Wikipedia Scanner

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.

4 comments on “Wikipedia Scanner

  1. I would like to give you a full answer to that question, but I’m at work and don’t really have time. In short, I don’t like it because I find it mostly propaganda for a certain cyberlibertarian ideology of tech. The formula involves: new era of post-soviet, post-history boom time free market capitalism, with always new and always slick fetishized gadgetry (presented in flashy photographs and uber-designed pages), and the idea that all of this gadgetry promises transcendence of all the old problems, so that to state a problem that has gone unsolved for some time is to misunderstand the fact that in the new technological world, old problems have become irrelevant, and so have you if you do not buy all the new stuff.

  2. WikiScanner is vaguely interesting, but it doesn’t establish that “organisations” are editing Wikipedia. It only shows that individuals in those organisations are doing so. If I, as an employee of a university, edit the page of that university, am I doing anything wrong, or even dubious? Not automatically. I may be removing pro-university bias, or correcting a mistake. I may, true, be inserting pro-university bias, but not necessarily at the behest at the university.

    So we need to interpret WikiScanner carefully.


  3. It doesn’t only show what organizations’ computer systems are used by people making edits. It also allows you to click on a link to see exactly what those edits are. The conclusions people are drawing about organizations altering articles to further their own interest are not presumptions based on the fact that editors are coming from these organizations’ computers, but are based on what the edits actually are.

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