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Wikipedia "lowest common denominator" problem and the problem of vandalism

The word on Wikipedia Trust but verify - Nightly News with Brian Williams

MSNBC.com

Wikipedia is a marvel of Web innovation and utility, but the incident in Waters’ class, added to several celebrated controversies in which entries for famous people were found to be false, raises a troubling question: Just how accurate is Wikipedia, and can you trust what it tells you?

For Middlebury College’s history department, the answer is plain: Not totally, and not always. The department banned students from using it as a source in their papers, although they are allowed to consult it for background material, a move that was quickly mimicked by professors at other schools, including UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania.

Harnessing the wisdom of the masses

Wikipedia is different from traditional encyclopedias in one crucial respect. Instead of seeking out recognized authorities in hundreds or thousands of fields to write its articles, it lets anybody — everybody — write them. And it also lets anybody edit nearly all of them at will.

The idea is that the large Wikipedia usership will yield experts on a particular topic. The back and forth as they debate and tweak entries should, in turn, yield a deeply reviewed and credible consensus article.

But the sheer size of that usership means tens of thousands of changes are made each day to Wikipedia’s nearly 1.7 million entries (that’s in the English version — there are Wikipedias for nearly every significant language on Earth, including Esperanto and even Tok Pisin, a Creole spoken in northern Papua New Guinea). And while Wikipedia has a large staff of moderators and trusted editors, it can take a while for entries to be reviewed.

If you happen to consult an entry that hasn’t been fully vetted or edited — or one that’s fallen victim to a flurry of disputed edits by folks with axes to grind — you can get into trouble.

Just this year, a Wikipedia entry falsely proclaimed that the comedian Sinbad was dead. (“Saturday, I rose from the dead,” he said.) Golfer Fuzzy Zoeller sued last month to find out who anonymously posted, falsely, that he abused drugs. And a prolific and highly trusted contributor believed to be a professor was unmasked as a 24-year-old college dropout.

Wikipedia comes clean

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales presides over a burgeoning empire. Wikimedia, the site’s host, has expanded into textbooks, republishable content, news, shared media and online project coordination. It all rests on Wikipedia’s reputation as an always available, convenient and reliable repository of the world’s knowledge.

But as controversies have grown, Wikipedia has had to fight to uphold its reputation. One way it now does so is by acknowledging its shortcomings.

“Reaching neutrality is occasionally made harder by extreme-viewpoint contributors,” it says, and it warns that “Wikipedia makes no guarantee of validity.”

“Please be advised that nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by people with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information,” it says in a general disclaimer.

‘Hacked to bits by hoi polloi’

That unreliability draws critics who say Wikipedia allows a forum for information vandals and propagandists. One of them is Larry Sanger, a co-founder of Wikipedia with Wales and its first editor.

While making it clear that he appreciates the merits of a project like Wikipedia, Sanger said in an article on the technology site Kuro5hin in 2005 that users are forced to take authors’ claims of expertise on faith and can be sandbagged by vandals at any time.

“If the project was lucky enough to have a writer or two well-informed about some specialized subject, and if their work was not degraded in quality by the majority of people, whose knowledge of the subject is based on paragraphs in books and mere mentions in college classes, then there might be a good, credible article on that specialized subject,” Sanger wrote.

“Otherwise, there will be no article at all, a very amateurish-sounding article, or an article that looks like it might once have been pretty good, but which has been hacked to bits by hoi polloi,” he added.

The conclusion is that users who rely on Wikipedia are running a risk. And for students whose research will be graded by real, honest-to-goodness experts in the classroom, that is probably too big a risk, said Sree Srinivasan, a journalism professor at Columbia University and visiting professor of new media at the Poynter Institute, a journalism education organization.

We need to teach our students that, basically, information on Wikipedia can be updated very easily,” Srinivasan stressed.

On that point, even Wikipedia agrees. The ban at Middlebury College “is a great idea,” said Jim Redmond, a Wikipedia administrator and editor. “Students shouldn’t even be tempted to use Wikipedia as an original source.”

Lisa Daniels is a correspondent for NBC News. Alex Johnson is a reporter for MSNBC.com.

Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems The Register

Yes it's garbage, but it's delivered so much faster!

Page: 1 2 Next >

By Andrew Orlowski in San Francisco More by this author

Published Tuesday 18th October 2005 03:48 GMT

Green Computing - Where do you stand?

Encouraging signs from the Wikipedia project, where co-founder and überpedian Jimmy Wales has acknowledged there are real quality problems with the online work.

Criticism of the project from within the inner sanctum has been very rare so far, although fellow co-founder Larry Sanger, who is no longer associated with the project, pleaded with the management to improve its content by befriending, and not alienating, established sources of expertise. (i.e., people who know what they're talking about.)

Meanwhile, criticism from outside the Wikipedia camp has been rebuffed with a ferocious blend of irrationality and vigor that's almost unprecedented in our experience: if you thought Apple, Amiga, Mozilla or OS/2 fans were er, ... passionate, you haven't met a wiki-fiddler. For them, it's a religious crusade.

In the inkies, Wikipedia has enjoyed a charmed life, with many of the feature articles about the five-year old project resembling advertisements. Emphasis is placed on the knowledgeable articles (by any yardstick, it's excellent for Klingon, BSD Unix, and Ayn Rand), the breadth of its entries (Klingon again), and process issues such as speed.

"We don't ever talk about absolute quality," boasted one of the project's prominent supporters, Clay Shirky, a faculty tutor at NYU. But it's increasingly difficult to avoid the issue any longer.

Especially since Wikipedia's material is replicated endlessly on the web: it's the first port of call for "sploggers" who create phoney sites, spam blogs, which created to promote their clients in Google.

Wales was responding to author Nicholas Carr, who in a dazzling post on the transcendent New Age "hive-mind" rhetoric that envelops the "Web 2.0" bubble, took time out to examine the quality of two entries picked at random: Bill Gates and Jane Fonda.

He wasn't impressed by what he saw.

"This is garbage, an incoherent hodge-podge of dubious factoids that adds up to something far less than the sum of its parts," he wrote.

