Live from DMA07: A Little Respect Goes a Long Way: Jimmy Wales Guides Marketers Through the World of Wikia
October 17, 2007 — Today, NeXt Gen marketer Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, president of Wikia Inc. and founder of the hugely popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, addressed DMA07 delegates on a subject dominating the marketing arena today: “User-Generated Media: Leading the Marketing Mix in the Digital Era.”
Wikipedia, according to Wales, was created with a radical idea: “Imagine a world where every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” By creating Wikipedia, the ninth most popular site on the Internet, Wales has taken concrete steps toward fulfilling his vision. Wikipedia currently incorporates 66 languages. “We would claim 67,” Wales said, “but we don’t count Klingon as a real language.”
Wikipedia, he explained, is a freely licensed repository of information – which means that its content can be copied, modified, and redistributed both commercially and non-commercially. Those who contribute to Wikipedia, Wales asserts, are adding to the store of humankind’s general knowledge.
In contrast, Wikia, a completely new and separate organization, will stand for everything else in the library, Wales said. “The concept is to create every other kind of book, expanding to all kinds of subjects.” Also freely licensed, Wikia is more like a collaborative blog, containing in-depth guides, news, opinion, and a magazine rack.
Wales explained the difference between Wikia and Wikipedia by way of example. Wikipedia has about 300 articles on the Muppets, “which would seem to be plenty.” But the Wikia community has already built more than 15,000 articles on the subject, and they are just getting started. “I find that mind-boggling!” said Wales. The “Muppet Community” works to document every aspect of the Muppets, going far beyond what would be traditionally covered in an encyclopedia. The stories are covered by people who are very passionate about the topic.
Responsible for Wikipedia and its sister projects is a nonprofit foundation called Wikimedia, which is supported primarily by small donations all over the world.
Wales said he is now working on developing a search engine based on the same ethical principals as Wiki and Wikipedia: “transparency, quality, privacy, and open-source.”
In the tradition of Wikipedia’s user guidelines, Wales encourages users of the new media platform to practice mutual respect. When it comes to marketing in consumer-generated space, the caution and respect should continue. “You can’t just come on Wiki and market something.” In addition to ethical issues, such behavior is also very counter-productive from a business point of view. Simply posting a piece about a new product – or adding links to already existing pages to direct traffic to a commercial site, Wales explained, is likely to result in deletion. Much worse, those who persist in this kind of activity face blockage and blacklisting.
Wales advises those who find inaccuracies in legitimate articles they have already posted on Wikipedia, to go the discussion page, openly identify themselves, and let the community know about the error or bias. They can then provide a link to their Web site where they can explain their side of the story, or reference an article that explains it better. “Treat the community with respect,” advised Wales, “and they will respond very well.” Unfortunately, Wales said, most complainants simply delete the controversial section, and use the discussion page to rant and threaten lawsuits.
Wales further advised marketers to think about consumer-generated space the same way they would think of space in the real world , where there are appropriate and inappropriate venues for marketing. For example, Wales explained, handing out free samples in a grocery store is generally acceptable. But setting up shop in a church is not. Wales summed this up simply, saying: “Don’t think about tech, think about the people.”
Consumer Generated media, Wales pointed out, is radically different because there’s no financial incentive. The material is posted simply because those in the community care about the subject. But that doesn’t mean marketers can’t find legitimate ways of using the genre. “People are not anti-commerce. They are just anti-jerks,” he said.
The most important secret for success in the user-generated arena, Wales reiterated, is respect for the community, and lending a very sensitive ear to what’s going on. These efforts can bear valuable fruit, as the user-generated community is made up of “kind, passionate, early adopters, key influencers” -- exactly the kind of people marketers want to reach.
# # #
back to top