12/01/2010 12:44 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Playing well with politicians on Wikipedia

6a00d834fd816853ef0133ecbbaa50970b-320wiI feel that Wikipedia is the repository of the history of our times, and a great example where large numbers of people work together for the common good. We're not talking only good intentions, but big results.

Months ago, I assumed an insignificant role related to Wikipedia customer service for the "biographies of living persons." The folks there already think about this kind of thing all the time, they strive for better ways of improving the accuracy of the info on their site.

In that time frame, I figured that the US midterm elections could get unpleasant and that we'd see a lot of information warfare. My suggestion involved getting both Republicans and Democrats to use Wikipedia problem reporting tools, with me helping grease the skids if useful.

Volunteers at Wikipedia suggest projects all the time, and like 'em, I thought I might be able to help out. With a lot of help from the fine people at Wikipedia's volunteer email response team, I approached some candidates and office holders and asked if they needed help on Wikipedia, and promised to route them to someone who could really help them. We didn't promise to whitewash articles (and in fact, in a lot of cases we had to say "Sorry, but it's verifiable and probably belongs") but they knew they would get a fair chance at having their say.

Sometimes, just having a conduit is enough to make people feel heard. It looks like that worked this year. People I know and trust tell me that the level of partisan arguments on Wikipedia was much reduced this year over election cycles past.

A lot of the credit belongs to the fine volunteers who answer several hundred thousand pieces of email every year for Wikipedia. They quietly did what they do all the time: make Wikipedia a better place, and the kind of resource that we've all come to depend on.