Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Can Technology Solve the Problem of Wikipidiots?

The ASC Research group at PARC has been working on a project called Wikidashboard (led by Bongwon Suh and Ed Chi) that is eventually aimed at helping users assess the credibility of articles they read in Wikipedia.

Those of us living in San Francisco were recently treated to the front-page headline "Wikipidiots" emblazoned on the freebie "SF Weekly" all over town. The Feb 13th article by Mary Spicuzza partly concerns the heightened "internet rage" that seems to afflict San Franciscans, but mostly focuses on "edit wars" on Wikipedia, and the difficulty of establishing the credentials, credibility, reputation, etc. of people hiding behind on-line personas.

Spicuzza reports on her attempts to track down and interview a Wikipedia user who seems to have gotten into quite a few Wiki-spats who goes by the handle "Griot". Who is this guy/gal? What makes them tick? Where do they live? Why do they write so much about the Greens? Much of the information Griot reveals about him/her-self is unverifiable, and purposely obfuscating. But Spicuzza does end up constructing a caricature of Griot--the online persona--based on digging through Wikipedia, the discussions, edit histories, and so on.

Most people aren't investigative reporters with the drive and time to do that kind of digging every time they read a possibly controversial wiki page. Wikidashboard is a tool/visualization that embeds itself into Wikipedia pages and offers a way of seeing the authors and their edit histories, and allowing drill-down on such information in a much more usable way than the standard Wikipedia interface.

As stated on the Wikidashboard page:

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 can check Wikidashboard out here.


Anonymous said...

What readers of the SF Weekly were "treated to" last week wasn't really an article about Internet rage, but something else -- something quite personal.

Essentially what happened was that author Mary Spicuzza's sister got dinged on Wikipedia (an article on Wikipedia that Jeanne-Marie Spicuzza wrote about herself was deleted), so sister Mary took the dispute out of Wikipedia and onto the pages of her newspaper, the SF Weekly.

It created quite a controversy on Wikipedia and may have led to the dismissal of Mary Spicuzza from the SF Weekly (I note that Spicuzza's name is no longer on the paper's masthead).

You can read behind-the-scenes about what really happened starting here:

Ed H. Chi said...


On the one hand, I think it is useful for general public to understand more about social dynamics that happens in Wikipedia, and the dispute resolution methods that are currently employed to arrive at the canonical content that should be displayed to readers.

On the other, I can see why it would be upsetting to some for Mary to take the disputes outside of normal Wikipedia processes and publicize it.

I'm a big believer in social transparency, which says that more transparency would result in greater credibility for the authors and trust in the content. One issue we have to deal with is how to enable anonymity while still have social transparency. Can we have both? That's the great research problem for social software designers.

Peter Pirolli said...

The reporter indeed was reporting on something personal but, given that, and whatever personal motivations were behind it, the story reveals the difficulty of discerning "credibility", "reputation", motivation etc in the public sphere. This isn't just a problem for Wikipedia. For instance, journals like Science and Nature have quite a few rules about disclosure of vested interests for authors, because those things are very difficult to discover even in face-to-face interaction.

Wikipedia is in part an experiment in the machinery or architecture of aggregating nuggets of knowledge, but it is equally an experiment in the architecture of credibility or the mechanics of insuring that the nuggets are justified. It's an open question as to if or how Wikipedia's policies and administration can be impoved through technological means.

Pen Wong said...

hello, just read your word about wiki:

Anonymous said...

"Wikipedia Idiots" is a well-constructed article that tackles the problems of Internet anonymity and resulting lack of credibility, particularly on Wikipedia.

A user named Griot disputed content on the Ralph Nader entry with various editors. One such editor contributed to other articles, including Jeanne Marie Spicuzza, which had existed on Wikipedia for two years. After being voted down by these editors, Griot solicited a user named Calton, who had previously posted snarky comments to the Spicuzza entry and most likely a significant factor in his choosing this user, to campaign that specific articles that this unidentified user contributed to, like as Jeanne Marie Spicuzza and Matt Cook, be deleted. Griot has since been blocked for various violations and disruptions. He and Calton continue their libelous and vengeful online assault against Jeanne Marie Spicuzza and Mary Spicuzza.

According to SF Weekly Managing Editor Will Harper and award-winning journalist Mary Spicuzza, Mary Spicuzza gave her notice to join a documentary production house on February 1, before the article appeared.

