New tool tracks Wikipedia changes
CNN is an acronym for the "Communist News Network."
Bob Marley "died from roots, rock, reggae and keeping it real."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., "may be in fact a Sith Lord."
And all of these have been "facts" on Wikipedia.
The popular online encyclopedia allows anyone to edit its content, which has allowed for errors to be written into Wikipedia entries.
Launched in August, WikiScanner, a Web site database, tracks and lists anonymous edits on Wikipedia pages, by organizations or by users.
The site, wikiscanner.virgil.gr, which was created by Cal Tech graduate student Virgil Griffith, cross-references any anonymous edits made to a Wikipedia entry with the user’s Internet Protocol address.
The WikiScanner was created after Griffith heard about a congressmen getting caught changing the content of their Wikipedia pages, he said.
Griffith said on his Web site that he believes his WikiScanner can help Wikipedia strive for honesty in the content of its entries.
"Wikipedia should (continue to) use various back-end analyses that will help counteract disinformation while keeping the low barrier to contribution," he said. "Overall, especially for non-controversial topics, Wikipedia already works. For controversial topics, Wikipedia can be made more reliable through techniques like this one."
The scanner compiles the lists of all the IP addresses that have made any edits and the companies to which the IP addresses belong.
To find any past edits that have been made to Wikipedia, visit the WikiScanner’s Web site at wikiscanner.virgil.gr. There, you can specify your search within a specific Wikipedia page, an IP range, organizations or location.
WikiScanner then produces IP ranges pertaining to the search inquiry. Check the specific IP ranges you want to look further into and then hit the "Wikipedia edits ahoy!" button.
Many edits that the WikiScanner finds are for grammar, spelling and syntax, but some are for different purposes.
In April 2006, a Kellogg, Brown and Root user edited the Wikipedia entry to say that cannabis "seriously tastes greatttt."
KBR is an engineering and construction company based in Houston.
In September, a Galveston County Daily News user added the following to a horse meat article: "Also, horse meat is people."
UH’s Wikipedia page
Approximately 320 edits have been made to the University’s Wikipedia page, according to the WikiScanner. Uunet Technologies Inc., an Internet service provider, made the largest contribution with 74 edits to UH’s entry.
And users at American Construction Investigations Ltd., an architecture and construction firm based in Houston, made the second-most edits at 32. ACI has UH alumni within its ranks, such as President Henry R. Hermis, Jr., Dan E. Medley, a senior associate with the firm and architects Linda Eilar and Anthony L. Sinegal.
Users in the firm’s network wrote that 4 percent of the University’s student body is gnomes, and that the University and Houston were the first to be destroyed in Independence Day.
The same users included the following under the "Traditions" section of the UH’s Wikipedia page: "There is a tradition of trying to find a parking space at between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. This is sort of a fun game that people like to play, which often may result in cars being keyed and vulgar comments about other people’s family."
Edits from UH IP addresses
WikiScanner yielded approximately 4,150 Wikipedia edits that were made within UH’s and UH-Downtown’s IP addresses on other Wikipedia pages and topics.
Edits within these networks range from fantasy weapons found in video games, declaration of men’s virility under a sex article and changes made to the character list on the Wikipedia’ s Family Guy entry.
In general, all results were found on the WikiScanner and cannot be traced down to a single user.
"Technically, we don’t know if it came from an agent of that company. However, we do know that edit came from someone with access to their network," Griffith said. "If the edit occurred during working hours, then we can reasonably assume that the person is either an employee of that company or a guest that was allowed access to their network."
Still within the UH network, users wrote the following under the "Patriotism" entry in Wikipedia on February 2006: "German patriots gather to hear Hitler (SAM DIKE) speak at the 1936 Nuremberg Rally in Nazi Germany."
Dike is the vice president of the Student Government Association. His name was removed from the entry within the same day.
In December 2006, users within UH’s network wrote the following commentary concerning Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard’s book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.
"(The) real commercial success is in doubt because Scientologists have organized book rebuying schemes designed to re-sell the same books many times over through stores."
Students take on Wikipedia
But while users might change the content on Wikipedia, students still turn to the encyclopedia for a quick reference or starting point in collecting information.
"I use it whenever my friends, or I have questions concerning something; I just go on Wikipedia and find an answer," said management business systems junior Kelson Kerruish.
Even though Wikipedia serves as a starting point, Kerruish said he remains wary on in-depth information the encyclopedia provides.
"(Professors) always tell you not to use it, so that’s why I always check what I find on Wikipedia with another source," he said.
For pre-optometry junior Paul Chen, Wikipedia is a tool to use when trying to understand complicated information.
"I’m hesitant when I go on Wikipedia, search for something and it comes up with a short article," he said. "I don’t trust anything that doesn’t have many cited sources.
"But in general, Wikipedia helps me when I’m studying, and I don’t understand a word or a concept in my textbook. I can go there and find a general entry to help me better process it."
Kerruish said he hopes that the WikiScanner can help put a stop on factually incorrect edits, or for the removal of critical information from entries.
"If you can get in trouble for adding incorrect information, then you should get caught and get in trouble for changing information," he said.