August 18, 2007

More Wikipedia "Gotcha" Silliness

Greetings. My concerns regarding the Wikipedia operational model are fairly well known, e.g. "Wikipedia and Responsibility".

So it was with considerable interest that I've noted the controversy regarding a 24-year-old self-described "disruptive technologist," and his tool to more easily track the origin of Wikipedia changes (New York Times: "Lifting Corporate Fingerprints From the Editing of Wikipedia".

But even the title of that article tends to belie the underlying nature of a real problem -- the lack of accountability for most of what's written or edited in Wikipedia. The "Corporate Fingerprints" bit is cute -- but what about all of the other fingerprints smeared through virtually every byte of the Wikipedia database?

Apparently it's one thing to snicker about corporate folks who want to correct what they perceive as errors (or, indeed, put their own positive spin on "the facts.") But there seems to be little interest in figuring out who purposely defaces pages, plants false or defaming information in the first place, or for that matter is responsible for the more mundane, probably factual minutiae, even just for the sake of establishing authenticity or expertise.

Wikipedia seems to be turning into a gigantic "gotcha" machine -- increasingly contaminated like a chunk of "Silly Putty" that's been used once too often to pick up comic strip images.

The single best thing that Wikipedia could do to lend itself genuine credibility would be to require that contributers identify themselves -- by name, not by handles or childish aliases. Or, as an alternative, at the very least clearly indicate "in-line" when unauthenticated text dominates an entry.

Ironically, our disruptive technologist's tracing mechanism will probably have ever less value moving forward from today. While it will continue to be useful for retrospective analysis up to this point in time, we can be sure that more and more of the primarily targeted corporate Wikipedia editors will learn their lesson.

That lesson being, if you're going to edit your entry on Wikipedia, be sure to do it through a public proxy or generic ISP account, not through your corporate network.

So moving forward, we'll probably have even less meaningful transparency concerning Wikipedia changes, and that Silly Putty Syndrome will likely continue to escalate.

Given what Wikipedia could aspire to be, that's really a shame.


Posted by Lauren at August 18, 2007 03:56 PM | Permalink
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