Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Wikipedia, Wikiscanner, revealing the hidden power struggles over knowledge production

August 14th, 2007 by Seb Chan

Last week featured a rather robust debate in the office about whether museums should encourage the use of Wikipedia, and, perhaps participate in adding and editing entries themselves. Now most Fresh + New readers will be familiar with the arguments – they’ve been around since Wikipedia began.

Of course what most anti-Wikipedians, if they don’t dismiss it outright, claim is that ‘Wikipedia is only as good as its last edit’. But to me that is missing the point. Wikis, and Wikipedia as an example of a wiki, are interesting because they reveal the history of edits, changes, revisions and re-versions. They reveal the collaborative and argumentative nature of knowledge production.

Well, almost as if to prove my point, along comes Virgil Griffith’s Wikiscanner which has gotten coverage in Wired and is struggling under the burden of the resultant high traffic load.

Wikiscanner basically matches the IP addresses of those doing edits with information about their network provider – known IP address ranges of government departments, corporations and the like. By doing this Wikiscanner is beginning to reveal the complex web of individuals, and increasingly, corporations that are using Wikipedia to argue and dispute versions of the ‘truth’. You can start to get an idea of the otherwise hidden agendas and power struggles over knowledge and information quite quickly . . . .

Griffith says he launched the project hoping to find scandals, particularly at obvious targets such as companies like Halliburton. But there’s a more practical goal, too: By exposing the anonymous edits that companies such as drugs and big pharmaceutical companies make in entries that affect their businesses, it could help experts check up on the changes and make sure they’re accurate, he says.

Tags: 1 Comment

  • Interesting post. I too have been wrestling with vigilante editors over adjustments made to wikipedia content but have to admit their advice (and pedantry) was fairly constructive. The main concern of ‘editors’ was format/style, relevance and overt misuse of wikipedia as a sprinboard for external links. All pretty reasonable.