Why Archaeology Should Embrace Wikipedia- Part 2, Wikipedia is not your competition

Posted on August 5, 2014



As I explained yesterday, Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website on the Internet and an article on it is usually guaranteed a top three result in most search engines. But, what if you want your work to be viewed on your own website? I can think of multiple reasons for this:

  • You have a blog that you want people to read.
  • You got a grant and as one of the deliverables you need to create a website and show use of it.
  • You are a society or group and you want people to visit your website so they become members.
  • I am sure there are some reasons I have not thought of that you have, the list goes on.

The question you might have then is, ‘does Wikipedia taking the top search results hurt my work?’ Is Wikipedia our competition?

Wikipedia is an Undergrad paper, no original research

In case you were not aware, you can not publish original research on Wikipedia. It is basically a very large undergrad paper, a synthesis of the knowledge available. This means you absolutely have to publish your work on websites, blogs, in books, etc. Wikipedia can not and will not replace original research.

Citation, citation, citation, citation….

Ok, but I still have not answered how Wikipedia is not your competition. Especially, if their articles might rank higher than your work in search engine results. Well the need to cite original research is a huge boon for your work in two ways:

  1. ‘Never use Wikipedia- anyone can edit it so you can’t trust it.’ This (mis)conception of Wikipedia works in your favor. Because people don’t trust Wikipedia they will click through citations to see what was actually said about the topic. Wikipedia English is a top 40 source of traffic to my blog. Wikipedia French and German are top 60 sources of traffic to my blog. This is not a large amount of traffic but still significant. Being cited by Wikipedia will send direct traffic to your website, blog, etc.
  2. You know what the number one source of traffic to my blog, and probably most people’s websites, is? Search engines. Links from high quality websites i.e. those that show up in top searches, like Wikipedia, will raise your rankings in search engines, kind of. Wikipedia uses no follow links that don’t help your search rankings (debated- some believe wikipedia is the exception to this) but people finding your work through wikipedia will link to you. Higher rankings means more people find your work.

Working on Wikipedia and citing archaeological resources will actually help those resources rank better, maybe even above Wikipedia.

General Vs. Specialized

Wikipedia tends to have general articles and general descriptions. Lets say your research is into the size of Roman feet, to use Kristina’s excellent blog post on the topic as an example. You could make a whole Wikipedia article on the topic, maybe someday someone will, but most likely the information would be a better fit in the strigil article or the  Roman medicine article or any number of other articles. Because Wikipedia is generalist it is very unlikely that the research archaeologists carry out, which is highly specialised, will have its own specific Wikipedia page. Even if it does, most articles are  brief introductions. People would still need to read the original longer research to gain an in-depth knowledge about the facts.

Wikipedia fills a very specific niche, introduction for general knowledge. Unless you are competing in that same niche then Wikipedia is actually a source of direct visitors to your resource and indirect via higher search engine rankings. That mean:

  • Most blogs will be ok.
  • Most websites will be fine.
  • Organisations and societies will be fine because when people are searching for them they are looking for things like publications or how to join, not general knowledge about the organisation.

Makes the Hidden Appear

This all assumes you have direct control over your digital resources, what if you don’t? I can think of lots of reasons why you might not:

  • You have hosted it on a free website provider and they limit what you can do e.g. blogging platforms.
  • You published something with a publisher and have no control over their website.
  • Your old organisation/employer controls it.

A while back I discovered that ADS had inadvertently blocked search engines from indexing their articles, a problem now fixed. Things like that happen all the time. When you have very little control over digital resources, or more specifically their dissemination, Wikipedia is brilliant.

For example, I rarely talk about my non-‘archaeology as a profession’ work but it is in agent based modelling. There is an excellent Wikipedia page on the different programs out there. It is base on several published papers that do not show up on the first few pages of Google or Google Scholar with the search term, ‘list of agent based modelling programs’. This is because some of the papers are not indexed or Google does not recognise them as reviews of ABM programs. I would never have found these articles if it had not been for someone’s work on Wikipedia. If your papers or work are not showing up in Google or other search engines than Wikipedia is an excellent, free, resource to use to alert people that they exist.

Ethical Concerns

Before anyone goes off and starts editing Wikipedia articles to link to their work you should know it is considered a conflict of interest to put in references to your work or edit pages on your company/project. However, on article talk pages you can mention any conflicts of interest and still edit. You may have to justify why you are not being bias in your editing but it is commonly recognized that there are only so many Wikipedia editors with knowledge of the subjects, you can not escape conflicts of interest. It is best to make those clear as possible. This is mainly because companies have been found to edit their pages and remove criticism in the past. I doubt you will run into that problem but still put on the talk page any connections you might have to the page you are editing or the citations you are adding, especially your own.

For example, if you excavated a site and helped write the report, on the Wikipedia page for the site you can say something like- “Hey, I worked on this site and the report can be found here – …. if someone wants add it please do. If not I will add it in 48hrs. Or something to that effect. Most of the time you will get no response or you will get an ‘OK’ from another editor.

You Will See More of These Posts in the Next Few Days

Today I am heading down to London for Wikimania conference and I thought I would spend this week blogging about Wikipedia and Archaeology. I will probably do a post or two on the conference but the others will focus on different aspects of Wikipedia and Archaeology.


Posted in: Uncategorized