London bombings article

Bombings article tracks breaking news with record editing pace

In the wake of the London bombings on 7 July, the Wikipedia article on the subject received record attention from both editors and readers. It also drew considerable media coverage from Wikipedia's reputation as a source for detailed information about breaking news. The article's popularity was such that it received more than a hundred edits every hour for the first day, and was still getting over a hundred edits daily at the end of the week.

Only an hour and a half after the bombings occurred, at 09:18 (UTC) (Note: UTC is one hour behind British Summer Time; the first bombs were at 08:50 BST, or 07:50 UTC), Morwen created the initial article about the event. She reported that she actually knew about the explosions some time earlier from colleagues at work, but true to the principle that Wikipedia only includes information that has been reported elsewhere first, she waited until she could confirm it from initial media reports. Wikinews had its article started at 08:28 (UTC) (using at first BBC radio reports then newswire articles), barely more than half an hour after the first bombs exploded, with the news being the front page headline moments later.

In the next 24 hours after Morwen created the Wikipedia article, over 800 editors contributed 2,857 edits, which as best as can be determined is a Wikipedia record. The previous record was set two months ago in April, when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope. The pace slowed considerably after the first day, but even on Sunday the article received 189 edits.

The extremely high rate of editing on the article caused frustration for many editors. During the most intense periods, it was difficult to make even minor edits without running into edit conflicts. Another problem was that large sections of the article would occasionally be duplicated, an issue that periodically comes up when the MediaWiki software has trouble processing edit conflicts while someone is editing a section. In one case, the duplication problem resulted in nearly half an hour of edits having to be reverted. Aside from technical issues, vandalism, spamming, and bad-faith edits to add bogus information were also frequent problems, leading to at least 16 people being blocked from editing the article. Once editing slowed down to a reasonable pace, most of these problems were either no longer an issue or easily manageable.

Page moves show how information comes out

One interesting aspect of the article's history is how it tracks the way in which information about the bombings became available. This can particularly be seen in the title being used for the article, which changed repeatedly during the first few hours, something that is now easier to track since MediaWiki 1.5 keeps a record of page moves.

The first title of the article was "London Underground power surge incident", as this was the explanation initially reported before the fact of the bombs became known. At 09:32 (UTC), Morwen moved the page to "London Underground explosions", as rumors about explosive devices gave the first indication that the power surge explanation was false. Once reports of the bus bombing appeared, Alphax moved the article to "London transport explosions" at 09:44 (UTC), given that the explosions were no longer limited to the Underground. At 09:52 (UTC), Harro5 moved the page once more, giving it a date as "2005 London transport explosions", thus distinguishing it more clearly from similar historical incidents.

The title of "2005 London transport explosions" then remained in place for several hours, and the vast majority of outside sites linked to the article in this form. As speculation increasingly focused on bombs, Pigsonthewing finally moved the article to "July 7, 2005 London bombing" at 12:32 (UTC). Over the next half hour, several more people moved the article, tweaking the date format and ultimately settling on the plural to indicate the multiple incidents.

The current form, "7 July 2005 London bombings", is not necessarily the final word either, and the possibility of coming up with a less awkward title has already been raised on the talk page. It was pointed out, however, that the ultimate title of the article depends on how the general public comes to refer to these events, something that will become more clear with the passage of time.

Outside sources point to Wikipedia

The flurry of media coverage surrounding the bombings caused a huge influx of visitors to the article. As of July 9, the London bombings article had received more than 250,000 page views, making it the most popular article in the history of Wikipedia. Unlike many previous flurries, however, the Wikimedia grid showed no signs of stress. This can be attributed to more web servers and improved network configuration. In addition to the heavily trafficked English article, there are currently versions of the article in 24 other languages.

The Adam Stacey photograph

When reporting on the response to the bombings among the public and the press, media sources also frequently discussed activity among online communities. While reporters often focused on Flickr and its collection of images related to the bombings, Wikipedia also received considerable attention. One widely mentioned story was how a photograph, taken by Adam Stacey on the Underground and quickly posted to under a Creative Commons license, ended up on Wikipedia and ultimately circulated to many major media organizations.

