Open Letter To Wikipedia Editors: Yes, Matt Cutts Is Notable

Danny Sullivan on
  • Categories: Channel: Industry, Google: Employees, Search Engines: Answer Search Engines
  • Dear Wikipedia Editors:

    I came back from vacation today to

    discover
    that in (some of) your infinite crowd wisdom, apparently
    the page at Wikipedia
    about Google’s Matt Cutts

    might get deleted
    . Wow. It’s inept things like this that can instantly
    reduce any respect I have for Wikipedia that builds up over time.

    Editors, let me tell you a little story, since I’ve got you here. You know
    how I tell if I want to trust a travel book about some place, say a Lonely
    Planet or a Let’s Go? I find the edition about a place I know. I’ll look up what
    they’re saying about Newport Beach, California, my home before I migrated to
    England under the promise of sunnier skies (long story — we won’t go into it
    now).

    If they’re talking about how nice Balboa Island is or
    the piers or places I like to
    eat, then I know I can trust the book. If they’re talking garbage, then I look
    for something else I trust.

    I can do this because I’m an expert on Newport Beach. OK, maybe not an
    expert, but I know the subject well. Now let’s carry that over to Wikipedia. I
    live in this old house in Britain. It’s so old that some of the lights have to
    be plugged into these really small electrical outlets using BS 546 plugs. I
    needed to order some of these to I could wire up more lights on one of my hated
    DIY days, but I knew nothing
    about them.

    Thanks to Wikipedia, I was impressively given the history and background of
    the BS 546 standard. I was
    especially bemused at how the plugs got bigger depending on the amps they were
    designed to carry. I could totally see that making sense to some British Empire
    bureaucrat years and years ago coming up with the spec. Plus, I knew the correct
    size to order.

    Nice job, Wikipedia. You helped me, and I totally trusted what you wrote. But
    now we’re talking search. And you know what? I’m kind of an expert in that area.
    As an expert, the idea that Matt Cutts might not be notable in search is absurd.

    Why? Because I said so. Darn, that generally works with my kids, but I
    suppose since at least one of you is so ignorant of search that you demand
    proof, I’ll waste some time and trot some out for you.

    What type of proof? Actually, my first thought was that if Wikipedia is so
    darn tooting of the people driving, everyone should have a biography if someone
    wants to create it. Who is Wikipedia to be the judge? Ah, apparently you’ve
    already debated some of this yourselves:

    Like any encyclopedia, Wikipedia includes biographies of important
    historical figures and people involved in current events. Even though wiki is
    not paper, there are some criteria which may be considered for inclusion.

    This guideline is not Wikipedia policy (and indeed the whole concept of
    notability is contentious). However, it is the opinion of many, but not all,
    Wikipedians that these criteria are a fair test of whether a person has
    sufficient external notice to ensure that they can be covered from a neutral
    point of view based on verifiable information from reliable sources, without
    straying into original research (all of which are formal policies).

    That’s from your page on the
    notability requirements for people
    . It also covers the proof you want. And
    what’s that?

    In general, an article’s text should include enough information to explain
    why the person is notable, and such information should be verifiable.

    Biographies of living persons
    are subject to additional rules and
    restrictions.

    • The person has been the primary subject of multiple non-trivial
      published works whose source is independent of the person.
      • This criterion includes published works in all forms, such as
        newspaper articles, magazine articles, books, scholarly papers, and
        television documentaries except for the following:
        • Media reprints of the person’s autobiography or self-promotional
          works.3
        • Works carrying merely trivial coverage, such as newspaper articles
          that just mention the person in passing, telephone directory listings,
          or simple records of births and deaths.

    The above is the central criterion for inclusion. Below are some criteria
    that make it very likely that sufficient reliable information is available
    about a given person.

    Wow, do I understand this right? Of the things Wikipedia is going to
    centrally depend on what The Man — in the form of primarily mainstream media
    (that’s who publishes those magazine articles, books and TV documentaries) —
    decides is notable.

    Sheesh.

    OK, I’ve written about Matt lots. Here’s a quick Google

    search showing I’ve mentioned him in articles almost 12,000 times. That’s a
    lot. OK, it’s probably fewer than that, if you subtract some of the summary
    things, mentions on forums and so on. Still, flip-flop to Wikipedia , and a

    similar search
    gets you only about 2,500 times. So he’s like six times more
    notable than you are, at least to me.

    OK, OK, what’s Matt really done that so notable? Most important, he’s been
    the human face of Google to site owners specifically and to large degree the
    world in general. Matt

    protested
    recently that he’s not Google’s "unofficial" blogger. But he is.
    To my knowledge, he operates the most popular blog run by a Google employee,
    3 million page
    views of popular
    .

    Outside of Larry and Sergey (you know, the cofounders — they’ve got pages,
    right), he’s one of the few Google employees to have spoken regularly on
    critical issues for the company. He does it well, to the degree some want to
    dismiss him as the PR guru of the company. He could certainly teach the PR folks
    things, considering he’s worked at Google longer than any of them.

