Encyclopedias Are Not Advertising Billboards

Blogs about Rob Mattison are like buses: you see none for ages and then five arrive at the same time. People might start to think I have an obsession with the bearded guru-president of global revenue assurance. Truth is, I do not, as is evidenced by never giving him a mention in my blog until recently. I knew who he was: runs a small family consulting business, does lots of conference presentations, wrote a self-published book (or three, or five, or twenty – the more I look, the more I find). But recently his antics have been getting on my nerves. Forming GRAPA, issuing press releases, and all that marketing is his prerogative. If he wants to spend his money on this kind of activity (press releases do not come free, you know) that is up to him. I admit I am annoyed he is trying to pretend he speaks on behalf of a whole profession whilst deciding who can join, who is excluded and who gets to sit on which chairs. He is more like a king than a president. However much it irritates me, none of this is immoral. But this time he really has gone too far.

The other day Rob decided to update the Wikipedia article on revenue assurance with a blatant advert for his own book. You have to draw a line somewhere. I do not care how many people have joined his society, how many think he is great, how many people I upset, how unemployable I become by saying this. What Rob did was wrong. Pure and simple. Wikipedia is supposed to be an encyclopedia (the clue is in the name) not a social networking site and certainly not an advertising billboard. It is written and policed by volunteers. These people donate their spare time to trying to provide everyone with a reliable and free encyclopedia. Wikipedia is often criticized in the press because it is so easy for people to abuse it. But in reality it is a tremendous success: the content is generally of a very high standard and the volunteer editors do a good job of removing or highlighting any spam soon after it gets posted. What motivates the volunteers is not financial gain; the point is to provide everyone with a good free encyclopedia, especially those people around the globe who lack the money or resources to obtain this quality of reference text any other way. There is a difference between advertising and providing information, and the Wikipedia rules go into detail to help explain that difference. But ignorance of the rules is no defence. Rob must have known that advertising his own book was wrong. If you look at other pages on Wikipedia you do not see adverts for books sitting in the middle of the text. Whilst Rob heaped praise on his own book, he failed to say that he wrote it. Very naughty. Rob also posted the advert anonymously. Maybe he was hoping that the readers of the article would think that this praise came from a neutral, someone who does not profit from its sale. Very very naughty. The only reason we know he posted it is that he identified himself whilst using the same IP address to bitch on another page about not getting respect. How about that for an unconventional way to earn respect!

I doubt Rob can find impartial justification for the praise he gives to his own book. For a start, it is self-published, the modern equivalent of vanity publishing. Just take a look at his publishers. Anyone could publish a book like this, so it is not as if Rob used a publisher that edited his work or selected it on merit. Secondly, he now gives it away for free on pdf format, which must be some indication as to how many copies have actually been sold. Amazon ranks it below the top million bestsellers. According to this site that means it sells less than 1 copy every 10 weeks. That would imply he may have sold less than 10 copies through Amazon since the book was first published. Searching around for independent reviews I found only one, which was okay but hardly as glowing as the one that Rob gave himself. I did search very hard for reviews: although I could find no reviews for that book there were some fair-to-middling reviews for some of the many other books he has written, and I even found that Rob and family runs more businesses/websites than I had first imagined (with all those different front companies, how much time can he spend on each one?) So, put simply, you would have to be shameless to write in an encyclopedia what Rob wrote in Wikipedia. His only justification must be that he thinks his book really is that good. That is hardly the impartial and objective point of view you would expect from someone writing an encyclopedia entry.

Maybe Wikipedia should not have a revenue assurance entry. When my friend, Gordon Fordred, started the page, we naively thought that the revenue assurance profession might gang together to help put good, independent, verifiable content on it. Instead, the revenue assurance profession has often done the exact opposite. It has embarrassed itself. Unsupported hyperbole about the benefits of revenue assurance, cynical advertising, a disregard for Wikipedia’s rules: these are not the hallmarks of a respectable profession. Anyone can see that Wikipedia is meant to be an impartial reference work where every statement is verifiable and justifiable. That means stating both sides to the story, not just the one side that presents us in the best light. It also means having identifiable sources for information, not just repeating unsupported claims made elsewhere. Of course, if you just present the side of the story that flatters yourself, you will not gain respect anyway. So if people are looking for respect through adding to Wikipedia’s articles, they would be better off moderating their input and providing some balance.

I admit that the Wikipedia page contains a link to my blog. Per my understanding, the link is consistent with Wikipedia’s goals and rules; and I checked them in some detail. Links are meant to point to places where people can easily get further useful information. In this blog I point out what is wrong with the world with revenue assurance as often as I point out what is right with it. If there is a better place to find out what is wrong with revenue assurance, that should be linked to instead. In fact, if there is a better place to find out what is wrong, someone please tell me so I can start reading it! It is not like I need the link in Wikipedia – it generates only a small number of hits. I think it should stay there because this blog is my attempt to ensure some balance, if you will.

Pity the people who cannot see that if we do not act like professionals then we will not be treated like professionals, no matter what praise and congratulations we give to ourselves. Please help the revenue assurance profession. If you have the spare time, improve the Wikipedia page on revenue assurance by adding informative, impartial content with clear links to the sources that support all assertions, and by monitoring the page for spam. All of us have the time to be discerning and to denounce unprofessional conduct. True and balanced insights will turn revenue assurance into a profession. Snake oil sales tactics will not.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.