Here in Minnesota we have established a rich tradition of online politics and Internet campaign innovation. In 1994, Minnesota E-Democracy held the first-ever online debate between candidates. In 1997, the first political banner ad was placed on a web site I published at the time. In 1998, Jesse Ventura won the governorship in part on the strength of mobilizing a massive email list of supporters created by visitors subscribing from his web site.

This year I’ve noticed Wikipedia pages appearing in searches on various political candidates’ names. Wikipedia is a remarkably successful free online open-source encyclopedia. Open-source? Yes, indeed: Anyone, even you, can edit any page on the Wikipedia site.

The “wiki” simply is the technology that makes this community, collaborative publishing so easy. What’s remarkable about it is that for the most part, the content remains fairly well balanced. My initial reaction when I first saw a wiki was that they would be abused. People would spam them, post irrelevant commercial messages or biased content. But it appears that the ease of editing allows the community as a whole to enforce a certain standard of fairness and balance.

I first noticed Wikipedia pages for political candidates when I did a search for Amy Klobuchar, the Hennepin County Attorney who is running for Minnesota’s US Senate seat as a Democrat. My first thought was that it was the creation of a clever campaign staffer.

So I searched for other Minnesota political candidates and I foundĀ a page for Tim Walz, a Democrat who is running in Minnesota’s 1st District against Republican US Congressman Gil Gutknecht. Waltz’ page is interesting because it currently has a warning banner on it, advising readers that the neutrality of the page is in dispute, with links to Wikipedia’s neutrality and dispute policies as well as a link to a discussion page about the dispute in question.

In Walz’ case, a visitor simply suggested that the page be written in a more objective style and less like a campaign brochure. I have to agree; while there is nothing egregiously partisan about the entry, it does have the flavor of campaign literature.

As a marketing tactic, Wikipedia entries–especially in the political arena–present some clear pluses and minuses. On the plus side, they are another avenue for people to learn about the candidate from what appears to be a neutral source and they are an easy way to get a link to your campaign web site, which helps to boost your search engine presence.

On the other hand, if you’re overly generous to yourself, you may have visitors posting warning on your page–as Tim Walz has no doubt learned but you may also have opponents performing online political sabotage by maliciously editing your entry, requiring constant monitoring.

If you’re going to use Wikipedia to obtain links to your web site, honor the the spirit of the medium by posting only relevant, factual content; anything else and you risk calling the credibility of the entire page into question with a red warning label.

Wikipedia Entries For MN Candidates/Elected Officials: