New Tool Offers Reliability Gauge for Wikipedia

Loraine Lawson

After last month's edit revelations, and the March false credentials brouhaha, can we ever trust Wikipedia again?


Assuming we ever did, of course.


Me, I've always viewed Wikipedia as a good place to get a quick blurb on a topic. You know: Sort of like that smart kid in homeroom who knew a little bit about everything. You wouldn't write your paper based on what she said, but at least you now had a vague idea of what questions you needed to research.


I turn to Wikipedia when my brain freezes up or I just want a quick one-sentence summary on something. I'll look up things like, "What's the ITIL," or, more likely, "Who's the funny sidekick from Romeo and Juliet, the one with the injury not quite as big as a barn door?" Then I scanned the first two paragraphs -- "Oh yeah, ITIL is that encyclopedia set of IT standards from Britain" or "Mercutio" -- and then I skipped on down to the official links at the bottom of the page.


But for those of you who were heartbroken to learn Wikipedia isn't as factually pure as the driven snow, I offer this glimmer of hope from Sci-Tech Today: Luca de Alfaro and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Cruz have unveiled a software that measures the reliability of content. Sort of.


The catch is the method itself really isn't all that reliable.


Basically, the software looks at at the reputation of Wikipedia contributors. If their content is edited quickly, then they are flagged as a less reliable source than contributors whose content has staying power. The software uses gradations of orange-colored text to mark questionable content, and so, the more edits a contributor attracts, the deeper the orange text and the more untrustworthy the content. Unedited content, on the other hand, is deemed accurate.


The problem, it seems to me, is self-evident. I could add tons of falsehoods to seldom-read topics and the software would deem me just as reliable as, say, a PhD from Harvard writing about his specialty. Perhaps more so, depending on how popular and debated the PhD's topic might be.


The developers hope the Wikimedia Foundation will adopt the software as a real-time tool option for users. The Foundation hasn't given the developers a reply.

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