing for your product or service you can potentially generate more revenue or leads than a competitor with a much larger advertising budget but who doesn’t have those same results.

The online landscape is constantly changing and the growth of Web 2.0 as a viable marketing platform is changing the way we look at online marketing. Web 2.0 is described as a trend in World Wide Web technology and web design.

The most important element of this is a second generation of web-based communities and hosted services such as social-networking sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies, which aim to facilitate creativity, collaboration, and sharing among their users. We have reached an era where platinum selling music artists will direct fans to their MySpace page, rather than their own website. These sites help to create a social connection between the users, and are increasingly becoming an important method to get the word out about your company, product, or service.

There are such a broad range of sites in this field that you may be at a loss over where to start. Well, the bottom line is that it doesn’t really matter. Each one of these social media sites has its own unique advantages and methods that a website owner can use to promote their business. Some of the attributes that these websites all have in common include the ability to reach a targeted audience, reach customers in a specific geographic region, to get your message out their quickly, and most importantly… to do all of this for FREE.

One of the sites responsible for the growth in social media marketing is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is one of the top ten most popular sites on the Internet today, in terms of unique visitors. Wikipedia describes itself as “a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project.” What makes Wikipedia a social media website is the fact that it is written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. Wikipedia says “people of all ages and cultural and social backgrounds can write Wikipedia articles.” With rare exceptions, articles can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet. The idea here is simple, to contribute to, or write an article on a topic related to your particular business.

Before beginning to contribute to Wikipedia you must determine what your ultimate goal is; are you determined to increase traffic to your site, build brand awareness or increase the number of inbound links to your website. If the primary goal of your contribution is to increase traffic than the quantity and more important the quality of your contributions should be your focus. You need to make certain that once your submissions are read, the reader will find it interesting or informative enough to either follow the citation back to your site through a number of different methods, or to possibly incite a discussion of the article in the discussion tab of the Wikipedia article. Once you engage the reader you have converted them into a potential customer. Another important feature to use in Wikipedia is the creation of your profile.

When you make a contribution to an article you have the option to “sign your name”. This allows interested users to follow your signature to a profile of you, where it is possible to than direct the visitor to your website. If the goal of your social media campaign is to merely increase the number of inbound links than the most important consideration when contributing to Wikipedia is on relevancy. You need to be certain your contributions are relevant in order to ensure their staying power, so that other users do not edit your submissions.

One of the most important and useful feature on Wikipedia for those of us looking to use it as a marketing method is the “External Links” section. This section appears at the bottom of every article. It is, as you might expect, a list of external links related to the content in the article.

It goes without saying that you will have very little success if you simply add a link to your commercial website on every page that you can find. They will be deleted almost as soon as they are posted. However, if you have, or can make, pages on your website that are dedicated to providing very useful information to a specific subject, you will be successful.

Many business owners are experts in their particular fields and there is no reason not to take advantage of the “Expert” title when writing your articles. These pages should be related to the products or services that you offer. They should not be blatant advertisements for your site or contain sales related material. They can, and should, however, offer a very easy navigation system that would allow the user to access the rest of your website and thereby convert them into a potential customer.

At the bottom of every article on Wikipedia is a reference list. The purpose of this list is to give proper credit to the source of information contained in the article. If you have added information to an article that is either quoted directly from your website, or extrapolated from information on your website, than you can reference the URL of your site in the reference section of Wikipedia.

The most important aspect to consider when contributing to Wikipedia is to focus on the right topic. You do not want to pick a topic that is too broad, or you will be competing against a large group of contributors, and more importantly your article will probably be edited frequently from your original text and you might lose your references.

You also will not want to pick a topic that is too specific, you may have a great addition to an article on “antique mahogany rocking chairs from the mid to late ottoman empire” but nobody will read this, because nobody will be searching for it, and it will most likely be edited out of the article.

The solution is to pick a topic somewhere in the middle. An article addition about “Chair Armrests” would probably draw allot more interest than the previous idea without the fear of being pushed out. You have to keep in mind that just because we are adding a contribution to an article does not mean that it will be read or even kept in the article.

