Microsoft: Lessons in how to look stupid

by Mathew on January 24, 2007 · 5 comments

Coming so soon after the Microsoft “here’s a free Ferrari laptop” campaign, the recent kerfuffle (or is it a brouhaha?) over the company’s attempt to doctor an unfavourable Wikipedia entry shows that someone at the giant software maker needs to get a clue when it comes to social media. All the well-meaning rationalizations aside, paying someone to change an entry is offside, period — and when you’re Microsoft, all it does is reinforce the impression that you’re the Evil Empire.

Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests is no doubt right that this happens all the time, but that doesn’t make it right. And I know that from the sounds of it, this wasn’t an official Microsoft campaign to alter Wikipedia on the sly — according to this comment at Slashdot, a developer came up with the idea on his own and approached someone who he thought could add some balance.

astroturf.jpg

Still, someone has got to get it through the thick heads in Redmond that the best of intentions aren’t going to help Microsoft when it comes to this kind of thing. It is inevitably going to be perceived as a big-footed behemoth, trampling all over whoever and whatever it needs to in order to get its message out. The programmer in question has said he was frustrated because his attempts to discuss the issue of balance weren’t getting anywhere.

So why not blog about it loudly and clearly and build support that way? Instead, he tried to take a shortcut — and that looks bad, no matter how you slice it. What if Microsoft approached someone and offered to pay them for writing a letter to a magazine or newspaper pushing for a positive spin on the company’s products (which it did during the anti-trust trial)? This looks just as bad.

Update:

Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 thinks that Wikipedia is too powerful (and Rex Hammock seems to agree), and that the Microsoft employee was justified in doing what he did, because the process for changing things in Wikipedia is broken. Don Dodge thinks the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. And Mike Arrington is upset because Dare Obasanjo — apparently trying to make a point — edited the Wikipedia entry about TechCrunch to include allegations about Mike having conflicts of interest. Mike also has some further thoughts on the issue and has done some investigation into the whole “Wikipedia is broken” idea.

  • Stu

    So to correct errors on the Wiki pages, he’s supposed to “blog about it” and hope that they’ll magically get changed by someone happening to read his blog? You’ve got to be kidding.

  • Mathew Ingram

    Stu, I didn’t say that was the *only* thing he should be doing — just that it might help, in addition to arguing his case in the approved way at Wikipedia itself. Trying to do an end-run around the process just makes Microsoft look devious.

  • http://drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    This Wikipedia stuff drives me nuts. I hate the idea that if something isn’t right about someone or in this instance, an entity, it can’t be corrected by the one who has the most accurate information.

    Yes, it was stupid for Microsoft to think of paying a blogger to correct it. At the same time, it must be incredibly frustrating (particularly for a public company) to have incorrect information sitting on Wikipedia that they cannot correct.

    If Wikipedia really wants to preserve the integrity of what they’ve created, they at least should allow for the subject of the entry to add a response to what’s there.

  • Mathew Ingram

    I think that’s what the discussion pages are for, Karoli — although I wouldn’t describe myself as Wikipedia expert by any means.

  • http://drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    The problem with the discussion pages is that they are “unofficial” and opinion-based. This is a flaw in the current system that ends up making people look terrible when they try to set the record straight.

    With that said…stupid, stupid people who decided that paying someone to make the change would be a good thing.

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