According to writer Jeanne Marie Spicuzza, she neither contributes to Wikipedia nor uses it as a source, and has supplied her attorney with these facts.

The previous poster is incorrect, or deliberately libelous.

Anonymous said...

I do wonder whether whether these users Calton & Griot are making Wikipedia vulnerable to a libel lawsuit at this point:

From the SF Weekly site

I edited this story and I can assure you that Mary did not get fired for this story or any other. Mary decided to leave the paper to take a job with a local documentary filmmaker. She gave her notice before the Wikipedia story was published. She disclosed to me early in the reporting process her sister's fights with Griot and her sister's role is mentioned high up in our story. Bottom line: We stand by the story.

Comment by Will Harper, Managing Editor, SF Weekly — February 26, 2008 @ 01:55PM

Anonymous said...

I do wonder whether Will Harper, editor of the SF Weekly, knows what a false light tort is. If any party is liable in this matter, it is the SF Weekly, Ms. Spicuzza, and the Weekly's editors. That Ms. Spicuzza has resigned is welcome news for the journalism profession. Does the SF Weekly's corporate parent in Arizona know the whole story yet?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

According to sources, torts of false light involve: a) published information deemed private and/or confidential, b) statements made with actual malice, and c) subject(s) placed in a false light, which, d) would be found highly offensive or objectionable in a court of law.

Statements made by SF Weekly and its constituents do not appear evident of such torts, or of intent to commit said torts. However, statements and/or actions of certain users, e.g., those identified as Calton and Griot, do appear as torts of false light and, in terms of prosecution, less problematic forms of tort include but are not limited to libel, i.e., written defamation, and harassment.

In the event that Wikipedia Foundation and Wikia, Inc. are aware of the offenses of its users and do not act in accordance with legal governance, these organizations become vulnerable to the prosecution of these offenses and related charges, such as aiding and abetting.


Anonymous said...

It looks like this "Griot" character is still blocked from Wikipedia due to what sounds like is some serious unethical behavior.

Anonymous said...

TALK ABOUT A SMOKING ANTI-GUN! Friends and supporters of former Green Party mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez use dirty tricks and corporate-style high jinks on Wikipedia to abuse independent artists, advance personal notability and further own political agenda and views. Investigation of edit history and contributions reveal bad faith. Documentary to follow (how's that for a B-movie, Griot? Or should I say Matt?).

Anonymous said...

This Griot character only pretended to be a Gonzalez supporter. He probably plagiarized the above comment, too.

Anonymous said...

YOU enable ME.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Jeanne Marie Spicuzza is a poet, performance artist, actress, filmmaker, philosopher, activist, producer, writer of children's stories, novels, essays, plays and screenplays, watercolor painter and illustrator, composer, lecturer, tarot reader and Master Herbalist. How could she possibly find any time to be on Wikipedia? Sheesh.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This user has been blocked indefinitely because CheckUser confirms that this user has used one or more accounts abusively.
The abuse of multiple accounts is prohibited; using new accounts to evade blocks or bans results in the block or ban being extended.
See block log • confirmed accounts • suspected socks • Checkuser request
Categories: Wikipedia sockpuppeteers

Jeanne Marie Spicuzza said...

The above comment attributed to me, posted by "anonymous," was not supplied by myself, or any of my affiliates, and constitutes fraud.


Jeanne Marie Spicuzza

Anonymous said...

How does one contact the owner of this blog?

Ed H. Chi said...

By either leaving a comment such as what you just did, or by emailing me personally at echi at parc dot com.

Ed H. Chi said...

I have removed a comment on Apr 8th by an anonymous commenter, because impersonation on this service is not allowed.

As an editorial comment, I personally have been dismayed by the amount of anonymous commenting that has occurred as part of this post. Anonymity goes against the principle of social transparency, and can easily destroy trust. Readers are advised to take care in reading these anonymous comments.

Raju said...

Your blog is very nice.

Anonymous said...

尽管有一些信息隐私的考量,Mary Spicuzza 仍然在不断推广它的街景视图的服务。Wikipedia 虽然也曾经测试了一个类似街景视图的服务,Fired,并且该站点仍然可以访问,Ethics 但已经不再有什么更新了。SF Weekly.