Using Wikipedia as a Marketing tool?

The recently published How to Make Money Like a Pornstar comic has been the subject of some controversy on the blogsphere. The comic was given to Karen Healey, a well-known feminist comic’s blogger, (I Can’t BELIEVE They Sent This To Me )as well as to Kevin Church, another well known comics blogger (Review: How To Make Money Like A Porn Star). Their reviews are pretty negative, and have recieved some attention from other comic bloggers (see links at bottom of post).

Church followed up his review with one discussing possibly fake Amazon.com reviews (Marketing Conspiracy Theory Machine Go!). His sentiment is echoed by simargl_wings (Pass me the tinhat….), but with added controversy: discussion of the Wikipedia Entry for the comic.

I’ve stuck my nose into Wikipedia’s business exactly one other time. An attempt to make the VAWA article comply with Wikipedia’s NPOV policy. Since the controversy is still going on (check the talk page and the history), I wasn’t the least bit successful. This time I didn’t try to modify the page in question, but rather stuck an NPOV tag on it and addressed the issue in the talk page.

Wikipedia can be a great resource for non-controversial subjects, but the nature of it is that anyone can modify a page for any reason. And that includes advertising — even though it is against the rules.

I. Background on the Wiki Article

In the time it’s taken me to write just this much of the article, the disputes over How to Make Money Like a Pornstar‘s Wikipedia entry has turned into a bonafide wank. It began with modifications due to the page seeming like an advertisement and has recently grown to include a comment war on the history page about how/if to include discussion on the reviews.

Disputes that should have been taking place on the talk page have, instead, turned into a comment war in the history page. Accusations of “vandalism” and “libel” have been thrown around, as well as “calling out” anonymous editors. The history page is here.

II. Questioning Neutrality: Advertiser? Fan? Something else?

I don’t know whether this a case of people not knowing and not following the Wikipedia rules, if it was a calculated attempt to gain publicity for a book that appears to have been put out by a new publisher, or just the law of the internet. But I do question the neutrality of editors involved.

I say this for two reasons. The first being that I know one of them involved — Karen Healey. The truth is, her involvement is because of me. We were chatting on IM and I linked her to the post and was griping about the lack of neutrality regarding the “controversy” section (my opinion can be found here; the first comment signed by me). And in the process of me trying to explain to her NPOV, proper standards for Wiki articles (which I myself only know a little of), as well as proper procedures for handling this, she got involved in the wank.

I’d also like to point out that, despite the assertions of another anonymous Wiki editor, she was not doing so in order to plug her site. As noted in one of her edits (“NPOV – quote and cite negative reviews as well as positive.”), her changes were attempting to help the article conform to a neutral point of view.

The other major player I believe had a personal connection to this would be the user Bohnah. This, I would like to emphasize, does not come from anything but my observations and is therefore pure speculation. I ask others to review the evidence themselves before coming to their own conclusions on the matter.

Bohnah was the creator of the page (you can see the two original versions here and here). This in itself isn’t proof of anything, except that Bohnah isn’t clear on Wikipedia’s rules about advertising. The history shows that Bohnah exchanged words with other users about his edits — he claimed that the changes were “vandalism” while they argued that they were removing the parts that were advertising.

The other part that sticks out as suspicious to me is on the deletion discussion page, where he gives the reason for not wanting the page deleted as: “Published by ReganBooks/HarperCollins (including ISBN #) and is first graphic novel published by said publisher, marking significant importance.”

That justification does imply that one of the reasons the article is desired is to give the book more exposure — especially if you take in context of the disputes over whether or not the page sounded like advertising. But, that could just be an unfortunate coincidence. Except that it’s not like the information about the comic book being the first one ReganBooks ever published is a click away. It’s not on Amazon.com or on the official site. It’s not even on ReganBooks’ website — or if it was I couldn’t find it in my cursory search. In fact, the only reference I could find was in Heidi MacDonald’s review.

So that means that it’s either insider information, and therefore Bohnah is affiliated with the book somehow, or they are such a hardcore fan that they searched out and found information that was outside of the typical places to look.

III. Conclusion

Is this the newest kind of viral marketing or the case of an overzealous fan — possibly one affiliated with the book — trying to get the book some exposure? Your guess is as good as mine. I didn’t write this to convince anyone that anyone here is evil or anything, but rather to take a critical look at both Wikipedia and the modern marketing industry. At the very least, marketing has become so embedded into our lives that we can’t be sure whether or not something that looks like advertising was really meant to be it!

And, personally, I wasn’t intending to buy the book in the first place, but I know for sure that all of this will make me less likely to trust ReganBooks, and its parent company HarperCollins, in the future. Because, really, if they are using viral marketing I sure don’t want to be giving them my money to encourage that kind of crap.

Appendix A: Additional Links

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