Numerous bloggers commented on the rapid development of the London bombings article. Nik Cubrilovic wrote "It is amazing how quickly a page detailing every aspect of the attack forms together on Wikipedia - they have more information than any of the major news providers." Ross Mayfield suggested using Wikipedia Animate to watch the article "evolve with thousands of edits into collective understanding". A more critical comment came from Tollie Williams who wrote that a "plethora of information was very quickly posted but sometimes inaccurately or without attribution of sources." On the day of the bombings, the Wikipedia article ranked as the third most prominently mentioned link in the blogosphere according to

Several mainstream media sources also commented on Wikipedia's coverage of the event. Newsweek proclaimed "It is no longer newspapers, as the old maxim goes, that write the first draft of history." The Scotsman used an instance of vandalism in the article as an example of a weakness of "citizen news". Despite this criticism, the article termed Wikipedia as "usually excellent". The Wikipedia article was also used as a reference by many news sources, including the New York Times and Newsday.

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Discuss this story

A few observations:

  • Vandalism and various other varieties of bad-faith editing was so severe that I've had to block 16 people and warn dozens more in a matter of a few hours, at the last count.
  • Along with the usual page-defacers there were hordes of people trying to promote their websites, with some just linking to irrelevant blog posts in the external links section, others linking to pages they'd made of photos that had just been taken from Wikipedia or from news sites, but complete with anti-Islamic rants and other political stuff, and some even going so far as to add whole paragraphs to the world reaction section all about how they'd done something interesting over at their blog.
  • It's wiki-blasphemy, I know, but my faith in fully open editing was left severely damaged. Most of the material in the article was written by a relatively small number of people, and was kept organised and consistent - and overseen and watched for vandalism - by a few more. Most of the anons who contributed caused an overall decline in the quality of the article, by introducing unsourced rumours that had to be squashed, duplicating what had already been said, or just generally leaving a path of destruction in their wake. In my humble opinion the article should have been protected in a way that allowed registered contributors only to contribute. The sheer number of people who must have been arriving at the page every second meant that even the most short-lived of vandalism will have greeted large numbers of readers.
  • Edit conflicts were a nightmare, with several edits going through a minute in some cases. Major copyediting taking a few minutes had to be followed by frantic merging of anything worth keeping from the dozens of updates made since, although many simply overwrote other people's edits, causing much wikistress all round.
  • It was interesting observing the pattern of editing. There were some odd periods of calm. Late last night (8 July) I did an overhaul and rearrangement and then the article stopped being edited for nearly an hour. I suspect this was because it was approaching 1am in the UK and most British Wikipedians had called it a night. There appear to have been other gaps in editing like this at various points in the article history.
  • Looking around at what people had said about the article in their blogs was really encouraging, with some saying it was the best information they'd found, demonstrated to them that newspapers were rendered completely useless in times like this, and that web-based sources and particularly Wikipedia were the way forward, as well as all kinds of other praise.
  • By the way, with your comment about the Pope article, we had an article on Ratzinger a long time before he became Pope (in about 2002 I think), and it was fairly extensive by the time of the conclave, so it's not quite accurate to say an article was immediately created, though as I recall it was moved to the new title within about ten seconds.

Trilobite (Talk) 9 July 2005 17:17 (UTC)

Mainstream media mentions



July 8, 2005 Friday

Jardin of was interviewed for the show and had this to say: JARDIN: Absolutely. One of the most profound things about the way this story unfolded on the Internet yesterday, too, is sites like Wikipedia, which is a big, collaborative online encyclopedia, there`s an entry for the London bombings that was edited some 2,800 times yesterday.

And that`s really amazing when you start thinking about the fact that that`s just maintained by volunteers, by people all over the Internet who are just following this story.

So, where on CNN, you might learn about the bomb blast or see the wreckage, here you`ll see the location of the Tube stops, you`ll see history, you`ll see all this other context that we used to have to wait for print media to provide. But here it`s being provided by fellow citizens on the Internet, if you will.

A July 8 New York Times story on amateur photo coverage cited Wikipedia as a source: "One frequently posted image was of a young man who covered his mouth with a cloth after his train had stopped and filled with smoke. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, one of the sites that posted the photo, identified the photographer as Adam Stacey and said he and others in the subway had escaped by smashing train windows. Mr. Stacey, the Web site said, was fine other than suffering smoke inhalation."