A great tool to ultimately get a potential customer from the external links section of Wikipedia to your website is the use of e-zine articles. If you write an article on a subject related to your business, and you link it to Wikipedia directly through your website there is a possibility that it will be deleted by other users. Many users on Wikipedia are very much against the commercialization of information, and will view your link as an attempt to profit, not as an added resource of information.

This is unfortunate, because often times an article written by a business owner can act as both. The solution to this problem is to submit your articles to free e-zine article websites such as or When you submit your article to these sites you are given the opportunity to list some external resources, this is a good place to link you’re website.

These sites will generally accept any article that is written following their guidelines, which basically tries to limit inappropriate material, copyrighted material and advertisements that are crudely modified to look like informative articles. When your article is posted on one of these websites it will give the author another layer of credibility. It is a good idea to link your articles from one of these websites in order to help maintain its existence on Wikipedia.

By nature, social media websites are constantly changing and these are just a handful of the methods that you can use to promote your website on Wikipedia. There is new information and new methods of marketing available almost on a daily basis. The key to being able to stay on top of these changes is to get involved with these websites as soon as possible, even if that means just becoming a member yourself. Once you are a member you have the ability to learn how they function and to see what other businesses are doing to advertise themselves with these websites. Social media websites offer unique opportunities, when you become a member of a community it often lends you a certain amount of trust and credibility that will help to separate you from the competitor who is selling their product out of a box in the corner of a monster search engine.

Further information

For more from Andrew Catalano visit:

Wikipedia vs. Britannica – Interview with Tom Panelas

Tom Panelas is the Encyclopedia Britannica’s Director of Corporate Communications.

Q. Is the Wikipedia an encyclopedia in any sense of the word?

A. I don’t think it’s crucial that everyone agree on whether Wikipedia is or is not an encyclopedia. What’s important is that people who might use it understand what it is and how it differs from the reference works they’re used to. Wikipedia allows anyone to write and edit articles, regardless of their knowledge of the subjects on which they’re writing, their ability to write, or their commitment to truth. This policy has allowed Wikipedia to grow large very fast, but it’s come at a price.

The price is that many of its articles are inaccurate, poorly written, long and bloated, or laden with bias and spin. Despite what some people would like to believe about Wikipedia, that its system is self-correcting, many inaccuracies remain for long periods of time, new ones are added, and, judging from quite a few media reports, sound information posted by people knowledgeable on a subject is often undone by others who know nothing about it. This is a natural result of the way Wikipedia is put together, its willingness to let anyone write and edit and unwillingness to give precedence to people who know what they’re talking about. People who use Wikipedia should be aware of these liabilities.

Q. The Britannica used to be freely accessible until it was converted, a few years back, into a subscriber-only resource. Do you regret this decision? Perhaps if the Britannica were to provide a free authoritative alternative to the Wikipedia, it would still be the first stop of seekers of information online?

A. We don’t regret the decision to charge a subscription fee for the premium portions of Britannica Online. Today our site has thousands of free articles, and those who subscribe to our premium service pay a fraction of what it cost for access to a high-quality, reliable encyclopedia only a few years ago. About a hundred million people worldwide have access to the Encyclopaedia Britannica online, through schools, libraries, and universities, and they don’t pay for it at all.

Britannica has indeed become an alternative – not just to Wikipedia but to all of the unreliable information that courses through the public sphere these days, much of it on the Internet. The Web has been great for enabling publishers like us to reach many more people than we ever could before, but it’s also made it possible for errors, propaganda, and urban myths to appear in the guise of factual truth. As more people realize that the contents of the Internet are often not what they seem to be, they’ve turned to sources like Britannica, which apply the same rigorous standards to our online products that we have always used inall of our products.

Q. “Nature” compared the Wikipedia to the Britannica and resolved that both suffer, more or less, from the same rate of errors. You hotly disputed these findings. Can you elaborate?

A. The Nature article was bogus. Responsible people who paid attention to the facts understand that it’s been discredited and don’t even cite it. We spent twenty single-spaced pages rebutting it, so there’s little need for elaboration beyond that. You can read what we said here. You can also read what USA Today said and what Nicholas Carr had to say about it.

Q. Peer-reviewed, professionally-edited reference works do have their shortcomings (elitism, conservatism, lack of pluralism, limitations of information available to the scholars involved). “Egalitarian” communal efforts like the Wikipedia do unearth, at times, data not available in “old-fashioned” encyclopedias. Moreover, the Wikipedia offers a far wider range of coverage and real-time updates. Can’t it complement the Britannica? Can’t the two even collaborate in some ways?

