Thursday, August 23, 2007

Would You Update Wikipedia If Everyone Knew it Was You?

Would you update an entry in online “encyclopedia” Wikipedia if people could discover that you did it? This could very well be a likely scenario, as a young computer-science guru has developed a tool that can pinpoint the computer network that an edit to an entry originates. According to several reports, he’s already discovered that several updates, some of which were derogatory or mean, have come from government offices, including the CIA; and even the Vatican!

The hacker in question, Virgil Griffith, calls his discovery WikiScanner. Rather than hinder the development of Wikipedia, this technology could potentially lead to even greater accuracy of this up-to-the-minute Web resource. The way Wikipedia works is that any old Web surfer can anonymously update an entry, whether he's a college professor, or an 18-year-old student. If something derogatory or incorrect is added, don’t fear: it’s likely that someone from somewhere around the world will find it and correct within days, if not hours or minutes!

Now think about it: if you knew you could easily be discovered as the author of an update to an entry, would you be so crass as to write something you weren’t 100% sure was accurate, or that you thought might be offensive? Probably not.

In my experience (and others I’ve talked with) Wikipedia has, for the most part, been surprisingly accurate, but for a few facts and comments here and there. If WikiScanner can help increase the accuracy of entries even more, then kudos to 24-year-old Griffith.


David Gerard said...

The thing people are forgetting is that you could already do this - click on the "history" tab of any article. In the list of authors you'll likely see a few Internet addresses (four numbers with dots, e.g. Those are what WikiScanner indexes. Its innovation is (a) indexing it by address ranges (b) identifying who owns those ranges. So we at Wikipedia are just saying, "We told you edits are public and recorded!" I predict a lot of people explaining to their bosses just what they were doing at work ...

Marketnews - Christine Persaud said...

Hi David,

Thanks for the comment. I guess WikiScanner's big appeal is the fact that the average person doesn't know how to identify who owns a specific IP address, and WikiScanner just brings something the forefront that, as you mention, essentially already existed, but no one knew how to translate. It's interesting nonetheless, and it can only be a good thing to make Wikipedia that much more accurate.