Something that aspires to be a reference work ought to be judged by the quality of the worst entry, he said, in response to the clock-stopped, right-time defense of the project, not by the fact it's got some good articles.

"In theory, Wikipedia is a beautiful thing - it has to be a beautiful thing if the Web is leading us to a higher consciousness," writes Carr.

Only it isn't.

"An encyclopedia can't just have a small percentage of good entries and be considered a success. I would argue, in fact, that the overall quality of an encyclopedia is best judged by its weakest entries rather than its best. What's the worth of an unreliable reference work?"

Why, as an Emergent Phenomenon™ it provides a subject that can be used for countless hours of class study for people like Clay Shirky, of course. Good for him - but what about the rest of us?

Uncountable

Surprisingly, Wales agreed that the entries weren't up to snuff.

"The two examples he puts forward are, quite frankly, a horrific embarassment. [sic] Bill Gates and Jane Fonda are nearly unreadable crap. Why? What can we do about it?" he asked.

Traditionally, Wikipedia supporters have responded to criticism in one of several ways. The commonest is: If you don't like an entry, you can fix it yourself. Which is rather like going to a restaurant for a date, being served terrible food, and then being told by the waiter where to find the kitchen. But you didn't come out to cook a meal - you could have done that at home! No matter, roll up your sleeves.

As a second line of defense, Wikipedians point to flaws in the existing dead tree encyclopedias, as if the handful of errors in Britannica cancels out the many errors, hopeless apologies for entries, and tortured prose, of Wikipedia itself.

Thirdly, and here you can see that the defense is beginning to run out of steam, one's attention is drawn to process issues: such as the speed with which errors are fixed, or the fact that looking up a Wikipedia is faster than using an alternative. This line of argument is even weaker than the first: it's like going to a restaurant for a date - and being pelted with rotten food, thrown at you at high velocity by the waiters.

But the issue of readability poses even greater challenges. Even when a Wikipedia entry is 100 per cent factually correct, and those facts have been carefully chosen, it all too often reads as if it has been translated from one language to another then into to a third, passing an illiterate translator at each stage. (Possibly if one of these languages was Klingon, the entry might survive the mauling, but that doesn't appear to be the case very often).

Here the problems begin, because readability is a quality that can't be generated by a machine, or judged by one. It's the kind of subjective valuation that the Wikipedians explicitly hate: subjectivity is scorned for failing the positivist's NPOV test.

As a delicious illustration, Wikipedia appears to have a quality problem with the word "quality" itself. While Merriam Webster online offers us eight major definitions, including "a) degree of excellence : GRADE ... b : superiority in kind", and the Cambridge Dictionary three, of which two are "how good or bad something is and of a high standard" Wikipedia's sister project Wiktionary definition begins this. "1 - (uncountable) general good value"

Now is that General Good Value as in something plucked from a Wal-Mart sale? And "Uncountable"? Yes, indeed.

If this was a Marvel Comic, our superhero Objectivity would by now be ensared in the evil coils of Subjectivity. There appears to be no escape. Or is there?

Not good enough - so what do we wikkin' do?

Re-working Wikipedia so it presents the user with something minimally readable will be a mammoth task. Although the project has no shortage of volunteers, most add nothing: busying themselves with edits that simply add or takeaway a comma. These are housekeeping tasks that build up credits for the participants, so they can rise higher in the organization.

And Wikipedia's "cabal" has become notorious for deterring knowledgable and literate contributors. One who became weary of the in-fighting, Orthogonal, calls it Wikipedia's HUAC - the House of Unamerican Activities prominent in the McCarthy era for hunting down and imprisoning the ideologically-incorrect.

So right now, the project appears ill-equipped to respond to the new challenge. Its philosophical approach deters subjective judgements about quality, and its political mindset deters outside experts from helping.

This isn't promising.

One day Wikipedia may well be the most amazing reference work the world has ever seen, lauded for its quality. But to get from here to there it will need real experts and top quality writing - it won't get there by hoping that its whizzy technical processes remedy such deficiencies. In other words, it will resemble today's traditional encyclopedias far more than it does today.

For now we simply welcome the candour: at least Wikipedia is officially out of QD, or the "Quality Denial" stage.

Bootnote Of the many, many atrocious entries, we'd like to bring one more to the HUAC's attention, and it's our very favorite. As of the time of writing, whoever wrote the entry for soul legend Baby Washington has no idea who she is, but makes a wild guess, then gives up completely with the less-than-helpful advice: "Many have written inacurate information about Washington. She IS NOT "BABY WASHINGTON" from James Brown." (sic).

Indeed. But note that this entry has been edited no less than seven times and can be found replicated at Biography.com, Answers.com, Reference.com, InfoMutt, The Free Dictionary and hundreds of other sites.

You've got to love the web. Just bask in that collective intelligence.

Desicritics.org Wikipedia - Happy Birthday To You

Netsurfer Digest 05.32

This month Wikipedia celebrates its sixth birthday. Also, earlier in the month, the number of English articles on Wikipedia crossed 1.5 million. This number grows by almost 2000 every single day. Compared to this, the number of articles in Encyclopedia Britannica (over 122,264) is a far cry. More than a million people visit Wikipedia every day (half of whom visit the English pages). Five out of every 100 internet users visit Wikipedia daily. Only 11 other sites are visited by more people. Wikipedia is very often at the top of Google search results (almost always in the top 10 results) for things ranging from ideologies (communism - 1, capitalism - 1); sports (cricket - 2, football - 3); sciences (economics - 1, literature - 3); places (India - 1, France - 1, Budapest - 2); people (Sachin Tendulkar - 1, Einstein - 2); objects (water - 2, chair - 1).

Many things are taking place here. On the one hand, articles are being created at a rate, depth, and detail, which are utterly unprecedented. For instance, Wikipedia has detailed and easily accessible articles about "Triskaidekaphobia" and "Perfidious Albion", while a careful search did not reveal any relevant articles in Britannica. On the other hand, more and more people are consulting, quoting and referring to Wikipedia than ever before. It is rare to see a blog post these days which does not link to Wikipedia for the background information on some topic. This is the reason for the high Google page rank for Wikipedia entries on any issue under the sun.