Newsday, one of the largest American local newspapers, also used Wikipedia as a source for a chart comparing stats of the London and NYC subways: "SOURCE: NYC TRANSIT, TRANSPORT FOR LONDON, WIKIPEDIA ONLINE ENCYCLOPEDIA"

lots of issues | leave me a message 9 July 2005 18:20 (UTC)


According to PR Newswire, "Wikipedia, a collaborative online encyclopedia maintained and updated by volunteer contributors, ranked third among most-shared links at, while Yahoo's FlickR "Image Pool," which allowed users to post photos of the bombing scenes, ranked No. 11." ( has identified more than 13.5 million blogs for daily analysis of key issues, trends and personalities.)

More links:

  • Newsweek - History's New First Draft "But perhaps the biggest story on Thursday was Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that Internet users around the world freely add to and edit. Yesterday’s entry on the London bombings was amended, edited and updated by hundreds of readers no fewer than 2,800 times throughout the day. “It’s very different than what you get on CNN,” explains Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. “You get background. On TV you see images of blown-up buses, but you don’t have information on the different tube stops.” The entry has photographs, detailed timelines, contact numbers, a complete translated statement by the jihadist group claiming responsibility for the attacks and links to other Wikipedia entries offering context on everything from the London Underground to British Summer Time."
  • CNET story
  • PC Magazine
  • Guardian unlimited
  • Indymedia links to our coverage (along with many others)
  • Boing Boing "Here is a highly informative Wikipedia "current event" page, which includes links to news sources, blogs, a timeline of events, and translation of the claim for responsibility posted on the Jihadist website Al-Qal'ah..."

More blogs: (Take your pick)

  • Londinist "Very useful Wikipedia page"
  • Dan Olsen's Weblog "We are now just over 24 hours since the devastating bombings in London and there is already an article on Wikipedia about the bombings. It is amazing how the internet has become a real time source of information."
  • Nik Cubrilovic Weblog "7 July 2005 London bombings from Wikipedia is another great source of news and information about the event. It is amazing how quickly a page detailing every aspect of the attack forms together on Wikipedia - they have more information than any of the major news providers."
  • O'Reilly Radar (Marc) "I found much better information about today's terrorist attacks in London by looking at the Wikipedia news page and the Flickr photo group than I did by looking at The New York Times and watching CNN."
  • michael parekh on IT "Within minutes, I learned several things that I did not get after almost an hour of watching the news through the TV news channels, and the web-sites of traditional media outlets."
  • Digg blog - just a link, but interesting exchange in comments section
  • Tasty Popsicle "a true testament of the power of independant yet collective jounalism."
  • Gadgetopia "The Wikipedia article on today’s bombings in London is already huge. The bit at the top with the hotline numbers is just evidence of how much of a fantastic resource Wikipedia has become." -- and from the comments on that page: "Xeni Jardin is on CNN right now talking about this exact page. She says it’s been updated 2,800 times. To CNN’s credit, they have run stories today about how bloggers have covered this event better than mainstream news."
  • Rhodarian - library news blog "The power of Wikipedia for documenting current news event is evident in 2005 London bombings. Resources, information and links to news sources are included. I discovered this link to Wikipedia via the NY Times International News, which to my mind gives some indication of the authority this particular entry carries."
  • Culture Blog "I don't know why, but I find it strange that Wikipedia already has an extensive entry on today's London bombings. Doesn't it take more than a few hours for something like a terrorist attack to become history? Not that the entry is in any way offensive; it's thorough and respectful and still a work-in-progress. It's just the notion of an "encyclopedia" article being written on the same day as the event -- no time for the past."
  • InsideGoogle blog "Flickr tags ImagePool and already a page on Wikipedia. That’s fast. Usually historic events needs to be ‘closed’ before they end up in the history records. Talking about an accurate encyclopedia…"
  • Reason Online Hit and Run blog - For Breaking News, Turn to the Encyclopedia "The most thorough coverage I've seen of the London attacks is in Wikipedia, of all places."
  • Dina Mehta "Meanwhile, Wikipedia has outdone itself again with some really great collaborative action!"
  • Notes from a Teacher "Among those providing strong, strong coverage of the horrific bombings in London: Wikipedia. Yes, Wikipedia, which is out-doing Wikinews, as it brings together dozens of different threads of the story."