A. It’s a myth that professionally edited reference works are limited or elitist. On the contrary, using a rigorous editorial method that draws on people who have spent their lives mastering their subjects produces an excellent balance in perspective. We always direct our contributors to include all major controversies in their surveys of a subject, whether those points of view are fashionable or not. This approach produces good articles for lay readers, who are the people who use encyclopedias. When the work is done by volunteers who aren’t adept at this kind of work, the results often settle into a comfortable consensus that favors the viewpoint in vogue among the group of people doing the work.

Usually Free Web Content, it’s the people who are trained and experienced in going beyond their own points of view that manage to do it well.

Further information

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, Global Politician, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101. His website is:

Wikipedia and the Credibility of Online Information

The Wikipedia was touted as the greatest reference work in history. A collaborative effort of contributors and editors across time and space, it bloated into hundreds of thousands of articles on subjects both deserving and risible. Anyone with a connection to the Internet and a browser can edit the Wikipedia, regardless of his or her qualifications to do so.

Events in 2005-6 exposed the underbelly and weaknesses of this mammoth enterprise. Entries are routinely vandalized, libel and falsities often find their way into existing articles as a way to settle scores, manipulate public opinion, or express outrage.

The prestigious magazine “Nature” studied Wikipedia articles on the sciences and found them similar in quality to peer reviewed and edited encyclopedias. Indeed, the problems cluster around the entries that deal with the softer edges of the human experience (where everyone feels qualified to comment and edit): the social “sciences”, the humanities, arts and entertainment, politics, current affairs, celebrities, and the like. It is there that “edit wars” and thrashing are most ripe. The result is that nigh close to 90% of the Wikipedia contain highly dubious material and attract the least qualified “experts” and “editors”.

This seems to prove the point that the gaining and preservation of knowledge should not be subjected to a democratic process (or, as in the Wikipedia’s case, mob rule). As the promoters of “intelligent design” are finding out, what we learn cannot and must not be decided by vocal protests and voting.

The acquisition of expertise and its propagation across the generations by means of works of reference should remain an elitist endeavor. The mechanisms of peer-review and editorial board are far from fail-proof. But they do guarantee a modicum of accuracy and objectivity which the Wikipedia gravely fails to do.

There are examples of online encyclopedias that actually adhere to basic principles: their authors and editors are qualified to write about the topics they have chosen or have been assigned, and the entries are largely accurate and unbiased. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) is one example. The Open Site Encyclopedia is a hybrid, a cross between the Wikipedia and the SEP models. Still, they haven’t been able to attain the stature of the likes of the Encyclopedia Britannica or even the Encarta.

But there is a larger issue at stake. Is the Internet a reliable and credible source of information?

People are conditioned to trust written words, not to mention images. “I read it in the paper” or “As seen on TV” are worn out but still effective clichés. The Internet combines both the written and the seen. It is both a textual and a visual (and audio) medium. Do people trust Internet content? Is the incredible Internet – credible?

In the “brick and mortar” world, credibility is associated with brands. A brand, in effect, guarantees the quality and specifications of a product (think McDonald’s hamburgers), its performance (think Palm), level of service and commitment to customer care (Amazon), variety, or price (Wal-Mart). Brands are sustained and enhanced by advertising campaigns. The content or sales pitch of specific ads are often less important than the message conveyed by the very existence of a campaign: “This company is rich enough (read: stable, reliable, trustworthy, here to stay) to spend millions on advertising.”

The Internet has very few brands (Yahoo!, Amazon) – and some of them are tarnished. Some “old media” brands have entered the fray (Barnes and Noble, The Wall Street Journal, the Britannica) – hitherto without much success. The overwhelming bulk of Web content is created or disseminated by small time entrepreneurs and monomaniacs.

So, how does one establish or acquire credibility in such a diffuse and anarchic medium?

Enter Stanford University’s “Web Credibility Project”.

