In October 2010, Wiki Watch started as a new tool to evaluate Wikipedia articles, shed a light on edit wars and on the activities of administrators. The project is based at Viadrina University in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. An English language version will be launched this week.
When Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg took office as German Minister for Economic Affairs in February 2009 many newspapers ran biographies on the politician. But some papers, including Germany’s top selling tabloid BILD and Spiegel Online, were falsely adding an additional name to his – admittedly already numerous – first names.
The fictional ‘Wilhelm’ made the headlines of many German media thanks to journalists apparently relying on Wikipedia as their only source. Earlier, an anonymous user had added the non-existing name to Guttenberg’s Wikipedia article. The false name didn’t last more than a day, but it went unnoticed long enough for the media to pick up on it – and to apologize afterwards. But even after the corrections were run the story didn’t end: ‘Wilhelm’ made it back to Wikipedia, this time with Spiegel Online serving as a reference for the alleged correctness of the name. A vicious circle…
‘This was our motivation to take a closer look at Wikipedia and how the articles are edited and by whom’, said Prof. Wolfgang Stock, one of the founders of Wiki Watch.
Wiki Watch is analyzing formal criteria, such as the number of edits, the number of sources or how many editors worked on an article.
According to Wiki Watch, 312 authors edited the Guttenberg article 780 times to date. Last month, 20,030 editors were working on more than 225,000 articles within the German edition of Wikipedia. In total, there were 1,191,237 articles that were visited 777.30 million times last month, according to Wiki Watch.
These impressive numbers demonstrate once more the importance and the potential of Wikipedia as a source of information on the Internet. At the same time, it was not always clear to the average Wikipedia user what was going on behind the scenes or how often articles actually were changed, or that virtual edit wars are going on.
‘We are great fans of Wikipedia’, says Prof. Stock, ‘With our work we are trying to make Wikipedia more reliable and more transparent and thus improve the online encyclopedia even further.’
Wiki Watch is using meta information that Wikipedia itself provides to compile their statistics. These include – besides detailed information on the number of authors, edits, sources and visitors for each article – statistics on the most active editors, on articles most frequently edited, or on deleted articles thus allowing to follow edit wars or to learn more about the history of Wikipedia articles and the role of moderators.
Wiki Watch is also incorporating elements from WikiTrust, an ‘open-source, on-line reputation system for Wikipedia authors and content’, developed at the University of California, Santa Cruz. WikiTrust is using a color code system to display the reputation of a text (according to the reputation and number of revisions by users) thus helping to spot recent, unrevised changes. It also enables users to trace a text back to its original authors.
Wolgang Stock is confident: ‘With Wiki Watch and WikiTrust in place no one will be able to smuggle in an additional name or other false information unnoticed in the future.’