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In the news this week

Wikipedia predicts the end of the world

Wikipedia's coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI has been much praised by the media (see archived story). This week, however, a darker side to the articles on the papacy was uncovered by Reuters [1].

In the 12th Century, Saint Malachy allegedly predicted the subsequent 112 popes, after which time Judgement Day would arrive. Believers in the prophecies of the saint have claimed that the election of the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger fulfils the prophecy for the 111th pope, which mentioned the 'glory of the olive'. Ratzinger's choice of the name Benedict could be seen as an allusion to a branch of the Order of Saint Benedict known as the Olivetans.

This might sound far fetched to a cynical reader, but the Wikipedia article on the Prophecy of the Popes was quoted in a Reuters article about the prophecy, with the news provider saying "'When (he) chose the name Benedict XVI, this was seen as fulfilling the prophecy for this pope,' wrote one entry on".

However, this strongly-worded sentence, which is not terribly neutral as quoted, was toned down considerably just after (although apparently unrelated to) the publication of the Reuters article [2]. The article, created on 12 October 2004, received only 12 edits before the death of John Paul II on 2 April; it has since been in a state of active flux, receiving over 500 edits last month.

Online trust

Search engine industry magazine SearchViews this week looked at the problems inherent in online review systems [3]. The article considered the power of a negative or inaccurate review to influence decisions and cost companies millions, and said that Wikipedia, and others have "lately gotten more active about building in functionality that allows for community-style policing of reviews", although the very essence of Wikipedia, of course, is that anyone can edit almost any article at any time.

The example the article cited of community policing on Wikipedia was the debate on the deletion of the entry for blogger Robert Scoble, which ultimately concluded that the article should be kept. Scoble himself noticed the debate about his entry [4], but seemed somewhat underwhelmed by the situation, saying "They kept me. Interesting."

Wikipedia in the developing world

Plans for the development of a print edition of Wikipedia (see Wikipedia 1.0 and this week's related story) have been inspired in part to assist the spread of free knowledge to parts of the world where computers are uncommon. Wikipedians have recently had a little outside help in reaching that goal in Namibia from SchoolNet, a non-profit organization focusing on education, whose slogan is "youth empowerment through internet." According to a story in KDE News [5], the organisation aims to provide computers to all schools in Namibia, and has already installed machines in 340 schools, mostly in remote areas. The computers run a distribution of Linux, and are also provided with snapshots of Project Gutenberg and Wikipedia, among other educational content.

The Hitchhiker's Guide

Many news outlets mentioned Wikipedia in comparison with the fictional reference work The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a central galactic reference work in the film by the same name which opened last weekend. The film was based on a seminal book by British author Douglas Adams, who also inspired the creation of the site, an explicit attempt to create the Guide from his books; it is now maintained by the BBC.

A live CNN broadcast recommended looking to Wikipedia to find The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, the Financial Post described the Hitchhiker's Guide reference work as " but with more advice on pubs" (for a similar work with more on pubs, see the current-era version of the Guide), and the Alberta Calgary Sun mentioned that Adams' idea predated Wikipedia.


Other citations of Wikipedia content varied widely this week. The Economist suggested Wikipedia's article on the Chinese Civil War for background reading on the tension between China and Taiwan [6]. Local Tech Wire pointed readers to Core competency [7], and Geospatial information systems magazine Directions made use of this collaborative project's definition of collaboration in an article on the subject [8].

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