Category Archives: wikipedia

The Internet Archive is Making Wikipedia More Credible

The Internet Archive announced that is has transformed 130,000 references to books in Wikipedia into live links for 50,000 digitized Internet Archive books in several Wikipedia language editions (including English, Greek, and Arabic). The result of this ongoing work could make Wikipedia more credible because users will be able to source material in a single click.

Students are often instructed not to use Wikipedia as a source in their research papers. One reason for that is likely because some of the claims on a typical Wikipedia page lack links to the source material. Sentences on Wikipedia that lack sources are given a “citation needed” label that instantly helps users know that the sentence may not be accurate. Some teachers allow students to start with Wikipedia – but do not allow Wikipedia itself to be used as a source.

The Internet Archive provided an example of how they are improving Wikipedia.

For example, the Wikipedia article on Martin Luther King Jr. cites the book To Redeem the Soul of America, by Adam Fairclough. That citation now links directly to page 299 inside the digital version of the book provided by the Internet Archive. There are 66 cited and linked books on that article alone.

Anyone reading Wikipedia who wants to see more information on a source can click on the link provided. They can see a couple of pages to preview that book. Those who want to read more (such as students who are writing a research paper) can borrow the digital copy of that book using Controlled Digital Lending. The Internet Archive says Controlled Digital Lending is “analogous to how they borrow physical books from their local library.”

Wired reported that The Internet Archive was in a unique position to improve Wikipedia. Their Wayback Machine service has archived 387 billion webpages since 2001. It has also been digitizing books and other analog media, and has scanned 3.8 million books. The project is ongoing and The Internet Archive is seeking people who want to help with it.

Wikipedia manipulation exposed

The Register reports on how the wikipedia entries on short selling, and possibly other financial sections where being controlled by a person with a very biased view on these subjects. The article alleges that one the effects control of this section of articles had was to supress discussion of the negative side of ‘naked short selling’. This type of activity has had an impact on the current financial crisis, and the supression of discussion bridged into the mainstream press.

The worry from a technical viewpoint is that someone was essentially given moderater style controls over a topic that they had a vested interest in. I find this disturbing as these clear conflicts of interest should be easy to avoid. I do not think it is necessary to have any more checks on contributers identities than there already is. There are a number of people that track for spurious entries and it is better to make it easy to contribute so more information comes in.

The topic moderators, acting as editors of the content should be held to a much higher standard of identification. If no person on Wikipedia was allowed to become a moderator, or any kind of administrator, without some verifiable identity checking being performed. It would be silly to expect absolute accuracy from a service like Wikipedia. If it is to survive though, it must demonstrate that it is protecting itself from such gross manipulations as seems to have occured here. It really also needs to take steps to make sure it is protected to some degree from agendas.

Each person with any moderation or administration responcibility needs to verify their true identity in some way. They then need to be vetted for any potential conflicts of interest. A conflict should not bar them from looking after a topic as their knowledge would be valuable in evaluating what goes on there. If there is a conflict a second person that has no conflict should be required to verify their decisions. This second person (or people) don’t need the knowledge they just need to challenge the moderator for evidence to backup their decision. While these people do not need to have their full identities disclosed any potential conflicts of interest should be clearly stated on their profile.

Conflicts of interest in Wikipedia’s conflict of interest controls

A very well researched and written story on The Register on a Wikipedia admin with a conflict of interest. While this admin edits a lot of the entries on cults, he is a previous (or maybe even current) member of one of the ‘guru’s’ he edits a page for. While it is well argued that his edits are biased he is technically operating within the bounds of Wikipedia’s conflict of interest policy. However this particular admin has also had a large hand in modifying the COI policy, and runs the conflict of interest noticeboard.

What will be interesting is how Wikipedia handles this. While I am sure some will take this as further evidence that Wikipedia is an unreliable source of information. In reality though, I am sure that there are similar things happening in just about every information source, the media in particular is rife with hidden agendas and half truths. The difference with Wikipedia is that the history of how the information was collated is there for all to see. The Register reporter would not have been able to gather such a complete picture of the story if the situation had occured in a different publication.

It is almost impossible to eliminate conflicts of interest when you have people involved in a project. What this may show is that openess of the process makes it easier for these COIs to be found. This in turn makes for a more reliable information source.

Dynamics of the Wikipedia

There has been a lot written about the Wikipedia lately and most of it pretty negative. So today when I saw Dave Winer link to an essay on the subject I expected another flame fest. But what has been posted is a viewpoint that I am sure many of us will agree on. A key phrase that starts the article gives you some indication of where he is gonna go in the write up

“The hive mind is for the most part stupid and boring. Why pay attention to it?”