CalTech graduate student Virgil Griffith built a search tool that traces IP addresses of those who make Wikipedia changes. Photo: Jake Appelbaum
On November 17th, 2005, an anonymous Wikipedia user deleted 15 paragraphs from an article on e-voting machine-vendor Diebold, excising an entire section critical of the company’s machines. While anonymous, such changes typically leave behind digital fingerprints offering hints about the contributor, such as the location of the computer used to make the edits.
In this case, the changes came from an IP address reserved for the corporate offices of Diebold itself. And it is far from an isolated case. A new data-mining service launched Monday traces millions of Wikipedia entries to their corporate sources, and for the first time puts comprehensive data behind longstanding suspicions of manipulation, which until now have surfaced only piecemeal in investigations of specific allegations.
Wikipedia Scanner — the brainchild of Cal Tech computation and neural-systems graduate student Virgil Griffith — offers users a searchable database that ties millions of anonymous Wikipedia edits to organizations where those edits apparently originated, by cross-referencing the edits with data on who owns the associated block of internet IP addresses.
To people who debate Wiki as amateur and traditional PR/journalism as professional, there’s a wealth of pro and con points to be gleaned from meditating on the above. (from Wired). Notwithstanding traditional ‘Cash for Comments’ fiascos, free meals/drinks/nibblies, and undisclosed business/writer connections, any information is suspect if you don’t put yourself in the writer’s shoes and determine her stated purpose versus hidden purpose.
But back to my real point: I often tell my clients and classes to manage their wikipedia page aggressively (it usually comes first in Google search). But I don’t mean overwhelm the page! We ARE, after all, talking social knowledge and social brands (your brand is how your client perceives you, not how you tell them to perceive you); it’s bad news to delete or try and un-voice your customers. Why isn’t that bloody obvious – seriously? I mean, companies using social media, social knowledge, social search – social voice – to silence critics is … barmy? mad? insane? What am I missing here? Companies and customers now share the same media distribution channels. We have the same tools. Customers can watch your company’s behaviour online as easily as you monitor their clickthroughs.
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.
Play nicely. And share. You are all in the same playground now. And there’s more of them (customers). 😛
Wal-Mart has a series of relatively small changes in 2005 that that burnish the company’s image on its own entry while often leaving criticism in, changing a line that its wages are less than other retail stores to a note that it pays nearly double the minimum wage, for example. Another leaves activist criticism on community impact intact, while citing a “definitive” study showing Wal-Mart raised the total number of jobs in a community.
Much better – but Walmart learnt the hard way, with their faux Walmart fanblog. Don’t make the same mistake.
The jury is out for me on wikipedia. I think it IS sustainable. I think that critics who assume people take the knowledge at face value are pessimistic about human nature and human stupidity – I don’t share that negativity. And I feel that most people don’t believe most of what they read in the press, though I agree that none of us question traditional media enough. I think we are getting used to assessing knowledge as TOP or TAIL. (Hmm does that have wrong connotations? I’m not sure). TOP being those subjects that are popular and closely monitored. Iraq, George Bush, The Simpsons – it’s hard to vandalise those pages, and they are more reliable. TAIL – being ‘long tail’ – are pages that are accessed rarely and edited/corrected even more rarely. There’s often a tipping point with a page where people have been playing with it – editing and mucking around and falsifying then correcting stuff – and then suddenly, Whammo! Wikipedia folks either put the whole thing up for deletion or else lock it down.
I don’t like the USA-centric nature of wikipedia. There’s been a few deletions of Australian stuff (we are small fish in a big American pond). I am concerned that wikipedia doesn’t swarm down enough: it might’ve been better to have established it in “books” – but then again there IS a brand/company wiki somewhere (can’t find it atm). Benefit of 20/20 hindsight there, heh. Anyway, let’s face it: who would read the BHP page on a company wiki or on BHP’s site if they can absorb the top facts from BHP wikipedia, and hope the wisdom of the crowds are equalising BHP-haters versus BHP fans?
By the way, what do you think I would have to do to get a wikipedia page? I would’ve thought cyber-streaking a conference would’ve done it. Heh.
EDIT: wanted to add this box
Share Your Sleuthing! Cornered any companies polishing up their Wikipedia entries? Spotted any government spooks rewriting history? Try Virgil Griffith’s Wikipedia Scanner yourself, then submit your finds and vote on other readers’ discoveries here.