Wikipedia wobbles as PR runs amok (and Alien salad)

It's Monday's [citation needed] IT Blogwatch: in which doubts are cast on Wikipedia's veracity. Not to mention an Alien made out of vegetables...

Randall Mikkelsen reports, with a NPOV:

People using CIA and FBI computers have edited entries in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia on topics including the Iraq war and the Guantanamo prison, according to a new tracing program. The changes may violate Wikipedia's conflict-of-interest guidelines, a spokeswoman for the site said on Thursday.

The program, WikiScanner, was developed by Virgil Griffith of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico and posted this month on a Web site that was quickly overwhelmed with searches. The program allows users to track the source of computers used to make changes to the popular Internet encyclopedia where anyone can submit and edit entries.

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Computers at numerous other organizations and companies were found to have been involved in editing articles related to them. Griffith said he developed WikiScanner "to create minor public relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike (and) to see what 'interesting organizations' (which I am neutral towards) are up to." [more]

Kevin Poulsen exands:

Enter the name of a corporation, organization or government entity and you get a list of IP addresses assigned to it. Then with one or two clicks, you can see all the anonymous edits made from those addresses anywhere in Wikipedia's pages.

Griffith's work is a neat example of what can be uncovered just by reorganizing public information. [We] predict a lot of sad, embarrassing secrets will emerge from this project once netizens dive into it -- and we'd like to be a part of that. So visit the Wikipedia Scanner and do some sleuthing. Post what you find here on our wall of shame, where you can join other Wired News readers in voting submissions up or down. We've seeded the list with a few finds of our own. Happy hunting!

I've been checking a lot of the too-good-to-be-true submissions, and they keep turning out to be true ... It would be hard to invent anything that competes with the truth. [more]

Micah L. Sifry:

William Gibson ... [said] technology is not only giving Big Brother the power to watch us, we can also watch Big Brother ... [and that] this is going to make it harder for politicians to hide secrets and get away with lies.

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In case you doubt Gibson's prediction (made in 2003), you can read today of the ... self-interested edits of Wikipedia by various corporate entities. And not only do people at big corporations try to diddle their company's Wikipedia entries, it appears some employees at the Times itself have thrown spitballs at various political figures, like President Bush, adding the word "jerk" to his page twelve times and referring to Condoleezza Rice's efforts to become a concert "penis." Transparency indeed! [more]

David Rothman brings it home:

You, too, can spot stealthy edits and help us analyze the circumstances behind the deletion of some nasty details on Judith Reagan, the ex-HarperCollins editor who was fired after commissioning O.J. Simpson’s controversial book If I did it.

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A Net address possibly linked to Simon & Schuster (66.43.82.0-255) may have been associated with the removal of derogatory information about her. Perhaps by a friend of hers at S&S, where she used to work? The publishing industry in some ways is one big small town ... I like the idea of people in big-time publishing caring about Wikipedia’s accuracy, and I hope that this can manifest itself in constructive and formal ways. Wealthy publishing conglomerates could hire armies of librarians and other fact-checkers and team up with Wikipedia to put out the ultimate encyclopedia.

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I see nothing wrong with corporate executives and PR people showing up in Wikipedia Talk items associated with entries about their companies—and requesting factual corrections, just so they they identify themselves and provide proof. [more]

But Donna Bogatin sighs:

Analyze Wikipedia? Why bother. Jimmy Wales poudly underscores the 2 billion “encyclopedia” entries in English are the product of a “no rules,” truth is optional operating philosophy ... The morass of mis, dis and non-information that is the Wikipedia “enclyclopedia that anyone can edit” is a given, given that: Wikipedia does not have firm rules, Perfection is not required, Articles can be changed by anyone, No original research, Threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth, Articles may contain unencyclopedic content, vandalism, false, debatable information.

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Can a Wiki Scanner turn Wikipedia around? NO! [more]

And Lauren Weinstein calls it, "Silliness":

My concerns regarding the Wikipedia operational model are fairly well known ... that article tends to belie the underlying nature of a real problem -- the lack of accountability for most of what's written or edited in Wikipedia. The "Corporate Fingerprints" bit is cute -- but what about all of the other fingerprints smeared through virtually every byte of the Wikipedia database?

Apparently it's one thing to snicker about corporate folks who want to correct what they perceive as errors (or, indeed, put their own positive spin on "the facts.") But there seems to be little interest in figuring out who purposely defaces pages, plants false or defaming information in the first place, or for that matter is responsible for the more mundane, probably factual minutiae, even just for the sake of establishing authenticity or expertise.

Wikipedia seems to be turning into a gigantic "gotcha" machine -- increasingly contaminated like a chunk of "Silly Putty" that's been used once too often to pick up comic strip images. [more]

PR maven Dave Donohue sounds worried:

If you or your client have ever broken Wikipedia’s rules on editing or providing content without an objective point of view, [this] is a must-read. However unlikely it is that you’re called out on it, if you are, you want to have some good responses ready.

If you haven’t, then I still recommend the article, as well as my post from April this year that offers some words from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on how PR people can successfully interact with Wikipedia content. [more]

And Brian Oberkirch, too:

I always strenously argue that companies should not anonymously edit Wikipedia entries related to their business. Yes, I know errata can be maddening, but often it’s just a change in POV. You might be shocked (shocked!) to find that people outside your company don’t share the same vision of your company’s actions. Or your motivations. (On the Internet, no one might know you’re a dog, but they will know if you’re a corporate shill.)

Wikipedians mix some seriously strong kool aid.  Don’t go there. [more]

But Jeremiah Owyang stands up for Wikipedia:

Wikipedia is one of the largest collections of human knowledge, given the ease that many can easily contribute to it.

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Websites like Wikipedia are important as they: 1) Result high in Search Results 2) Are deemed to be credible, independent sources 3) Where prospects look for market research (I conducted interviews at my previous role to find out this is true)

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Monitoring Wikipedia regarding your brand, products, executives and competitors is absolutely mandatory for the Web Strategist, but before engaging, have a strategy that will help all readers, provide factual information, and of course, not end up in an embarrassing situation. [more]

Alan Patrick isn't surprised, except he is:

What is most surprising is that anyone is surprised. This was surely predictable ... Or is everyone so in love with Social Media that they have forgotten about the venal side of human nature? People cheat to gain advantage...always have ... There is a really useful lesson here for Social Networks, about the necessity of making the underlying data transparent.

Sadly, it won't be long before similar parties will be doing this via 3rd party addresses, despite any attempts at voluntary rules of engagement so it will probably be necessary to have fairly strongly authenticated ID systems for contributors, and exposure plus penalties for abuse of public assets like Wikipedia. Clearly, the tragedy of the commons is as applicable online as off. [more]

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... In space, no one can hear you crunch

Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You too can pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

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