DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Sep 27 2007

Do You Know Who’s Writing Wikipedia?

by Jimmy L

Wikipedia_2 As you probably know, the concept behind the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia is that anybody can add to or change its contents. This results in a huge and powerful knowledge base culled from the varied interests and expertise of its worldwide members.

But this also raises questions about the reliability of such information. Recently, Cal Tech student Virgil Griffith has asked that same question and tried to answer it. Griffith has created a website called Wikipedia Scanner that makes the history of these changes transparent by exposing the changes that come from IP addresses within companies. This way, even when someone is making changes to Wikipedia anonymously, we can match those changes with the source they are coming from. For example, with a search on Diebold on the Wikipedia Scanner, you can find out that the company has excised an entire “Criticism” section from the Diebold entry (which has since been restored). Similarly, Wal-Mart has inserted statements that provide a positive spin on the company, replacing “Wages at Wal-Mart are about 20% less than at other retail stores,” with “The average wage at Wal-Mart is almost double the federal minimum wage (Wal-Mart).”

Knowing as much as possible about the source of your information is one of the keys to doing top-notch research. Thankfully, we have new ways of harnessing this incredible source without so easily falling into its traps.

Check out some of the other great research tools available free at the library!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Captain Blog-ini September 28, 2007 at 1:18 PM

Indeed, I concur. Please list sites where you can look up reliable information for research general info, maybe wikipedia is more like a search engine than an encyclopedia. I have read some interesting things on it this year, for instance with the Coca Cola Company, however like my mum says, you’ve got to 1. Consider the Source (which is the problem actually :-) )
and 2. Take everything with a grain of salt. (even with “relaible” or well-respected sources of info like…the AP (joking :-) or a White-House Press Aid (REALLY joking now :-), all information, is subject to correction. You know like the entire, if-take-five-witnesses-to-one-accident-you’ll-have-five-differing-accounts -of-that-one-accident scenario. Or even in everyday scenarios, where everybody views every thing through the lense of his/her own eye in which you not only have differing camera angles i.e. different perspectives like the aforementioned accident scenario, but you also have different camera men (or women) peeping through the lense’s viewfinder. So therefore, for ONE story or situation, you can have an infinite amount of movies being filmed, creating information that prompts each camera man (or woman) to periodically think, “are we talking about the same thing?” “did I just see the same thing that you saw?”

(Just imagine any conversation betwixt ANY man and ANY woman–VASTLY differing lenses, VASTLY differing camera people, and according to a one John Gray, VASTLY different planets, too! :-)

Final thought of the day:
A wise man once said to his son, “Believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.” (P.S. I can’t half remember, but that may have been a wise mother to her daughter–I can’t remember the source)
:-)

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