And couldn't resist sharing this: Underground shirts

Catherine\talk 21:57, 9 July 2005 (UTC)[reply]

I think this is quite obviously about the article too - I'm sure I saw "we’re covering the story better than the BBC" somewhere on the talk page. violet/riga (t) 15:31, 10 July 2005 (UTC)[reply]

Note on the byline

I put Kaldari and myself on the byline for the following reasons. I didn't want to overload the byline with everyone who appears in the contribution history, or simply resort to "Signpost staff" as a byline, and due to editing we effectively wrote all of the words that appear in the story as published. However, Alterego, CatherineMunro, Pianoman87, and everyone who commented here on the talk page has earned my thanks and appreciation for the help on this story. --Michael Snow 07:48, 11 July 2005 (UTC)[reply]

I don't understand why you use bylines. --Alterego 13:28, July 11, 2005 (UTC)


It would have been nice if someone could have asked the Wikinewsie responsible for their article (ie me) a bit about its history before suggesting it was not written using trusted sources. It was in fact fully referenced by 0836, and before that I had made it quite clear I was responding to reports being broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Wikinews is in fact much stricter than Wikipedia on referencing - that is one reason why the WN article was consistently more accurate throughout the day. Dan100 (Talk) 22:39, July 11, 2005 (UTC)

I think you're reading a little too much into what the story actually said about Wikinews policies. Since the Wikinews article is listed in the "Original reporting" category over there, I figured the contrast in policy was worth mentioning. All that was intended was to show how the projects differ, not to say one is better than the other. What makes you think mentioning original reporting is supposed to cast doubt on whether Wikinews is trustworthy? Ultimately, assigning reasons to why one project or the other had it first is purely speculative, so the story now no longer draws conclusions about it at all.
I specifically avoided getting into the "who's better" debate for which some have used this incident, and don't want the story used to push either view. I thought mentioning Wikinews was a friendly way to remind people about the action going on elsewhere; in the end, though, The Signpost is primarily about Wikipedia, so the focus of the story naturally is on Wikipedia, not the details of Wikinews activity. --Michael Snow 23:54, 11 July 2005 (UTC)[reply]

You misunderstood the use of the original reporting template - that was only used as we had a first hand report of the bus explosion and also photographs taken of outside Euston by one one of our editors.

I still don't understand why no-one actually asked me... Dan100 (Talk) 06:42, July 12, 2005 (UTC)

Let me explain more fully: When I saw "In contrast", I read the whole of the following to part to mean "Wikinews was faster, but unlike Wikipedia they use any old crap for a source". Now, I'm sure you meant the "In contrast" to mean "In contrast Wikinews was quicker", and no more. But that's not how it came across to me. (And even though we allow original reporting, we require full and detailed notes to go with it. Anything else in an article has to be sourced, unlike WP where anything goes ("assume good faith") until it is challenged.)
I hope that clarifies why I revised that part. Dan100 (Talk) 08:19, July 12, 2005 (UTC)
Oh and we also had the Adam Stacey photograph sooner too, but it would be churlish to mention that :-) Dan100 (Talk) 08:20, July 12, 2005 (UTC)
You didn't actually see the words "In contrast" until after the references to original reporting had been removed, so I don't know what you're trying to say. That phrase was added by me when rewriting those sentences to try and accommodate your concerns. So the only contrast being made at that point was that Wikinews was earlier, pure and simple.
And I still don't follow how you read into any of this the implication that we're casting critical aspersions on the quality of sources used by Wikinews, or its policies on original reporting. There were no such value judgments in the story as originally written, and there are none now. And it's not like we would start criticizing original reporting, since that's partly what we're doing ourselves with The Signpost. --Michael Snow 15:53, 12 July 2005 (UTC)[reply]

Forgive me, when I wrote the above I'd forgotten the exact wordings from 24 hrs before. Generally though, I was not asking for you to understand how I read criticism of Wikinews in the piece - only that that is what I read. Dan100 (Talk) 17:22, July 14, 2005 (UTC)

Well, the mixup on what was in what version I can easily understand. And I do understand a little how you read the criticism into the original story, I just don't think it was warranted. But it's not that surprising when you have a personal investment in the situation, and I do think the current version is better and less vulnerable to misinterpretation. --Michael Snow 22:23, 14 July 2005 (UTC)[reply]

Be careful of the Scotsman

The Scotsman seems to be highly critical of anything that may potentially threaten it or the opinions of its owners, the Barclay Brothers. For "Scotland's National Newspaper" it is the most anti-scottish thing I've ever had the misfortune to read. Having said that, most newspapers have a bias in one direction or another. Maybe I'm just sick of The Scotsman being so damned negative about everything. --Colin Angus Mackay 21:19, 22 July 2005 (UTC)[reply]


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