We notice then a couple of reasons for this mammoth phenomenon: extensiveness of the topics covered and the easy accessibility. Needless to say, an enormous amount of technical expertise went into achieving these qualities. Whether in allowing thousands of users to easily create and edit articles, or in enabling effective interlinking among articles, or in "redirecting", this expertise is clearly noticeable. But the real point of Wikipedia is this: its success is truly as much a matter of its millions of faceless users as of its creators. Perhaps more importantly, so are its drawbacks.

Wikipedia's more than six million articles in all languages are created by registered users and they are edited by any user, not necessarily registered. To register, one simply needs to pick a login name and password. An email address is not necessary. More than three million "Wikipedians", or registered users, edited articles at least 10 times since they registered. Eighty thousand of these edit at least five times every month and 10,000 edit at least a hundred times a month.

It is not often the case that one single person has all (or even most) of the information on a topic. The success of Wikipedia lies in bringing together thousands of people (who think they have something to contribute on a particular topic) and enabling them to easily add their knowledge to the common pool. For instance, a look at the history page for the article on England informs us that it was created on 23 November 2001 by a user called Derek Ross with a tiny amount of information. Since then it has gone through 6398 edits to become what it is today. For the last six months, there are roughly 500 monthly edits on this article. So all these thousands of people are persuaded to spend their valuable time on adding to/refining/correcting/vandalising this article and without their contribution there would be no Wikipedia.

The last verb above, vandalising, is important. A glance at the history page again tells us that a number of the edits of the article on England have merely "reverted vandalism". Vandalism may or may not be intentional. But its effect is to make an article erroneous. However, it is an enormously difficult task to define errors. Except in the case of a few easy factual errors, it is not at all clear how to define an error. This is where the most crucial problem with Wikipedia for me arises. It completely sidesteps the issue of authenticity.

I did a little experiment on this. On the morning of 8th January, 2007 I made the following two changes on Wikipedia:

1. On its page for Existentialism, I changed the first sentence from "Existentialism is a philosophical movement that deals with human freedom" to "Existentialism is a philosophical movement that deals with human existence".

2. On its page for Sigrid Undset, in the first sentence I changed the year when she got Nobel Prize in literature from 1928 (correct) to 1927 (incorrect).

As of this writing (12th January) both changes remain.

The first change is certainly more involved. As far as I know, it is misleading to say that existentialism deals with human freedom. It deals with human freedom also. But this is not the first sentence one writes on the topic. (Indeed, the whole article in Wikipedia is unsatisfactory. I would definitely prefer this article on Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) Of course, what I wrote is more misleading. But surely, thousands of people since 8th January have read the first sentence and retained only that confusing piece of information.

The second is more straightforward. It alarms me that no one has corrected it yet. A Google search on Sigrid Undet returns the Wikipedia page as the third result. Many people would click on this ahead of the first two results. It is conceivable that lots of people have looked at this page in the last five days and went away with the wrong information. A little bit of checking (indeed, even reading the Wikipedia page till the end) would correct them. But of course few people would actually check.

It will be interesting to see how long it will be before these changes are reverted.

This is the crux of the Wikipedia phenomenon: it pays no attention to the matter of expertise. A teenager sitting in her home in a remote village in China with an internet connection has as much weight and scope to expound on the causes and effects of the Great Depression as the renowned expert at Harvard who has spent a life time thinking about the subject. This is in itself neither disturbing nor comforting. There are contexts where it may be either.

Personally, I would not look at (or at least be very suspicious of) Wikipedia on many topics (like existentialism). On factual issues (like the dates, numbers etc) I would definitely confirm them if I am making serious use of those facts. In spite of these reservations, I am convinced that Wikipedia is a great tool with unlimited scope.

Wikipedia is an amazing possibility let loose on the World Wide Web, for anyone connected to explore. It is a curious entity: full of wonderful things, but never really able to deny the threat of a fatal flaw somewhere. The ironical thing about Wikipedia is that its greatness can not exist without its flaws. If you try to remove one, the other goes too.

Update: Less than 15 minutes after I posted this article on my blog, an anonymous reader posted this comment: Your changes have been reverted. Please do not do that again. Thanks.

Krishna is doing Ph.D in mathematics. He writes at Quasi-Coherent Ruminations.

Original Research Some thoughts on Wikipedia from India

llywrch

I'm not surprised that you are unaware of the "Marxist" coloring of the word "collectivism": I suspect that you don't live in the United States, where that connotation is unadvoidable. That word is used in a positive way only by leftists. For anyone else to suggest that collectivism might be a good thing would be (to another Americanism) a "CLM" or a career-limiting move. Even though many of his theories and insights have long ago become accepted and refined by economists, Marx has been so demonized in American political discourse that some of my fellow citizens will stop thinking when they see that word. Look at the discussion between Raymond and Bezroukov that I have referenced: Raymond strikes back instinctively at the few mentions of Marx and ignores the rest of Bezroukov's insights.

Geoff
 

A Critique of the Bazaar, with a Postscript by Godwin

Last year, Eric Raymond wrote the influential "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" which expounded on the philosophical underpinnings of the Open Source movement. He paralleled the old corporate method of software development with building a cathedral and open source development with a collaborative bazaar. This week, Nikolai Bezroukov wrote a scathing critique of that paper entitled "Open Source Software Development as a Special Type of Academic Research (Critique of Vulgar Raymondism)", complete with allusions to "vulgar Marxism". While Nikolai clearly needs a course in remedial paper titling, his criticism has set off an amusing tempest in an academic teapot, with Eric Raymond taking Nikolai to task for adding "almost nothing useful to the debate". Consider it the entertaining philosophical equivalent of a World Wrestling Federation cage match. We should note that the Nazis have been invoked, which means that the debate is officially over, at lest according to the commonly mis-quoted dictates of Godwin's Law.
Raymond: http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue3_3/raymond/index.html
Bezroukov: http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue4_10/bezroukov/index.html
Response: http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/writings/response-to-bezroukov.html
Godwin's Law: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/legends/godwin/

The Dark Side of Wikipedia SEOmoz

Biased manipulation runs wild on Wikipedia, and the extent to which it influences the pages of that site will probably never be known. In the field of SEO, where every link counts, Wikipedia's reference links at the bottom of articles and their external links in the body text of articles were once considered search engine ranking gold. Early this year, Wikipedia moved to institute nofollow on all outbound links, and many presumed the controversy would die there. It hasn't.

