While Wikipedia is known as the encyclopedia that anyone can tweak, founder Jimmy Wales and his cadre of volunteer editors, writers and moderators have blocked public-relations firms, campaign workers and anyone else perceived as having a conflict of interest from posting fluff or slanting entries. So paying for Wikipedia copy is considered a definite no-no.
"We were very disappointed to hear that Microsoft was taking that approach," Wales said.
Microsoft acknowledged it had approached the writer and offered to pay him for the time it would take to correct what the company was sure were inaccuracies in Wikipedia articles on an open-source document standard and a rival format put forward by Microsoft.
Catherine Brooker, a spokeswoman for Microsoft, said she believed the articles were heavily written by people at IBM Corp., which is a big supporter of the open-source standard. IBM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Brooker said Microsoft had gotten nowhere in trying to flag the purported mistakes to Wikipedia's volunteer editors, so it sought an independent expert who could determine whether changes were necessary and enter them on Wikipedia. Brooker said Microsoft believed that having an independent source would be key in getting the changes to stick - that is, to not have them just overruled by other Wikipedia writers.
Brooker said Microsoft and the writer, Rick Jelliffe, had not determined a price and no money had changed hands - but they had agreed that the company would not be allowed to review his writing before submission. Brooker said Microsoft had never previously hired someone to influence a Wikipedia article.
Jelliffe, who is chief technical officer of a computing company based in Australia, did not return an e-mail seeking comment.
In a blog posting Monday, he described himself as a technical standards aficionado and not a Microsoft partisan. He said he was surprised to be approached by Microsoft but figured he'd accept the offer to review the Wikipedia articles because he considered it important to make sure technical standards processes were accurately described.
Wales said the proper course would have been for Microsoft to write or commission a "white paper" on the subject with its interpretation of the facts, post it to an outside Web site and then link to it in the Wikipedia articles' discussion forums.
"It seems like a much better, transparent, straightforward way," Wales said.
By Brian Bergstein