One nice thing about true open source software, especially when it’s running a huge website like Wikipedia, is that creative programmers can make useful add-ons to it.
Wired Magazine (which I generally dislike) has an interesting article in the August issue about Virgil Griffith’s Wikipedia Scanner, which can tell you what organizations have edited what pages on Wikipedia and what their edits were. When someone edits a page on Wikipedia, even if the edit was made anonymously, the editor’s IP address is recorded and permanently associated with the edit in the database. Wikipedia Scanner processes the entirety of Wikipedia into a database of IP addresses, and then uses other tools to connect those IP addresses to the institutions that own the associated computers. As a result you can look up voting machine maker Diebold, for example, and quickly see where someone who works for them removed unfavorable information from the article about them (which was quickly restored). It is possible to look up edits made using computers coming from major corporations and government agencies. This really shines a helpful light on Wikipedia. In a way, this tool is a good argument for open source as a model for information production, because it’s the openness of Wikipedia in this instance that allowed a user to make a contribution that helps to overcome the downside of allowing anyone to make edits. I think it would be good if this tool were incorporated into the Wikimedia platform.
Thanks to my work friend Mags for sharing the link with me.