Virgil Griffith is my new hero, and should go down in history as one of the hero’s of Open Source right up there with Linus Torvalds (Linux) and Marc Andreessen (Netscape and the Mozilla codebase). In fact, if there isn’t an award for Open Source Hero’s- there is one now- and I’m bestowing it on Virgil.

Virgil devised the Wikipedia Scanner- a software program that can reveal who changes Wikipedia entries. Some of the first findings were that major corporations, as well as politicians are out there trying to smear their competition or cover up their flaws by changing and deleting info from Wikipedia for their own benefit. His software isn’t perfect, depending on IP addresses of editors being able to be linked back to the perpetrator, but, it’s a start.

Some of the marketing brand catches:
As soon as the software was launched on the internet, chaos erupted.
Among many revelations, Wikipedia Scanner reported that:

  • Microsoft tried to cover up the XBOX 360 failure rate
  • Apple edit Microsoft entries, adding more negative comments about its rival
  • Bill Gates revenge? Microsoft edits Apple entries, adding more negative comments about its rival
  • Exxon Mobil edits spillages and eco-system destruction from oil spillages article
  • Oil company ChevronTexaco removes informative biodiesel article and deletes a paragraph regarding fines against the company
  • Dell Computers deletes negative comments on customer services and removes a passage how the company outsources work to third world countries
  • EA Games deletes whole paragraphs of criticism about employment practices and business methods
  • Fox News removes all controversial topics against the network from the Fox News page
  • Nestle removes negative comments on its business practices from its page
  • DieBold, the company that controversially supplied computerised polling stations in the US elections, removes numerous paragraphs with negative comments
  • Walmart removes criticism of outsourcing work. The retailer also changes negative paragraphs of underpaid workforce
  • Sony removes harmful paragraphs against blu-ray systems
  • Coca Cola removes negative content about its effects
  • Boeing edits from “Boeing is a leading American aircraft and aerospace manufacturer” to “Boeing is the leading American aircraft and aerospace manufacturer”
  • MSN Search is “a major competitor to Google”. That’s what MSN added to their page

Griffith created the tool to “create minor public relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike,” he said on his web site. He admitted that it’s impossible to be sure if the edits were made by someone working at one of the organizations, although the I.P. address reveals that they were made by someone with access to their network, he says.

Griffith came up with the idea when he “heard about Congressmen being caught for white-washing their Wikipedia pages,” he said.

“If the edit occurred during working hours, then we can reasonably assume that the person is either an agent of that company or a guest that was allowed access to their network,” he wrote.He said he believes that anonymous speech is important for open projects like Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia works fine today for “noncontroversial topics,” he said, but tools like Wikipedia Scanner can help make the site more reliable for controversial topics, he said.

While the idea of negativity about your brand may send some CEO’s into a toxic meltdown mode- the reality of the new paradigm is quite different that it was back in the stone age (before Search and the Cluetrain Manifesto)

In fact, Cluetrain Theses #12 comes to mind:

There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

Corporate brand managers are loathe to admit that the best they can do now is learn how to respond properly and with grace. Denial is no longer a PR strategy. Hoping customers won’t find out about product flaws, competitors advantages or pricing inequities is a thing of the past.

The key to good brand management in the world of Web 2.0 is the same as the motto for Google: Do no evil. The companies that realize the best marketing tool is delivering the best product, best service, best price in the humblest of ways. Anything else- and you’ll be hung out to dry.

Thank Open Source Hero #1 Virgil Griffith for insuring brands behave.