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WikiMeg: If Wikipedia and Opposition Research Met and Had a Baby

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, March 8 2010

From the great state of California, land of innovation, comes WikiMeg, a crowdsourced repository a la Wikipedia for the collected wisdom and opposition research on the 30-year career of Meg Whitman, a former eBay executive who is now a Republican candidate for governor. The site's creators, the Democratic coalition group Level the Playing Field 2010 -- an outfit affiliated with nurses' and teachers' unions -- call the project "a bold new experiment in democracy," and the site's tag line emphasizes its collaborative bent, call it "a place to discover and share information on billionaire CA candidate Meg Whitman." The San Francisco Chronicle's Joe Garofoli reports on the project:

Wikimeg.com invites the rest of the world to shake the bushes for information about Whitman and enables their new research assistants to post the results on the Internet, Wikipedia-style. But this self-described "experiment in community research and information gathering" comes with potential risks in how that information is vetted.

WikiMeg.com launched this morning. The only substantive section thus far is one on her use of two eBay corporate jets. There's a placeholder for information on "Meg Sightings," too.

The Whitman oppo wiki might be a first for a political campaign, but Organizing for America recently launched something similar with its "Groundswell" project to crowdsource organize efforts amongst volunteers.

I suggested to Garofoli when we spoke for his piece that, in my opinion, that a wiki-fied opposition site on a political candidate like this would probably benefit from requiring that contributors stick to the Wikipedia rules that have somehow made that repository of the world's knowledge into a resource that is generally speaking fairly unbiased. (It also probably marks the first time I've used the word "slime" in conversation.) A big rule: contributors aren't asked for original reporting. Instead, references must be linked to another published source. WikiMeg has adopted the same spirit, though first-hand reports aren't out-and-out banned. Read the rules, "Be factual and always hyperlink to your source. If you are the source of first-hand information, say who you are and how you know what you know."

It's easy to see how something like WikiMeg could descend into mean-spirited chaos, or fall apart as a gimmick. But there's also a chance that this could be a valuable opposition research tool -- particularly since, as contacts in California suggest, Democratic candidate Jerry Brown is known for running particularly parsimonious campaigns. The people's oppo might form of bulk of the challenger-vetting that first-time candidate Whitman gets. And all available reporting suggests that, for example, it's far more of a vetting than the McCain campaign gave to Sarah Palin. So it might not be such a bad thing for the state of the political debate.

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