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Microsoft to pay blogger for Wikipedia 'corrections'?

How open is Open XML entry?
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

How open is Open XML entry?

Microsoft has reportedly agreed to pay a blogger and standards guru to make changes to Wikipedia articles.

The Redmond software giant had agreed to pay blogger Rick Jelliffe for time spent altering purported inaccuracies in an article on Microsoft's document standard Open XML. No money has yet changed hands, however.

Australia-based Jelliffe is described as a "long-time standards activist" by his current employer Topologi, a company which makes products and tools to help with XML deployment.

On his blog, Jelliffe stated he intended to do some "mythbusting" and did not intend to "add any pro-Microsoft FUD" to Wikipedia.

He wrote: "I was a little surprised to receive email a couple of days ago from Microsoft saying they wanted to contract someone independent but friendly (me) for a couple of days to provide more balance on Wikipedia concerning ODF/OOXML. I am hardly the poster boy of Microsoft partisanship! Apparently they are frustrated at the amount of spin from some ODF stakeholders on Wikipedia and blogs."

Jelliffe said he intended to accept the offer to clear up inaccuracies - and claimed he had already seen some.

According to the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, the only contact from Microsoft on the matter before Jelliffe was approached was one message by Redmond's Open XML technical evangelist Doug Mahugh, on Wikipedia's OOXML discussion page. He has since been asked to contribute to the discussion page again.

Mahugh said in a post on tech news aggregator Slashdot that he had asked Jelliffe and that no PR from Microsoft had been involved.

Mahugh said the original email to Jelliffe read: "Wikipedia has an entry on Open XML that has a lot of slanted language, and we'd like for them to make it more objective but we feel that it would be best if a non-Microsoft person were the source of any corrections."

The email continued: "Would you have any interest or availability to do some of this kind of work? Your reputation as a leading voice in the XML community would carry a lot of credibility, so your name came up in a discussion of the Wikipedia situation today.

"Feel free to say anything at all on your blog about the process, about our communication with you on matters related to Open XML, or anything else. We don't need to 'approve' anything you have to say, our goal is simply to get more informed voices into the debate."

A Wikipedia spokesman told silicon.com: "We're disappointed that a prominent company such as Microsoft feels that public relations without self-identification is a workable way to do things. Doing this can only hurt their good name. Paying people to push a point of view on Wikipedia is regarded as an obvious conflict of interest. Most people don't need to be told that conflict of interest is a bad idea. But it's hard to make people understand that if their income depends on not understanding it."

The Foundation is now looking at ways for big companies such as Microsoft to liaise with Wikipedia on editorial matters, Gerard added.

He continued: "It's clear that the present situation, where a company not knowing the precise right thing to do can end up with bad press around the world, is not good for us or for them."

Microsoft was unavailable to comment at the time of writing.

Editorial standards