They define themselves thus:

“Our goal is to understand what leads people to believe what they find on the Web. We hope this knowledge will enhance Web site design and promote future research on Web credibility. As part of this ongoing project we are:

a.. Performing quantitative research on Web credibility.
b.. Collecting all public information on Web credibility.
c.. Acting as a clearinghouse for this information.
d.. Facilitating research and discussion about Web credibility.
e.. Helping designers create credible Web sites.”
Examples of current projects:

Timeliness: How does having out-of-date content affect the credibility of a Web site?
Interaction: How does having a personalized interaction with a Web site affect its credibility?
Negative Content: How does displaying negative content associated with a branded web site affect the credibility of the brand?

It is useful to confine ourselves to this definition of trust:

“The subjective belief, perception, or conviction that information provided is true, factual, and objective, and that commitments undertaken, explicitly, or implicitly, will be honored fully and in a timely manner.”

Such perception, belief, or conviction are based on:

  • Past experience in general (with spam, with merchants, or providers, with a similar product category, with the same type of content, etc.) and personal proclivity to trust or to distrust.
  • Experience with the specific merchant or provider (whether personal or gleaned from other people’s feedback – reviews, complaints, and opinions).

There is little that a merchant can do about the former. The latter is, expectedly, influenced by:

  • Professionalism (as evident in Web site design, e-commerce facilities, user-friendliness, navigability, links to other relevant Web pages, links from other Web sites, ease and speed of download, updated content, proofreading, domain name which matches the company’s name, availability, multilingualism, etc.);
  • Trustworthiness (lack of bias, good intentions, truthfulness, thoroughness, objectivity, expertise and author credentials, knowledgeable sources and treatment, citations and bibliography), and what the authors of the research call “Real World Feel” (physical address, phone/fax numbers, non-Web e-mail address, photos of facilities and staff, audio recording, ownership by a not for profit organization, URL ending with ORG);
  • Commercial Web sites are less trusted. Cluttered ads, paid subscriptions, e-commerce enabled forms – all reduce the site’s credibility! This is especially true if the entire site is a one, big ad and when it is hard to distinguish ads from content;
  • Track record (how veteran is the merchant, past financial performance, credit history, brand name recognition, lists of customers, etc.);
  • Selection (how many products are carried, how often is inventory refreshed, etc.);
  • Advertising (is the company’s business sufficiently lucrative to support a campaign?);
  • Service (good service indicates a reassuring readiness to sacrifice the bottom line to cater to the customer’s legitimate concerns, feedback forms, live support, etc.);
  • Full disclosure of rates, prices, privacy policy, security issues, etc.;
  • Feedback from other users (opinions, reviews, comments, FAQs, support groups, etc.);
  • Site rating and certification by trustworthy agencies (like the Better Business Bureau – BBB, VeriSign, TRUSTe) – or awards won (from credible and reputable organizations).
  • Links from other, well-known and believable Web sites.


The Credibility Web discovered that trust in e-commerce is also influenced by idiosyncratic factors. Certain domain names (org) are more trusted than others (com). Too many ads, broken links, typos, outdated or old content – all diminish trust. In the absence of proven markers and behavioral guidelines, people seem to resort to extrapolation (“if they can’t maintain their own Web site…”) and stereotypes (e.g., NGO’s are more trustworthy than corporations).

As Web sites proliferate (Google indexes well over 3 billion now) and Web authoring becomes a routine task – the noise to signal ratio of garbage to useful information is bound to deteriorate. Search engines already incorporate crude measures of credibility in their rankings (e.g., the number of links from external Web sites). But, to remain useful, search engines (and Web directories) would do well to rate Web content more comprehensively and thoroughly. They should rank Web sites by authoritativeness, reliability, and objectivity, for instance.

Research shows that 75% of all respondents resort to the Internet as a primary information provider. The inundation of irrelevant material caused most surfers to confine their surfing to 10 Web sites (the equivalent of “anchors” in shopping malls) which they deem reliable, timely, accurate, objective, authoritative, and credible. The rest of the Internet gets the leftovers. This worrying trend can be reversed only through the emergence of independent and commercially-viable rating agencies. Web sites (at least the business ones) should be willing to pay for credible rating to enhance their stickiness and attract monetizable “eyeballs”. In the absence of such third party accreditation, the Internet risks both irrelevance and disrepute.

Further Information

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, Global Politician, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He is the the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101. His website is: