Managers and HR professionals have to pay attention to their employees. It's right there in the job description. Monitoring work, evaluating performance, tracking compliance. Sometimes, for various reasons, they have to pay attention to other things: an employee's computer files, email or internet usage, or MySpace page.
Well, now there's something else to monitor.
As you probably know, Wikipedia is "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." It is the world's largest wiki, which is a website that people can collaboratively draft and revise. (I often try to throw handy, helpful Wikipedia links into posts.) It's a great resource for quickly learning about basically anything. As Steve Carell's character Michael Scott said on "The Office":
Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information.
Mind you, this came in the same episode where Michael said this:
It was a crime of passion, Jan. Not a disgruntled employee. Everyone here is extremely gruntled.
(Remind me to get my lawyers after NBC.) (Or as NBC calls them, "law stylists.")
Anyway, since anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry, nearly anyone does. Many Wikipedia contributors and editors log in to a free Wikipedia account, and make their contributions and edits "in the clear." But many others make their points anonymously, which can lead to abuse. Imagine a disgruntled employee firing up Wikipedia (anonymously, or perhaps pseudonymously), then amending her company's Wikipedia entry to include the intraoffice illicit affairs going on in the Sales Department. Or the secret cross-dressing in Accounting. Or whatever.
People can also embellish their company's Wikipedia entry. Dave Hoffman over at Concurring Opinions had a piece last summer about Wikipedia users at major law firms changing entries to "burnish their reputations and trash their competitors." See "A Slow Day at the Office: Lawyers Editing on Wikipedia." Robert Ambrogi had a similar collection at his LawSites blog.
But there's hope for HR pros and managers looking to see what their wiki-wielding workers (OK, I promise I won't do that again) are doing to their corporate entries. Last year, Cal Tech grad student and hacker extraordinaire Virgil Griffith created WikiScanner, a tool that links Wikipedia edits to the companies and organizations owning the computers that made the edits. In other words, say you're sitting at your desk at Dow Chemical, and you want to anonymously remove references on the Dow Wikipedia entry to Bhopal or breast implants. You make your changes and lurk off into the night. But WikiScanner will rat you out, by cross-referencing the IP address of your Dow computer to the IP addresses known to be assigned to Dow. While WikiScanner can't identify your particular machine, it's likely that the company's IT geek squad can narrow it down to your station.
Wired magazine wrote an article last year announcing WikiScanner and including a list of the most salacious edits, including the Dow example I cited, plus edits from Diebold, Exxon, and the Church of Scientology. (No word on whether Tom Cruise's IP address has shown up yet.) An employee at Wal-Mart, everyone's favorite employer, edited the entry to say that workers there were underpaid (here).
To be sure, searches on WikiScanner will probably show you that most employees are editing entries on "buttock cleavage" (found on the computers at the US House of Representatives here) or "Hispanic porn stars" (ditto) or "chest hair" (ditto). (Not to be outdone, the US Senate — here — appears interested in "cow tipping," "fast casual dining restaurants," and whether Han shot first in the cantina.) (He did.)
But if your company is big enough to merit its own Wikipedia entry (and by "merit," I mean that you or one of your coworkers wrote one), then you may want to check in with WikiScanner and see if your employees are trashing your company or its customers.
Or maybe they're just sharing "canker-sore stories" (yep, the Senate again).
[Big shout out to Christopher Mirabile, long-time Gruntled reader and idea-generator, for pointing out the WikiScanner phenomenon.]