Category: Wiki


Wikipedia Irony: Jimmy Wales Edits His Own Entry

Wikipedia.jpgA story in Wired reveals that Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has been editing his own Wikipedia entry:

Public edit logs reveal that Wales has changed his own Wikipedia bio 18 times, deleting phrases describing former Wikipedia employee Larry Sanger as a co-founder of the site.

The changes were reported Monday by technology writer Rogers Cadenhead on his blog, Workbench, spurring Sanger to launch a dialogue on Wikipedia about revisionist history.

In an interview with Wired News, Wales acknowledged he’s made changes to his bio, but said the edits were made to correct factual errors and provide a more rounded version of events.

While he said that Wikipedia generally frowns on people editing entries about themselves, there is no hard and fast rule against it.

“People shouldn’t do it, including me,” he said. “I wish I hadn’t done it. It’s in poor taste…. People have a lot of information about themselves but staying objective is difficult. That’s the trade-off in editing entries about yourself…. If you see a blatant error or misconception about yourself, you really want to set it straight.”

According to technology writer Cadenhead, who ferreted out the record of changes, Wales has altered sentences that gave Larry Sanger credit for co-founding Wikipedia seven times.

Recently, Adam Curry got shamed across the blogosphere for editing part of an entry pertaining to himself.

Should people be editing or creating entries for themselves in Wikipedia?

On the one hand, people’s self-interest might prevent them from editing objectively. People also might use Wikipedia as a kind of vanity press of sorts, creating entries about themselves filled with praise. I’m actually surprised that there isn’t more of this going on, as it can be quite flattering to have an entry for oneself or one’s organization in Wikipedia.

One the other hand, who knows better about Jimmy Wales than Jimmy Wales? If the people actually involved in various entries are shamed into not being able to edit them, we lose a valuable source of information.

Related Posts:

1. Wiki Thyself

2. Other posts about Wikipedia are collected in the Wiki Category Archive


Welcome to the Google-Borg is running a banner headline today for an article: “Google becoming an auxiliary brain.” Here’s the article, and here’s the thesis of the reporter, Elizabeth Weise:

If we are the sum total of our knowledge and experiences, then the Internet is a collection of other people’s knowledge and experiences. And Google — so ubiquitous that it has become its own verb — allows us to tap into that collection.

I generally enjoyed reading this, and it’s way too easy to nitpick USA Today, but here are a few reactions:

1) It’s a pretty clear example of the cyborg trope isn’t it? Google isn’t billed as just a novel information source, like a television, it’s billed as a “brain” — a technological extension of human biology. And like the brain of the Star Trek Borg, it is a collective mind we now share. This collective brain-sharing is billed not as scary, but nifty.

2) Despite the excerpt above, if you read this, Google appears to be getting a great deal of credit for the Web itself. Throughout, Weise’s language makes this an article about Google as information repository, not as search provider. To be clear: Larry, Serge, and company built a great search tool that helps you find information that other people put on the Web (and one that hands you an advertisement along the way).

3) In somewhat of a contradiction, it appears that people who provide information on the Web are not to be trusted. Weise quotes a research librarian from Georgia:

And even when malicious intent isn’t the problem, mastery of a subject can be, says Jacobson. “The opinions that get heard are from people who have a lot of time to create websites, not necessarily the people with the best information.”

Can’t trust those people who have time to create websites, can you? Oh wait — isn’t that the definition of my Googlebrain? What is curious is that the answer seems to be no, because this comment doesn’t follow the discussion of Google, but… Wikipedia. So Wikipedia is less trustworthy than the Web (aka “Google”)? Oh well.

Further reading: Danah Boyd on the Seigenthaler fuss.


Wikipedia Vandals

Wikipedia-vandal.jpgAccording to The Times (UK), a group of vandals have been attacking Wikipedia deliberately adding in falsehoods to articles:

[There has been a] surge in the number of spoof articles and vandal attacks which have followed the furore over a biographical Wikipedia article linking John Seigenthaler, a respected retired journalist, with the assassinations of both John F and Robert Kennedy.

In one such fake article, it was suggested today that Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s creator, was shot dead at his home by Siegenthaler’s wife.