I think the best way I can illustrate this massive problem is to attack the most common questions that come up around Wiki-hacking (yes, I'm inventing a moniker so I don't have to say "editing Wikipedia from a biased perspective in inaccurate, misleading or mis-representational ways" every time). Those who frequent Wikipedia would probably consider these edits to be "vandalism," but that's a very inaccurate representation of the actions that are actually happening. Vandalism refers to intentional destruction or damage of property - in the offline world, think graffiti or bricks through a window. These Wikipedia edits are, primarily, intended never to be detected by other Wikipedia editors or the outside world - a better analogy might be the subtle manipulation of a news report to slant in favor of a political party or candidate.

Some major questions and issues:

Why Edit Wikipedia Pages if There's No Link Juice?

How Do Malicious Edits Happen?

What are Some of the Best/Worst Stories I've Heard?

Why Don't Administrators Stop this Behavior?

They do, actually. You can see this popular project page called WikiProject Spam, where a "spamstar of glory" (yes, seriously) is awarded for stopping spammers on Wikipedia. A fairly immense to-do list exists on this page, and it's actually one of the Wiki-Hackers' most feared pages. Unfortunately, it's also a tool - Wiki-Hackers who want information removed or who want to build up the "trust" of their own accounts will actually become spam investigators and reporters. One of the best ways to reach administrator level is actually to catch some of the "trusted" accounts that are actually other Wiki-Hackers, and thus the community of Wiki-Hackers is not on particularly good terms with one another. Turning in other hackers puts you above suspicion in a way that few other actions on Wikipedia can, and thus, it's one of the holy grails of the infiltrator-style hackers.

How do You Know All This, Rand?

Two ways, really. First, I've played around first-hand with some of the pages with Wikipedia. In fact, prior to the "nofollow" implementation on links, I personally had a few editorial accounts through proxy IP addresses, though I probably haven't actively edited Wikipedia pages in the last 9 months. Instead, I've been connecting over email and in-person with a lot of folks who run reputation management and link building campaigns that do leverage Wikipedia. The number of stories, depth of detail, and actual examples (which I obviously can't share without betraying a lot of trust), including the stories I've recounted above, paint a fairly dark picture of what's actually happening at Wikipedia.

Granted, because of my profession, I'm almost certainly getting an overrepresentation of the more manipulative aspects of what happens on Wikipedia. It's only natural. While lots of experienced Wiki-Hackers love to share their favorite stories of manipulating the site, very few of the truly quality editors are

A) ever going to meet me at a party or go get some drinks with me at a conference bar, or B) boast about the terrific article they created about 70s-style tube socks as fashion accessories.

Please do note that the specific stories I've recounted above have had details removed or even slightly modified to keep the identities of my sources anonymous. A couple, as I noted, are second-hand, as well, so I'm guessing some details may be missing. However, even with the details missing, you can still get a sense of the tactics for manipulation and the extent to which people are willing to go to in order to change Wikipedia in their favor.

One Quick Example from the Site

This comes from two friends at Wikipedia who really are legitimate editors and spam fighters, Jon Hochman (one of the foremost authorities on Wikipedia & SEO) and Durova (who spoke at SMX Social in October and had this terrificly informative interview over chat with Jim Hedger). From Durova's Talk Page Archives:

I just spent 50 minutes playing cat and mouse with a vandal, and WP:AIV still hasn't acted on my block request. I guess its time to ask for the tools. What do you think? Jehochman (talk/contrib) 04:45, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

Done, 24 hour block. Sometimes it feels good to have the tools. Thanks for the heads up. Cheers, DurovaCharge! 04:48, 14 May 2007 (UTC)
This one is using proxies. He's over here now: 142.179.62.0 (talk · contribs · deleted contribs · logs · block user · block log) Jehochman (talk/contrib) 04:53, 14 May 2007 (UTC)
I think we are dealing with a black hat SEO who may be using some sort of script. I see a pattern in the edits. My suspicion is that they want one specific reference gone, and are attacking all of them to create confusion. Can we semi-protect the targeted articles, starting with Traffic Power? Jehochman (talk/contrib) 05:04, 14 May 2007 (UTC)
Am I caught up on the blocks? Keep me apprised; I'm working on a complex investigation with another editor atm. DurovaCharge! 05:05, 14 May 2007 (UTC)
Semi-protecting. Give me the full list. DurovaCharge! 05:07, 14 May 2007 (UTC)
Blocks are good. Here are the targeted articles. I think he'll be back soon. Jehochman (talk/contrib) 05:11, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

Obviously, this example above is a very amateur attempt, and Jon & Durova are all over it. Professional-level Wiki-Hacking is much more difficult to rat out.

The most frustrating part for Wikipedians has to be that they themselves receive no financial reward for their efforts, yet their opposition, the Wiki-Hackers, benefit monetarily and directly when they have success penetrating the spam police.

Do all of these Wiki-Wars Really Matter?

The most accurate answer is probably "it depends." It's very hard to gauge how much the public trusts information on Wikipedia. My gut tells me that, sadly, a lot of people simply accept whatever Wikipedia says without checking real sources of information (yes, I'm saying that Wikipedia by its very nature is untrustworthy, even if 95%+ of the information there is factual, which is probably a big stretch). However, I can say with some certainty that businesses and individuals get a great deal of value and suffer a great deal of loss when Wikipedia contains positive/negative information about them (very similar to Google or other search engines). Thus, a secondary "black" market will always exist to exploit the site and attempt to change information. Even if Wikipedia went into immediate lockdown mode, there would be auctions for trusted editorial accounts, devious manipulation, and, probably, an even higher price on all of the Wiki-Hacking style activities.

