The Candy Apple
Wikipedia Is Not the Lovefest We Thought
It is not all fuzzy bears and bubblegum over at Wikipedia, the online open-editing encyclopedia project. We already knew that the “anyone can edit” approach made it possible to distribute false information, but now it sounds like there are some folks who have very personal issues with the site. The bloom is off the rose.
Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, has decided to tighten up on the “anyone can edit” arrangement due to two attention-getters of late. One man says he was wrongfully accused of a conspiracy to assassinate Robert F. Kennedy. In the second dust-up, an MTV VJ may have anonymously edited out references to his podcasting competitors. The new policy would prevent only the first problem, as anonymous users may no longer create new articles. Since they can still edit existing articles, the second problem would not be prevented. Wales claims that careful review of changes will keep such changes at bay.
Wikipedia’s history page describes how we got here from there, explaining how the project grew from a for-profit enterprise into its current format. I read it on December 19 and saw a link to a Web site critical of Wikipedia. The next day, that link was gone, but near the end of the article was an explanation of the Seigenthaler problem (he was the man accused of assassination conspiracy). I read much of the critical Web site and was astounded at the ill feeling held by a former Wikipedia staff member. I have no way to know how much of it is accurate, but if even some of it is true, there is some mud under those welcome mats at Wikipedia. I used Wikipedia’s Recent Changes feature to track down the link. It is fascinating to watch the logs, and see how often users, administrators, and Jimmy Wales himself, are editing each other’s articles.
These personal attacks make me not want to use the site at all anymore. I had already decided not to count on it for hard facts but only for overviews of a subject. It is still useful for that, as long as you verify your information before proceeding. But no way would I trust any article there about a specific person. There are too many people writing about themselves, and writing lies about each other, for any of it to be trustworthy.
Daniel Brandt has an interesting line of argument: he reminds us that the danger of erroneous information on Wikipedia is not just that Wikipedia users will see it. The bigger problem is that several sites mirror Wikipedia, and Google picks up all that stuff. Be sure to check out Brandt’s Page 2, linked at the bottom of the first page.
I am not endorsing Brandt, nor the kapitalism.net piece, nor Wikipedia’s staff. It is far too messy for someone new to the game to guess at who has done what wrongs to whom. But it does smell funny. It is too bad, when people get a whiff of power, that they don’t always use it only for good.
Also in This Series
- On Temptation · July 2010
- Beyond Pen Pals · July 2007
- Just Because We Can Do a Thing, Does Not Mean We Should Do a Thing · March 2006
- Google Tells Big Brother to Take a Hike · February 2006
- Wikipedia Is Not the Lovefest We Thought · January 2006
- Star Trek Gadgets Have Arrived · December 2005
- The Silver Screen Keeps Shrinking · October 2005
- It’s Just Business · July 2005
- Age Has Its Advantages · June 2005
- Complete Archive