This is most unfortunate. That’s the problem when you have something open and free — anybody can abuse the system. In an interesting post, Eric Goldman predicts the demise of Wikipedia:

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What Wikipedia Is (and Isn’t)

In light of the recent discussions here of Wikipedia, I’d like to throw in my two cents on the subject.

I like Wikipedia. In fact, I like it a lot. In fact, I have gone so far as to do what Eugene Volokh warned against — I’ve actually cited to Wikipedia. In fact, I cited to Wikipedia six times in a recently published law review article. (I’m not alone in this by any means–“wikipedia” gets over 200 hits on a Lexis search of law review articles, almost all of which are cites to entries.) In my case, I cited Wikipedia as a starting point for investigating personalities, such as John Mellencamp, Tom Clancy, and Marni Nixon. I’m aware that some of these entries contain certain inaccuracies, but I feel comfortable citing to them for reasons I’ll explain below. In the alternative, I suppose I could have cited to nothing (not very helpful to the reader) or cited to books (realistically, though, how many people would follow up on those cites?). Also, I should admit that, in part, I cite to Wikipedia sometimes because I hope some readers might take a look at Wikipedia and appreciate it for what it is. However, I’m not trying to deceive people about what Wikipedia is–it is, more or less, the Web, repackaged and reformatted.

In fact, before I cited to Wikipedia, I cited, on rare occasions and for very similar reasons, to web searches on Google for a specific term. (Again, I’m not alone in this, though the numbers of people who did this were smaller.) As far as I’m concerned, citing to a Wikipedia entry for Marni Nixon and a Google search for Marni Nixon are very nearly the same thing. Both are invitations to the reader to enter what you might call a “muddy information portal,” a messy and organic field of data that the citing author does not control, but feels would be helpful to the reader as a starting point for further research. Citing to something like that might be unorthodox, yes, but I don’t think it is beyond the pale.

To my mind, the difference between citing Wikipedia and citing a Web search is just a matter of the target’s format. When we search the Web, Google creates our “entry” on the fly with algorithms that prioritize popular and relevant websites. With Wikipedia, we have the dynamic of Web search somewhat inverted — creators with data they consider relevant to specific terms offer up that data to Wikipedia under a shared hosting umbrella in a common format (and with a commitment to collaboration). Due to this, Wikipedia entries generally look nicer. But other than that, Wikipedia and the World Wide Web are very nearly the same thing. Wikipedia’s openess, to both creation and revision, doesn’t guarantee much accuracy.

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Wikipedia vs. Britannica


In a study by Nature, a science journal, expert reviewers found Wikipedia science entries to be not much less accurate than Encyclopaedia Britannica entries:

[A]n expert-led investigation carried out by Nature — the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica’s coverage of science — suggests that such high-profile examples are the exception rather than the rule.

The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three.

Here’s how the study was done:

In the study, entries were chosen from the websites of Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica on a broad range of scientific disciplines and sent to a relevant expert for peer review. Each reviewer examined the entry on a single subject from the two encyclopaedias; they were not told which article came from which encyclopaedia. A total of 42 usable reviews were returned out of 50 sent out, and were then examined by Nature’s news team.

Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.

One could view the results as reflecting well on Wikipedia. One could also view them as as reflecting very badly on Britannica.

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Update on the Seigenthaler Wikipedia Defamation Case

Wikipedia.jpgPaul Secunda over at Workplace Prof Blog brings news about an update to the Seigenthaler Wikipedia defamation case I blogged about recently. In the case, an anonymous individual wrote in Seigenthaler’s Wikipedia entry that Seigenthaler was involved in President Kennedy’s assassination. Seigenthaler complained that he was unable to track down the identity of the alleged defamer.

Enter Daniel Brandt, who earlier had complained about information in his Wikipedia profile he claimed was false. I blogged about Brandt’s case a while back. According to the New York Times:

Using information in Mr. Seigenthaler’s article and some online tools, Mr. Brandt traced the computer used to make the Wikipedia entry to the delivery company in Nashville. Mr. Brandt called the company and told employees there about the Wikipedia problem but was not able to learn anything definitive.

Mr. Brandt then sent an e-mail message to the company, asking for information about its courier services. A response bore the same Internet Protocol address that was left by the creator of the Wikipedia entry, offering further evidence of a connection.