There's no real solution to the cat-and-mouse game, unless Jimbo wants to turn Wikipedia into some sort of Mahalo-like resource, where only those invited can edit (and even then, I'm guessing it will just mean higher prices, not an end to hacking).

p.s. Yes, the nofollows on all links to Wikipedia are intentionally "nofollowed." Someone should create a blog plug-in to auto-nofollow Wikipedia links so the site stops ranking atop every query in existence.

p.p.s. None of the content in this post is intended to suggest that I don't respect the project, its aims, or the lofty aspirations of many of the hardworking people trying to make it a good resource. In fact, I believe quite the opposite - that folks like Durova, in particular, and others like here have a noble, self-sacrificing streak that's both rare and praise-worthy. But, depending on your view of Wikipedia and black/gray hat social media practices as a whole, you might find some of her opponents equally admirable, or at least, impressively creative.


Gab bookworm seo Goldenberg | November 20th, 2007

I've made Wikipedia edits myself, though much more garden variety. I used to do it a lot more, particularly when I had something helpful to contribute. Adding other sites besides your own is a useful tactic as well, as that way you're not being entirely self-promotional.

The interest for me personally was in the traffic, which I liked in, of and for itself.

Thanks for sharing these various tactics Rand!

BTW, you didn't finish your sentence:

•The Bad Mouther - This particular Wiki Hacker got caught by another editor and in order to save himself, dug through every edit his accusor had ever [........???......]

(Oh, and while I have your attention, I still haven't gotten a response from you or Jeff on whether I earned a premium membership last month?... Feel free to delete this part of the comment if/when you get back to me.)

Final thing I thought I'd mention: if you can't rank for it, you can get W to rank for it and slide some links to yourself from the W page. Consider it a SERP monopolization effort. Plus the fact of getting more links to a page from around Wikipedia (gradually, over time, making edits to the page equally gently) can help earn trust.

Tom Critchlow | November 20th, 2007

Nice comprehensive post Rand - although it's blatantly obvious that things like this will be going on it's nice to take a peek into the actual tactics used.

shanada | November 20th, 2007

Well, the auto-insertion of nofollow tags into a blog post should be rather straight forward, a simple matter of using regex to find any wikipedia links and insert the nofollow tag into them. Hell, Jeff should be able to whip a simple script up rather quickly :)

It'd make interesting link bait too - I'm sure there are many SEOers out there who would like to 'get one back' at wikipedia via a wordpress plugin or something similar (perhaps a plugin that allows you to customise the URLs that get nofollowed?)

Another, most subtle (devious?) way to get better general usage would be to include it as a minor 'feature' in a more general plugin that a wider audience would use. For irony bonus, perhaps an anti-spam plugin? :p

Sean Maguire | November 20th, 2007

Fascinating post. Not sure which I like better - your new moniker "Wiki-Hacking" or your new word "Terrificly". I think the latter.

Every tactic you've described comes right out of the Mafia playbook - especially "The Talker" - this passive aggressive sinister mind reveling in criminal mischief. Of course, it's common knowledge that the Mafia doesn't exist, so that leaves me wondering if your post is simply the ramblings of yet another paranoid CEO? (Which btw, I highly recommend if you haven't already).

"Do all of these Wiki-Wars Really Matter? The most accurate answer is probably "it depends."

Rand, I think you're being overly kind when you say "your gut tells you a lot of people simply accept whatever Wikipedia says..." You mean people like, say...um.....GOOGLE?!!!

Is it possible that you're jaded by your good fortune of being surrounded by so many intelligentsia - the people that actually have the good sense to question "things", as opposed to the other 95% of society that would beleive anything written on pressed wood pulp?

Conversely, when you consider that when politicians speak you can't beleive half of what they say, 95% accuracy is pretty darn good! Of course, then there's the good old US Post Office. (Don't get me started).

Reminds me of that Seinfeld episode when Newman tells Jerry he didn't get the coveted transfer to Hawaii. "They knew it wasn't me doing my route. Too many people got their mail! Close to 80%. Nobody from the post office has ever cracked the 50% barrier! It's like the 3-minute mile!

One thing's for sure Bugs - This is one cwazy wiki-whacky world we're wiving in.

feedthebot | November 20th, 2007

I would keep in mind that much as the vast majority of Google users do not know or care about SEO, the same is true of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is an enormously important resource to tens of millions of people.

That there are attempts to manipulate it is just a measure of their success. They are indeed a resource, for good reason, they are a massively useful place to people who are trying to learn.

Bear with me as I say this, but the truth is that I am disturbed when you call for a nofollow plug. Wait, don't get mad yet...

To have such an enormous amount of information online in so many languages is massively important for education all over the world.

For every entry that somehow promotes a product, there are probably ten thousand that don't.

As someone who didn't have the luxury of a public education, I am very concerned about the few options that people do have to attain one. Wikipedia is the best multi language tool for education that exists right now and I think that if mind power was put into the improvement of it, rather than the destruction of it, then it would become even more useful.

I completely understand the frustration we have (and I have too sometimes) with the blanket authority that is given to Wikipedia by Google. It does suck, and is often completely unfair.

The bigger picture (as my silly self sees it) is that in one tiny sector (SEO) there are alot of negative feelings for Wikipedia, but in the vast majority of users, there are mostly positive feelings.

If the only solution you see to our small (seo) sectors problems with it is to attempt to destroy Wikipedias usefulness, then I am sorry you feel that way. I disagree.

Wikipedia benefits tens of millions of people all over the world who are unable to have the education we get to have, perhaps there are better ways to look at this problem than to call for destructive and manipulative techniques (nofollow plugins, etc.) to be used against it.

This articles title "The Dark Side of Wikipedia" could easily be replaced with "The Dark Side of SEO".

Are we really going to try to destroy things, no matter how valuable they are to others, because they don't please or profit us personally?

Sean Maguire | November 20th, 2007

I don't see anyone here trying to destroy Wikipedia. Rand is simply pointing out the inherent flaws in a system that is ripe for malicious intent.