    Now Matt hems and haws about whether he’s GoogleGuy. C’mon,
    he is. Or he
    was. And GoogleGuy is important. I
    wrote in
    2004

    Perhaps the most famous Googler after cofounders Larry Page, Sergey Brin
    and Google CEO Eric Schmidt is GoogleGuy, the long-time poster who has
    provided advice and help on the WebmasterWorld.com forum. He’s now asked that
    the GoogleGuySays web site to stop reposting his comments.

    So Matt’s famous. He’s noteworthy. Even beyond the GoogleGuy persona, he has
    a noteworthy blog and position as unofficial Google spokesperson that I’ve
    touched on already. Sort of like, you know, Yahoo’s Jeremy Zawodny, who has a
    page on Wikipedia here
    largely for the same reason. Sort of like Robert Scoble, who also has a page
    here. But Matt’s not
    notable enough for a page, even though he fills the same type of role that both
    Jeremy and Robert have filled?

    OK, you need mainstream. What, an entire chapter about him in the book The
    Google Story isn’t enough? You know, like you mention within his existing entry
    at Wikipedia? An entire chapter in a major book by a noted author about Matt
    isn’t notable enough?

    More mainstream? How about

    at least
    260 mainstream newspaper or magazine articles that mention him.
    That’s more than

    Jeremy’s 170 references
    (no offense, Jeremy — just lining up some more
    ammunition for Matt here). It’s not that far back from Robert Scoble’s

    734 references
    .

    I know, I know. Some of those are blogs or online references. And you know
    you can’t trust blogs or things that are online. Start doing that, and you might
    trust things like Wikipedia.

    Hey, I know! I never had a Wikipedia entry myself
    here
    until last year when USA Today did a

    profile
    on me. That was cool. I mean the New York Times did a similar

    profile
    five years earlier, but you probably missed that one. Clearly the
    one you did see, from USA Today, gave me a nudge to finally being notable.

    OK, now what does little old notable me
    say in
    that article about Matt?

    Sullivan holds well-attended Q&A sessions, where he takes questions from
    the audience for several hours. But he harbors no illusions about how large
    his niche fame actually is.

    "Sure, you can get swamped at the show," he says. "A lot of people want to
    talk to you. But then I’ll stand next to Matt Cutts, and he’ll get masses of
    people vying for his attention.

    See, more notable than me! If I could do math equations it would be like:

    matt > danny > not notable

    Still not enough? You remember Matt was the guy that got BMW banned in
    Germany, right? I mean, he wiped out a major car web site in Google for
    spamming, creating a

    mini-controversy
    . BMW had to do PR

    directly
    against the action he took. How many people do you know with the
    power to yank a major site from the world’s most used search engine? How many
    people can spark a major car manufacturer to respond to their actions in a
    public manner? That notable enough?

    More?
    Here’s
    the Washington Post mentioning Matt in 2002.

    Here’s
    the BBC covering him in 2004. Here’s the Chicago Tribune

    profiling him
    in 2006.

    I can’t believe I’m wasting time on this, wasting time that the
    people-powered wonderful Wikipedia is supposed to do for itself. Drop the entire
    debate over whether the article should be deleted or not, if you want to
    maintain any shred of respect.

    Geez — if this entire thing was kicked off by
    Ju66l3r who purports:

    I’m knee-deep in writing my Ph.D. thesis in bioinformatics at Boston
    University and I just really need a release sometimes from the writing
    process. Oddly, I’ve found the best thing to take my mind off of my thesis is
    fixing vandalism and improving encyclopedia articles here at Wikipedia. Crazy,
    huh?

    Then can I suggest, Ju66l3r, that you get back to your area of expertise,
    finish your thesis and stop ironically doing exactly what you profess to be
    trying to stop. That is, you’re vandalizing Wikipedia by suggesting Matt isn’t
    notable. He had a page happily sitting there for over a year before this absurd
    review came along.

    Oh, and I’d say Barry Schwartz is notable as well. He’s

    up
    for deletion despite being the creator of an essential guide to search
    forum discussions, Search Engine Roundtable. And

    Mike Grehan
    deserves to be listed. He’s done pioneering work in explaining
    search technologies to the general public.

    I especially enjoyed this:

    Can you provide any sources to give him notability? Speaking at SES is not
    notable (it seems like every SEO consultant on WP has done this lately). Nor
    is knowing higher-ups in Google. In fact, the article as it stands now borders
    on a speedy.

    ju66l3r
    18:06, 5 January 2007 (UTC)

    In general, if they’re one of the relatively few asked to speak at a major
    conference on search marketing, yeah — they are notable. Every search
    consultant does NOT get to speak. But here’s a thought. Rather than putting
    article on review, then making a debate about whether to keep them, how about
    making the debate first be about whether they should come up for review at all.

    Moreover, the person starting the debate suggestion (ju66l3r
    seems to have been the primary challenger in all these cases) should have do
    some the easy research about people rather than issuing challenges based on only
    what Wikipedia may be listing, since that information might not be complete.

    Or just let everyone have a page. The people demand it! Power to the people!
    The people united shall never be divided. We want Matt! Stop this miscarriage of
    justice. Free the Wikipedia 3!


    About The Author

    Danny Sullivan
    Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.