Paul Secunda nicely explains what happened next:

Chase later resigned from his job because he did not want to cause problems for his company. Seigenthaler has urged Chase’s boss to rehire him, but so far Chase is still without a job.

Oh, the wrath of bloggers!

More details at the NY Times article and at Paul Secunda’s post.

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Wiki Art?

swarmsketch1.jpgA new website called Swarm Sketch allows people to create a sketch in wiki fashion:

SwarmSketch is an ongoing online canvas that explores the possibilities of distributed design by the masses. Each week it randomly chooses a popular search term which becomes the sketch subject for the week. In this way, the collective is sketching what the collective thought was important each week. . . .

Each user can contribute a small amount of line per visit, then they are given the opportunity to vote on the opacity of lines submitted by other users. By voting, users moderate the input of other users, judging the quality of each line. The darkness of each line is the average of all its previous votes.

The sketch included in this post is entitled “Cell Phone Bandit.” You can browse the other artwork here, including a rather vulgar picture of Jessica Simpson’s wedding. Let’s just say that wiki is no Picasso.

Hat tip: Google Blogoscoped

Related Posts:

1. Solove, Curtailing Anonymity on Wikipedia

2. Solove, Fake Biographies on Wikipedia

3. Solove, Suing Wikipedia

4. Solove, Wiki Your Papers?

5. Hoffman, Wex

6. Wenger, Wikimania


Wiki Thyself

wikipedia3.jpgIn a recent incident on Wikipedia, Adam Curry, a former MTV VJ, was accused of editing an entry on Wikipedia on podcasting to enhance his role in the origins of podcasting. According to a CNET article:

Essentially, Curry is accused of anonymously editing out information in the article that discusses some others’ roles in the creation of the technology while at the same time pumping up his own role.

In particular, he was said to have entirely deleted sections of the article, which addressed innovations originally talked about by Technorati principal engineer Kevin Marks.

“At the first Harvard BloggerCon conference,” in 2003, the original Wikipedia language began, “Kevin Marks demonstrated a script to download RSS enclosures to iTunes and synchronise them onto an iPod, something Adam Curry had been doing with Radio Userland and Applescript.”

But then an anonymous user–who was traced back to Curry via the IP address–deleted the Marks section.

According to another CNET article, Curry believed that the information he deleted was wrong. It wasn’t, and Curry admitted making a mistake. The CNET article raises the issue of whether people should be permitted to create or edit entries on issues where they have a personal interest:

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Curtailing Anonymity at Wikipedia

Wikipedia.jpgA few days ago, I blogged about an incident involving a defamatory biography on Wikipedia about John Seigenthaler Sr. According to a New York Times story:

The whole nonprofit enterprise began in January 2001, the brainchild of Jimmy Wales, 39, a former futures and options trader who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. He said he had hoped to advance the promise of the Internet as a place for sharing information.

It has, by most measures, been a spectacular success. Wikipedia is now the biggest encyclopedia in the history of the world. As of Friday, it was receiving 2.5 billion page views a month, and offering at least 1,000 articles in 82 languages. The number of articles, already close to two million, is growing by 7 percent a month. And Mr. Wales said that traffic doubles every four months.

Still, the question of Wikipedia, as of so much of what you find online, is: Can you trust it?

According to the article, Wales is planning to address these problems:

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Fake Biographies on Wikipedia

Wikipedia.jpgMost of us would be quite flattered to find an entry about us on the Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia where anybody can create or edit an entry. Not so for John Seigenthaler. His Wikipedia bio said:

John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960’s. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.

In a USA Today editorial Seigenthaler begins by quoting the false bio and then writes:

I have no idea whose sick mind conceived the false, malicious “biography” that appeared under my name for 132 days on Wikipedia, the popular, online, free encyclopedia whose authors are unknown and virtually untraceable. . . .

At age 78, I thought I was beyond surprise or hurt at anything negative said about me. I was wrong. One sentence in the biography was true. I was Robert Kennedy’s administrative assistant in the early 1960s. I also was his pallbearer. It was mind-boggling when my son, John Seigenthaler, journalist with NBC News, phoned later to say he found the same scurrilous text on and

Seigenthaler explains how he tried to track down the person who posted the information:

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