The main criticism of Wikipedia is that anyone can edit it. I don’t know the first thing about the Napoleonic wars. But I can go to the Wikipedia article and edit the entry and act like I was there. I can change anything I want. When I save it, it looks just like the rest of the information on Wikipedia. But it’s not accurate.
A few weeks ago, WikiScanner was all the rage. When you edit Wikipedia anonymously, it records your IP address. That IP address is assigned to the organization from whom you get your Internet access. So people can do reverse lookups on the ip addresses of Wikipedia authors, and find out who their Internet providers are. Who cares, you may ask. Well, as it turns out, sometimes you can get a lot of information about an editor by knowing how they’re connecting to the Internet. What if your Internet provider is, say, Proctor & Gamble? Chances are, you work there. What if it’s the U.S. Senate? Same thing. And what if people in these organizations are editing the wikipedia entries about their respective products, people, or issues? We then have biased data that’s not easily attributed with its source.
WikiScanner allows you to search for an organization. It then looks to see which IP addresses are assigned to that organization. Then, it checks to see which pages in Wikipedia have been edited by those IP addresses. Pretty cool.
Another technology that’s helping to assert the quality of Wikipedia articles is the Wikipedia Trust Coloring project from the UCSC Wiki Lab. While this is only currently available as a demo, the idea is pretty neat. The text in Wikipedia articles is color-coded based on its stability. So text that doesn’t change much is the normal black color. Selections that change frequently, or are edited by people who haven’t contributed much to Wikipedia, are color-coded orange. The darker the orange, the more suspicious the information.
Last week, Alvin wrote about Scholarpedia. This tool overcomes the credibility problem by only publishing items that are peer-reviewed by scholars knowlegeable in the subject. Because of the significant requirements to be approved to edit an article, there’s not nearly as much information in Scholarpedia as there is in Wikipedia. But you can bet it’s a lot more accurate.