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Monday, August 20, 2007

Asinine program for estimating "trustworthiness" of Wikipedia entries

A UC Santa Cruz press release says,

The online reference site Wikipedia enjoys immense popularity despite nagging doubts about the reliability of entries written by its all-volunteer team. A new program developed at the University of California, Santa Cruz, aims to help with the problem by color-coding an entry's individual phrases based on contributors' past performance.

The program analyzes Wikipedia's entire editing history--nearly two million pages and some 40 million edits for the English-language site alone--to estimate the trustworthiness of each page. It then shades the text in deepening hues of orange to signal dubious content. . . . . . .

Other sites already employ user ratings as a measure of reliability, but they typically depend on users' feedback about each other. This method makes the ratings vulnerable to grudges and subjectivity. The new program takes a radically different approach, using the longevity of the content itself to learn what information is useful and which contributors are the most reliable.

"The idea is very simple," de Alfaro said. "If your contribution lasts, you gain reputation. If your contribution is reverted [to the previous version], your reputation falls." . . . . .

The program works from a user's history of edits to calculate his or her reputation score. The trustworthiness of newly inserted text is computed as a function of the reputation of its author. As subsequent contributors vet the text, their own reputations contribute to the text's trustworthiness score. So an entry created by an unknown author can quickly gain (or lose) trust after a few known users have reviewed the pages.
(emphasis added)

This computer program is one of the dumbest ideas I have ever seen. The longevity of a Wikipedia entry has nothing to do with its trustworthiness. In fact, some Wikipedia articles are locked up to prevent editing by anyone except Wikipedia administrators -- in that case, bad information and serious omissions can continue undisturbed in a Wikipedia article forever. Also, a lot of Wikipedia editing does not involve complete deletion but just involves alteration of existing material (when I edit Wikipedia, I try to just add my own material while avoiding changing existing material). The creators of this computer program obviously have no understanding of the way that Wikipedia operates.

I made the following suggestion for improving Wikipedia fairness and reliability: When an item is in dispute, just add the item to Wikipedia along with a note saying that the item is disputed and links to external websites where the item is discussed or debated. This would have the following advantages: (1) the disputed item would get a hearing; (2) there would be no suggestion that the item is endorsed by Wikipedia; and (3) Wikipedia would not be cluttered up with long discussions or debates about the disputed item. My suggestion was ignored.
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1 Comments:

Blogger Jim Sherwood said...

Your suggestion about disputed items sounds like a good one. Perhaps it would be possible to have a decent Wikipedia after all, if the rulers of the place have any interest in that.

Monday, August 20, 2007 1:54:00 PM  

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