Monday, September 10, 2007

WikiDashboard: Providing social transparency to Wikipedia

WikiDashboard Tool (alpha-release)

We are pleased to announce the release of our first research prototype of a social dynamic analysis tool for Wikipedia called WikiDashboard. This is a quick guide to our social dynamic analysis tool for Wikipedia


The idea is that if we provide social transparency and enable attribution of work to individual workers in Wikipedia, then this will eventually result in increased credibility and trust in the page content, and therefore higher levels of trust in Wikipedia.

You might ask "Why would increasing social transparency result in higher quality articles and increase trust?"

Indeed, the quality of the articles in Wikipedia has been debated heavily in the press [here, here, here, here, and let's not forget the Nature magazine debacle].

Wikipedia itself keeps track of these studies and openly discusses them here, which is a form of social transparency itself. However, even Wales himself have has been quoted as saying that "while Wikipedia is useful for many things, he would like to make it known that he does not recommend it to college students for serious research." Indeed, the standard complaint I often hear about Wikipedia is that because of its editorial policy (anyone can edit anything), it is an unreliable source of information.

The opposite point of view, however, has not been debated or expressed nearly as much: Precisely because anyone can edit anything and that anyone can examine the edit history and see who has made them, it will (or has already) become a reliable source of information. I think Michael Scott, the character on the popular TV show "The Office", puts it succinctly: "Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world, can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information."

While tongue-in-cheek, it brings up a valid point. Because the information is out there for anyone to examine and to question, incorrect information can be fixed and two disputed points of view can be examined side-by-side. In fact, this is precisely the academic process for ascertaining the truth. Scholars publish papers so that theories can be put forth and debated, facts can be examined, and ideas challenged. Without publication and without social transparency of attribution of ideas and facts to individual researchers, there would be no scientific progress. Therefore, it seems somewhat ironic that the History Department at the Middlebury College have banned its students from citing Wikipedia sources .

Related Work

Indeed, just very recently WikiScanner has brought the issue and idea of social transparency to the forefront. It helps people find out the organizations where anonymous edits in Wikipedia are coming from. A week or two later, WikiRage helps identify the hottest trends in Wikipedia.

From academic works, we have seen interesting work from IBM called History Flow that visualizes the edits to article pages in Wikipedia, and the UCSC Wiki Trust Coloring Demo that demonstrated how trust could be visualized line-by-line. These are all examples of how being able to better understand editing history and editing patterns at a glance could dramatically help users uncover problems and the trustworthiness of contents on Wikipedia.

These tools and other discussions [NYTimes , blogs, and slashdot discussion] are noticing that accountability and transparency appears to be at the heart of the process that helps generate quality articles.

Guide to our tool

The tool can be used just as if you're on the Wikipedia site itself. All of the functions (such as the article search function, and the edit and history tabs) work just as before. The site provides the dashboard for each page in Wikipedia, while proxying the rest of the content from Wikipedia.

Note that we only currently have edit data up until 2007/07/16, so more recent edits are not included in the charts. We're working to fix this.

See our guide for help on understanding the visualizations in the WikiDashboard.

Some Interesting Examples

We will use the 2008 presidential election as an example. In the figure below, we see that the activities on this page has been heating up lately:
2008 US Presidential election

Here are some notable Democractic Party candidates:
Hillary Clinton

John Edwards

Barack Obama

Here are some notable Republican candidates:

Rudy Giuliani

John McCain

Ron Paul


We're curious of how the Web community will use this tool to surface social dynamics and editing patterns that might otherwise be difficult to find and analyze in Wikipedia. We are also interested in applying this tool to Enterprise Wikis. Please let us know by leaving a comment on this blog post on patterns you find or questions for us. Alternatively, (if you wish to contact us in private), email us at:
wikidashboard [at] parc [dot] com


Bongwon Suh
Ed H. Chi

Palo Alto Research Center

(joint work with our ex-colleagues Bryan Pendleton, Niki Kittur, now both at CMU)

A Quick Guide to WikiDashboard: Providing Social Transparency to Wikipedia

This post provides a quick guide to the WikiDashboard tool for Wikipedia:

Article WikiDashboard:

User WikiDashboard:

Detailed Edit Log:

Settings Panel: