In the news

In the news

This edition of "In the news" covers stories from July and August.

WikiScanner more powerful

Virgil Griffith's WikiScanner tool is being revamped and expanded into a suite of tools he dubs WikiWatcher. Griffith is being assisted by three students through Caltech's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships program.

Griffith announced the planned updates to his project in mid-July and has been rolling out new features intermittently, with more expected in the coming weeks. The biggest change is that WikiScanner 2.0 will be able to automatically identify some potential conflict-of-interest edits: any edit by organization's IP to that organization's article or to any article that links to that article is flagged, as well as any article on a trademark controlled by the organization (based on the trademark database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office). Neither this feature nor that of an expected update of the database (which is current only through August 2007) is yet live.

Griffith has also trawled the Wikipedia database for every instance of a "signed" IP comment being replaced with a username (as happens, for example, when a user make a comment while logged out, then removes their IP and replaces it with their name). He dubs this feature the Poor Man's Checkuser, which covers 17,000 IPs and 13,000 usernames. These include, according to the Wired coverage, "most of the Wikipedia administrators".

Griffith has also assembled a Potential Sockpuppetry page listing all the matches between IP-linked usernames and organizations.

Griffith, who is a graduate student at California Institute of Technology, has combined WikiScanner with a detailed list matching IP addresses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to specific sites on the MIT campus to create Beaver Scope, an attempt to stir up trouble at MIT, which is considered Caltech's rival school.

Two other tools yet to go live are WikiGanda, which is "designed to uncover edit wars between two factions", and Vote Early Vote Often, a tool for detecting "voting fraud" during requests for adminship (and possibly other processes).

Google Knol

Google's long-anticipated Knol project, which was widely expected to be Google's attempt at creating a "Wikipedia-killer", went live on July 23. Although the flurry of media coverage examined Knol in terms of a potential competitor to Wikipedia, observers within the latter community have pointed out that several major differences between the two projects make direct competition unlikely.

Andrew Lih put the case succinctly:

Have you heard of Associated Content, Squidoo, Helium or WikiHow? No? If you haven't, you shouldn't be writing about Google Knol. These are exactly the working models that Google Knol is up against, not Wikipedia's.

To see exactly why Wikipedia is such a bad comparison, consider the main aspects of Google Knol 1 2:

  • Goal: "first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read".
  • Articles are controlled by a single author, who has to use a real name.
  • Collaboration is at the discretion of the lead author; that is, "moderated collaboration".
  • Opinions are allowed and encouraged in articles, and there can be competing articles about the same subject.
  • Knol may include ads at the discretion of the author, profits of which are shared.
  • Licensing of content is varied: It can be CC-BY, CC-BY noncommercial, or traditional copyright
  • "Google will not serve as an editor in any way."
  • "So what subjects can I write on? (Almost) anything you like. You pick the subject and write it the way you see fit."

As a result, most of the content that has emerged so far resembles the "practical" content sites as listed above:

How-to guides, health and medical advice, consumer and buyers guides, business and career pointers. These are exactly the things Wikipedia has insisted it does not want to include.

As the New York Times noted, the best place to go for more on the Knol project is Wikipedia's Knol article. For a range of opinions on Wikipedia and its weaknesses, Knol is a good place to look (although some of the most stridently anti-Wikipedia knols appear to have been removed). But for a fair and balanced treatment of what sets Knol apart from Wikipedia, The Onion is the best source.


A wiki-based expert-only medical encyclopedia called Medpedia (official site) will launch at the end of 2008. Supported by several major medical schools, it will use the Gnu Free Documentation License (GFDL) for its articles, meaning that Wikipedia will be free to incorporate Medpedia content. According to early coverage, the NIH, CDC, FDA, and other government organizations may also contribute to the project.

McCain speech allegedly plagiarized from Wikipedia

John McCain gave a speech on August 11, soon after the outbreak of the 2008 South Ossetia war, on the politics and history of the Georgian–Ossetian conflict. On a tip from a Wikipedia editor, Taegan Goddard of blogged about possible plagiarism from this revision of the Georgia (country) article, and highlighting three passages of similarity between the speech and the article. The story spread from there, mostly among blogs and other new media, and was mentioned on The Onion and The Colbert Report. This report became a minor controversy for the McCain camp, which denied the allegations.

Wikinews Wikinews investigates claim McCain plagiarized speech from Wikipedia investigated the claim further.

As Wikipedian SEWilco points out, the site uses similar phrasing for some of the allegedly plagiarized passages.


Also this week:
  • WikiWorld
  • News and notes
  • In the news
  • Dispatches
  • Features and admins
  • Technology report
  • Arbitration report

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