If anything, I think this post brings a necessary awareness to a pervasive problem. If that serves as a catalyst for Wikipedia to take steps to improve the system and in the process, the accuracy of the content, then those that count on it for education can be grateful that their education will be based on fact rather than fiction.

Wickedpedia- The dark side of Wikipedia | ZDNet

Do a Web search on any popular product, event, company, person, whatever. What's the first site that shows up? Chances are it's Wikipedia. For better or for worse, people assume that anything they find in Wikipedia is Gospel truth. That's very foolish. It now seems that some of Wikipedia's writers and editors have sold out the truth for their own gains.

As reported by Violet Blue, two Wikipedia insiders, Roger Bamkin and Max Klein, have allegedly written, edited, and placed Wikipedia articles for paying clients.

The facts appear damning. Klein's consulting business untrikiwiki comes right out and states: “A positive Wikipedia article is invaluable SEO: it's almost guaranteed to be a top three Google hit. Surprisingly this benefit of writing for Wikipedia is underutilized, but relates exactly the lack of true expertise in the field. ... WE HAVE THE EXPERTISE NEEDED to navigate the complex maze surrounding 'conflict of interest' editing on Wikipedia. With more than eight years of experience, over 10,000 edits, and countless community connections we offer holistic Wikipedia services.”

Oh yeah, that sure sounds like a Wikipedia editor and not a shill. Since the scandal broke, Klein has tried to spin his business, “We’ve never made a single edit for which we had a conflict of interest on Wikipedia – ever. Although we have advertised such a service, we’ve not aggressively pursued it – and we have not accepted any clients interested in on-Wikipedia work.” So, Klein advertises a service in ALL CAPS in true spammish fashion, but he's never done it? Interesting.

He went on, “We believe – strongly – that there’s nothing inherently wrong with accepting for-profit engagements that involve contributing to Wikipedia, as long as it’s approached in a transparent and ethical fashion.” Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder would appear to disagree: Wales wrote in 2009  that “It is not ok with me that anyone ever set up a service selling their services as a Wikipedia editor, administrator, bureaucrat, etc. I will personally block any cases that I am shown.”

Bamkin has since resigned as a Wikimedia UK trustee . Klein is still listed as a Wikpedian in Residence for OCLC Research. The Wikipedia internal conflict over whether their actions should be condemned or whether the accusations are unfair attacks from outsiders continues in the site's discussions forums. The mere fact that many Wikipedia insiders are unable to see the problems speaks volumes.

For years, Wikipedia has danced around scandals about its reliability and transparency. The worst example of this, before this current scandal, was when a major Wikipedia site administrator and employee called Essjay, who claimed to be “a tenured professor of religion at a private university” with “a Ph. D. in theology and a degree in canon law,” was proven to be a high-school dropout. Wales first defended him but then distanced himself.

Aside from the scandals, Wikipedia's unique combination of self-righteousness and know-it-allism has long led it to deny experts from outside its closed circle from writing and editing stories. The most egregious recent example was when Wikipedia's editors wouldn't correct an entry about a novel by famous American author Philip Roth when the writer himself reported the error.

In a New Yorker article Roth explained, that he had asked for a serious misstatement about his novel “The Human Stain.” be removed. I'll let Mr. Roth explain what happened next:

Yet when, through an official interlocutor, I recently petitioned Wikipedia to delete this misstatement, along with two others, my interlocutor was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator”—in a letter dated August 25th and addressed to my interlocutor—that I, Roth, was not a credible source: “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,” writes the Wikipedia Administrator—“but we require secondary sources.”

So there you have Wikipedia in all its glory: Touched with corruption, employing fakes, and so sure of its own correctness that it won't listen to the real experts. Have fun faking up your reports from Wikipedia articles kids!

Inside, Wikipedia is more like a sweatshop than Santa's workshop Technology The Guardian

Wikipedia is frequently touted as a marvel of collaboration, a model of peer production. But it may be more instructive as a laboratory of pathologies of social interaction. While perhaps - like sausages- it's better not to see the product being made, any familiarity with how Wikipedia operates should give rise to enormous scepticism about its alleged example of harmonious collective action.

Wikipedia's success has led to many sites focused on its foibles. One such site, the "Wikipedia Review", was the locus of much investigation into the "EssJay" scandal in which a highly ranked administrator falsified academic degrees and lied to the New Yorker (tinyurl.com/22an3d). It also mocks Jimmy Wales's repeated denial of co-founder status to former employee and Wikipedia creator Larry Sanger (larrysanger.org/roleinwp.html) - now running rival site citizendium.org - by dubbing Wales the "Sole Flounder".

The combination of feuds and relentless focus on negatives associated with Wikipedia creates an obsession by some devoted Wikipedians about the evils visited upon them. Tensions can also be intensified by the fact that since Wikipedia supports accounts with no identity verification, nobody can ever be sure if a pseudonymous user's opinion is sincere or a sham. You could in theory have several such accounts (called "sock puppets"), and operate them to give the impression of having several supporters for one viewpoint. Abusing this facility is against policy, though preventing it is difficult.

This toxic mix of paranoia, fear of infiltrators and a social system where status can be acquired by fighting off threats (real or imagined) exploded recently into a governance scandal familiar to any observer of bureaucratic politics. A prominent Wikipedia administrator unilaterally revoked the account of a highly regarded contributor. When questioned, the response claimed the evidence was too sensitive to be released to the public, but had been vetted at the highest levels. Shortly after, the administrator reversed the action, apologising and citing new information. The end of the matter? No. It had barely begun.

The secret dossier was leaked, and turned out to be a deeply flawed quasi-profiling purportedly establishing the suspected contributor as, paraphrased, a sleeper agent for an enemy cell (that is, from Wikipedia Review) bent on disruption. Yet official actions were taken to stop the leak from being posted in Wikipedia discussion under the pretext of "policy and violating copyright" (tinyurl.com/ytj9qo).

Of course, the material was immediately available on Wikipedia Review (tinyurl.com/2sjrmj) and another site, Wikitruth.info, thus giving those sites redeeming value, whatever their flaws.

