Hogan's Alley

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Premature Celebration About The End Of Institutional Interference In Wikipedia

Katie Hafner in today's NY Times celebrates the introduction of Wikiscanner, a web utility that performs a lookup of the owner of any computer network used to alter a Wiki page. The software was developed by Virgil Griffith, a 24 year old self described "disruptive technologist" from Santa Fe.

Using the software, numerous edits to corporate Wiki pages have been traced to such firms as WalMart, Pepsi, and even the Washington Post and NY Times. Over the coming days one can expect a nice flow of juicy revelations similar to those revealed today. Hafner's piece celebrates the assumed end of such shenanigans by those in corporate, political and non-profit organizations.

Trust me, the end is nowhere in sight. What is to prevent any institution from constantly reviewing the Wiki pages related to itself, commissioning edits that work in its own interests and then having an employee enter those changes from their home computer? In fact that would only be responsible behavior by any large organization. If the institution maintains credible deniability for its public relations and top corporate people and selects a person to actually perform the edit who has an unrecognizable user ID on an anonymous web server, who is going to be able to find their fingerprints then? So what if joeschmo@aol.com makes a change favorable to evil entity "x"? If written subtly enough, such changes should appear to be within the range of standard dispute on any controversial issue. Individuals in any organization can also go home and add edits based on their own sense of loyalty to the outfit they work for. They will be protecting their employer and still getting their feelings off their chest.

Shy of the sudden birth of total human honesty on the planet, the only protection Wikipedia can have is, as at present, a vigilant user community who will ferret out such self interested entries and quickly correct them.