Saturday, August 18, 2007

Don't Trust Wikipedia!

Yes, I've been referring to its pages for definitions to some of the subjects I cover. But I, like everyone else, kept wondering whether the ability to edit and re-edit articles causes an objective article to become more and more subjective, misrepresenting and even deceitful .

In the past, there were cases where private people were accused of editing theirs, or their rivals profiles (or this), but the following research by a CalTech graduate Virgil Griffith confirms our worst suspicions: corporates and government offices are editing articles to reflect the opinions that suit them. Microsoft, Diebold, even the CIA are some examples of organizations that take part in re-shaping our view of the world to fit theirs.

Agent Mulder's paranoid motto "Trust No One" starts to ring true :(

The way Griffith approached this looks simple in hindsight, but is ingenious:
Griffith thus downloaded the entire encyclopedia, isolating the XML-based records of anonymous changes and IP addresses. He then correlated those IP addresses with public net-address lookup services such as ARIN, as well as private domain-name data provided by

The result: A database of 34.4 million edits, performed by 2.6 million organizations or individuals ranging from the CIA to Microsoft to Congressional offices, now linked to the edits they or someone at their organization's net address has made.
Here is a link to the full article and a link to Griffith's WikiScanner - a database of corporations and the Wikipedia articles they've edited. And if you don't have the time to drill down, go to this list of salacious edits for the most famous edits, aptly named Wikidgame (examples: Al-Jazeera adds Anti-semitic comments, Occidental Petroleum clears its past, Haliburton and War Crimes... the list goes on).

In the future, I'll try to minimize Wikipedia references and concentrate on technical only (although this too is suspect: in my HD DVD post, I referred to both HD DVD and BluRay entries in Wikipedia - completely forgetting that behind these 2 rivaling formats there are 2 groups of companies, fighting for market share - and make no mistake, altering your rival's Wikipedia entry is now considered a fair move in the war).

PS: I thought of using as a replacement to Wikipedia. I've entered "BluRay" and the first link that came up is for "HD DVD official site" - clearly I can trust no one :) For lack of a better alternative, I'll try to use Google's "define:" tag, and some tech blogs.

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