Jimmy Wales himself was none too pleased. Although he preaches that Wikipedia is built on trust and love, he can be notably unloving to those untrusting of his pronouncements. One long-time editor who posted the leaked evidence was said by Wales to be trolling (being deliberately disruptive): "He knew he was trolling, and I doubt if he will last much longer at Wikipedia because of it" (tinyurl.com/2q9jdg). A formal attempt was made to virtually ban that editor, which narrowly failed. The administrator stepped down, and quasi-judicial proceedings ended with several admonishments.

It's not that Wikipedia participants are expected to transcend humanity. Rather, it's that looking beyond the rosy marketing picture reveals little but bureaucracy implemented poorly - including fiefdoms, cliques and sycophancy to the charismatic leader.

For all Jimmy Wales's self-promotion regarding his supposed ability to build good communities, it's apparent his skill is instead in knowing how to sell a dysfunctional community effectively. One subtext of the Wikipedia hype is that businesses can harvest an eager pool of free labour, disposable volunteers who will donate effort for the sheer joy of it. The fantasy is somewhat akin to Santa's workshop, where little elves work happily away for wages of a glass of milk and a cookie. Whereas the reality is closer to an exploitative cult running on sweatshop labour.

·sethf.com/infothought/blog

Secret mailing list rocks Wikipedia By Cade Metz

4th December 2007 The Register

Exclusive On the surface, all is well in Wikiland. Just last week, a headline from The San Francisco Chronicle told the world that "Wikipedia's Future Is Still Looking Up," as the paper happily announced that founder Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales plans to expand his operation with a high-profile move to the city by the bay.

But underneath, there's trouble brewing.

Controversy has erupted among the encyclopedia's core contributors, after a rogue editor revealed that the site's top administrators are using a secret insider mailing list to crackdown on perceived threats to their power.

Many suspected that such a list was in use, as the Wikipedia "ruling clique" grew increasingly concerned with banning editors for the most petty of reasons. But now that the list's existence is confirmed, the rank and file are on the verge of revolt.

Revealed after an uber-admin called "Durova" used it in an attempt to enforce the quixotic ban of a longtime contributor, this secret mailing list seems to undermine the site's famously egalitarian ethos. At the very least, the list allows the ruling clique to push its agenda without scrutiny from the community at large. But clearly, it has also been used to silence the voice of at least one person who was merely trying to improve the encyclopedia's content.

"I've never seen the Wikipedia community as angry as they are with this one," says Charles Ainsworth, a Japan-based editor who's contributed more feature articles to the site than all but six other writers. "I think there was more hidden anger and frustration with the 'ruling clique' than I thought and Durova's heavy-handed action and arrogant refusal to take sufficient accountability for it has released all of it into the open."

Kelly Martin, a former member of Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee, leaves no doubt that this sort of surreptitious communication has gone on for ages. "This particular list is new, but the strategy is old," Martin told us via phone, from outside Chicago. "It's certainly not consistent with the public principles of the site. But in reality, it's standard practice."

Meanwhile, Jimbo Wales has told the community that all this is merely a tempest in a teacup. As he points out, the user that Durova wrongly banned was reinstated after a mere 75 minutes. But it would seem that Jimbo has done his best to suppress any talk of the secret mailing list.

Whatever the case, many longtime editors are up-in-arms. And the site's top administrators seem more concerned with petty site politics than with building a trustworthy encyclopedia. "The problem with Wikipedia is that, for so many in the project, it's no longer about the encyclopedia," Martin wrote in a recent blog post. "The problem is that Wikipedia's community has defined itself not in terms of the encyclopedia it is supposedly producing, but instead of the people it venerates and the people it abhors."

Bang! Bang! You're dead

On November 18, Durova banned a Wikipedia editor known as "!!". Yes, "!!". Some have taken to calling him "Bang Bang." At Wikipedia, everyone has the right to anonymity, and user names are often, shall we say, inexplicable.

In banning this account, Durova described it as an "abusive sock puppet," insisting it was setup by someone dead set on destroying the encyclopedia. "This problem editor is a troublemaker whose username is two exclamation points with no letters," read the block. "He is a ripened sock with a padded history of redirects, minor edits, and some DYK work. He also indulges in obscene trolling in German, and free range sarcasm and troublemaking. If you find this user gloating, or spot his nasty side, hit him with the banhammer." DYKs are edits made to the "Did You Know" section of the Wikipedia home page.

Durova then posted a notice to the site's public forum, insisting the ban was too important for discussion outside the purview of the Arbitration Committee, Wikipedia's Supreme Court. "Due to the nature of this investigation, our normal open discussion isn't really feasible," she said. "Please take to arbitration if you disagree with this decision."

But it was discussed. At length. Countless editors were nothing less than livid, many arguing that the banned user was actually a wonderfully productive editor. "Durova, you're really going to have to explain this," wrote one editor. "I see no transgressions of any kind on the part of this user; indeed, with over 100 DYKs, he seems to be a pretty positive force around here."

Meanwhile, Durova continued to insist that she had some sort of secret evidence that could only be viewed by the Arbitration Committee. "I am very confident my research will stand up to scrutiny," she said. "I am equally confident that anything I say here will be parsed rather closely by some disruptive banned sockpuppeteers. If I open the door a little bit it'll become a wedge issue as people ask for more information, and then some rather deep research techniques would be in jeopardy."

Then someone posted a private email from Durova in which she divulged her evidence - and revealed the secret mailing list.

Next page: Wikiparanoia

Wikiparanoia

Basically, Durova's email showed that Bang Bang was indeed a wonderfully productive editor. She was sure this was all a put-on, that he was trying to gain the community's "good faith" and destroy it from within.

We're not joking.

This sort of extreme paranoia has become the norm among the Wikipedia inner circle. There are a handful sites across the web that spend most of their bandwidth criticizing the Wikipedia elite - the leading example being Wikipedia Review - and the ruling clique spends countless hours worrying that these critics are trying to infiltrate the encyclopedia itself.

