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OPLIN 4cast #358: Wikipedia troubles

Posted in 4cast

Wikipedia logoWikipedia has problems. Now twelve years old, the online encyclopedia has developed some ailments that can be traced directly back to the volunteer editors of the site. Wikipedia entries depend on these volunteers, but they sometimes behave badly or discourage newcomers, and are hard to control. Some editors have been caught taking payments for writing entries that promote companies or products under multiple false user names (“sockpuppetry”). Everyone seems to agree that Wikipedia is troubled; but does it just need a thorough housecleaning, or is this the beginning of the end?

  • The battle to destroy Wikipedia’s biggest sockpuppet army (The Daily Dot/Simon Owens)  “There are a number of reasons why a user might create fake accounts, but given the promotional nature of the edits and their subjects—mostly small companies, many of which were based in Silicon Valley—it seemed obvious to all that the Morning277 network was made up of paid editors who had been hired by these companies to create pages for them. Wikipedia has had a long, uneasy relationship with paid contributors. Many purists believe that a Wikipedia page’s subject, or anyone paid by that subject, has no business editing that page because his objectivity is compromised.”
  • Is the PR industry buying influence over Wikipedia? (The Vice/Martin Robbins)  “Triggered by the unusual behavior of an editor named ‘Morning277,’ the year-long investigation has identified a network of over 300 accounts so far, responsible for thousands of edits dating back as far as 2008. ‘They most likely really have maintained or written in the area of 12,000 articles, and many of their clients are quite notable,’ claimed one investigator I spoke to.”
  • Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner’s response to paid advocacy editing and sockpuppetry (Wikimedia Foundation/Sue Gardner)  “Our readers know Wikipedia’s not perfect, but they also know that it has their best interests at heart, and is never trying to sell them a product or propagandize them in any way. Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem. We are actively examining this situation and exploring our options.”
  • The decline of Wikipedia (MIT Technology Review/Tom Simonite)  “Unsurprisingly, the data also indicate that well-intentioned newcomers are far less likely to still be editing Wikipedia two months after their first try. In their paper on those findings, the researchers suggest updating Wikipedia’s motto, ‘The encyclopedia that anyone can edit.’ Their version reads: ‘The encyclopedia that anyone who understands the norms, socializes him or herself, dodges the impersonal wall of semi-automated rejection and still wants to voluntarily contribute his or her time and energy can edit.’ Because Wikipedia has failed to replenish its supply of editors, its skew toward technical, Western, and male-dominated subject matter has persisted.”

Data fact:
The mention of data in the last quote above refers to an interesting research paper by Aaron Halfaker et al.: The rise and decline of an open collaboration community: How Wikipedia’s reaction to sudden popularity is causing its decline.