Strong opinions, weakly held

Wikipedia 1 for 2

News.com has an article on Wikipedia’s two incidents last week. The first was John Siegenthaler’s op-ed for USA Today explaining that someone had written a Wikipedia article about him that stated that he was at one time thought to be complicit in the assassinations of both John and Robert Kennedy which had gone uncorrected until he noticed it himself. The second was the flap over Adam Curry’s rewriting the article on podcasting to suit his own recollection, eliminating mention of some contributions made by others.

To me, in the Siegenthaler case, Wikipedia flat out failed. An anonymous user posted defamatory information about a public figure and nobody caught it for months. Had Siegenthaler himself not found the article, who knows when it would have been corrected, if ever?

In the Adam Curry case, I think the system worked pretty well. Curry went in and edited the article (anonymously as well). People caught the edits and furthermore identified Curry as the editor by tracking him down from the IP address associated with the edits. The record has been corrected and hopefully everyone involved has learned a lesson.

I’m not sure how to solve the problem that burned Siegenthaler. Wikipedia is going to prevent anonymous users from posting new articles as of this week, but that doesn’t change the fact that obscure articles are hard to fact check. Generally speaking, Wikipedia editors should probably remove accusations like the one in the Siegenthaler article unless they are accompanied by credible references.


  1. I think that the problem with the discussions about Wikipedia is with the mental metaphore used.

    I think most people see Wikipedia as a “place” with “rooms”, “doors”, “managers” and “guests”.

    A better metaphore should be found in order to better understand Wikipedia. An no, I have’nt found it.


  2. Here’s why Siegenthaler’s entry wasn’t found and corrected. He was irrelevant. He was an assistant to the U.S. Attorney General 45 years ago. Quick quiz: who are the current Attorney General’s assistants? If he was relevant his entry would have attracted authors, and with attention comes quality in wikiland.

    Here’s the research illustrating this: http://en.wikibooks.org/w/index.php?title=Wikimania05/AB1

    People need to understand that wikis by their very nature are always works in progress. Like walking into a house under construction, the average person can get a pretty quick read on how long before the house is ready for occupancy. Same thing with wikis — the average literate person can get a pretty quick read on the validity/accuracy of a wiki entry.

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