Bang Bang was a relatively new account. Since this new user was a skilled editor, Durova decided, he must be "a vandal" sent by Wikipedia Review. "I need to show you not just what Wikipedia Review is doing to us, but how they're doing it," she said in her email. "Here's a troublemaker whose username is two exclamation points with no letters: !! It's what I would call [a] 'ripened sock'...Some of the folks at WR do this to game the community's good faith."

Former Arbitration Committee member Kelly Martin confirms that this bizarre attitude is now par for the course inside the Wikipedia inner circle. "Anyone who makes large changes to anything now is likely to get run over by a steamroller," she says. "It's not a matter of whether your edit was good or bad. All they see is 'large edit my person not known to me' and - boom! They smack you on the head because vandals are so bad."

As it turned out, Bang Bang was an experienced user. He had set up a new account after having privacy problems with his old one. Once her secret email was posted, Durova removed the ban, calling it "a false positive."

Durova then voluntarily relinquished her admin powers, and over the weekend, the Arbitration Committee admonished her "to exercise greater care when issuing blocks."

The secret mailing list

But this particular false positive was only part of the problem. With her email, Durova also revealed that the ruling clique was using that secret mailing list to combat its enemies - both real and imagined. "The good news," she said, was that the Wikipedia Review "trolls" didn't know the list existed. And then she linked to the list's sign-up page.

The list is hosted by Wikia, the Jimmy Wales-founded open source web portal that was setup as an entirely separate entity from the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation that oversees Wikipedia.

The sign-up page explains that the list is designed to quash "cyberstalking" and "harassment." But it would seem that things have gotten a bit out-of-hand. Clearly, the list is also used to land "the banhammer" on innocent bystanders.

"The problem is that their false positive rate is about 90 per cent - or higher," says Kelly Martin. "It's possible that every last person Durova has identified is innocent."

Recently, in another effort to quash "harassment," several members of the Wikipedia elite tried to ban the mention of certain "BADSITES" on the encyclopedia, and naturally, Wikipedia Review was on the list. Dan Tobias was one of the many editors who successfully fought this ban, and as he battled, he marveled at how well organized his opponents seemed to be.

"Over the months that I've been fighting people over issues like the BADSITES proposal, it looks like a lot of these people I was fighting were on this secret email list - at least I suspect they were," says the Floridia-based Tobias. "They always seemed to be show up in right place, at the right time, to gang up on people."

Yes, it all sounds like the most ridiculous of high school squabbles. But Tobias was merely trying to protect free speech on a site where free speech is supposedly sacred.

The irony, Tobias points out, is that in using this mailing list, the Wikipedia inner circle is guilty of the same behavior they're trying to fight. "They're villainizing the so-called attack sites because these sites are promoting pernicious ideas about Wikipedia," he says. "The argument is that when a bunch of like-minded people get together, they're sounding boards for one another, and they end up getting way off base because there's not an opposing viewpoint around.

"But you could say the exact same thing about this secret email list: a bunch of like-minded people are encouraging each other's possibly wacked-out views and, in the end, making trouble on Wikipedia."

Oversight

If you take Wikipedia as seriously as it takes itself, this is a huge problem. The site is ostensibly devoted to democratic consensus and the free exchange of ideas. But whether or not you believe in the holy law of Web 2.0, Wikipedia is tearing at the seams. Many of its core contributors are extremely unhappy about Durova's ill-advised ban and the exposure of the secret mailing list, and some feel that the site's well-being is seriously threatened.

In a post to Wikipedia, Jimbo Wales says that this whole incident was blown out of proportion. "I advise the world to relax a notch or two. A bad block was made for 75 minutes," he says. "It was reversed and an apology given. There are things to be studied here about what went wrong and what could be done in the future, but wow, could we please do so with a lot less drama? A 75 minute block, even if made badly, is hardly worth all this drama. Let's please love each other, love the project, and remember what we are here for."

But he's not admitting how deep this controversy goes. Wales and the Wikimedia Foudation came down hard on the editor who leaked Durova's email. After it was posted to the public forum, the email was promptly "oversighted" - i.e. permanently removed. Then this rogue editor posted it to his personal talk page, and a Wikimedia Foundation member not only oversighted the email again, but temporarily banned the editor.

Then Jimbo swooped in with a personal rebuke. "You have caused too much harm to justify us putting up with this kind of behavior much longer," he told the editor.

The problem, for many regular contributors, is that Wales and the Foundation seem to be siding with Durova's bizarre behavior. "I believe that Jimbo's credibility has been greatly damaged because of his open support for these people," says Charles Ainsworth. And if Jimbo can't maintain his credibility, the site's most experienced editors may not stick around. Since the banhammer came down, Bang Bang hasn't edited a lick. ®

 

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WikipediaDark side of Wikipedia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Wikipedia_spam_cleanup

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators%27_noticeboard/Incidents/Indefinite_block_of_an_established_editor

Also here is another one you forgot

Also to answer your PS request

Here is the original wikipedia nofollow plugin .

Britannica - and that would be a good thing.

 paranoid CEO?

 you know, or are thinking about wikipedia and what you are going to do with it you should be thinking about Virgil Griffith and the wikiscanner. You can google around and see what people do on wikipedia   

For those who don't know JohnWeb (JLH) from the Google webmaster help group or his blog, he is a wonderfully witty, knowlegable guy who spends alot of time helping out other webmasters.

ntact Wikipedia through official channels have all of their concerns taken seriously. Hack jobs are regarded just as poorly as puff pieces in the Wikipedia culture.

This is one cwazy wiki-whacky world we're wiving in.  

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/dec/06/wikipedia

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/12/04/wikipedia_secret_mailing/ 

  

Wikipedia Authority

Wikipedia user Igor Berger article submission talk

 Her administrative recall page is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_comment/Durova

 The joint Arbitration Committee case against her and JeHochman is here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_arbitration#Durova_and_Jehochman

 JeHochman was questioned just last week for similar abuses: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators%27_noticeboard/IncidentArchive324#Bizarre_behavior_from_Jehochman

 

 



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